Nevertheless, management level staff in particular should be aware of occasions when action is necessary, and the nature of appropriate responses to recover and safeguard records.
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In some recovery operations, depending on which group of people is carrying it out, there may be different emphases. For example, whereas staff members of an office may be concerned to treat records sympathetically, others may be more concerned with returning the fabric of the building to good order. In these guidelines, there is an emphasis on major disasters as opposed to more easily resolved situations. Because of a perceived necessity to address the demands of a large-scale disaster, some of the guidelines may be more apocalyptic in tone than is commonly required.
For many organisations, a records disaster may be precipitated by a leaking roof rather than a devastating fire. Information should be taken from these guidelines in a manner befitting the gravity and extent of disaster situations.
When either is required, it pays to be prepared. This task might be completed in a questionnaire format. Without wishing to pre-empt response, predictable areas of concern might be: open doors, ground level windows, inadequate locks, functionality, adequacy and appropriateness of intruder alarms and fire detection and suppression systems, electrical equipment which is left plugged in, open filing equipment, wooden filing equipment, records stored on the floor, water fountain in proximity to records, unprotected vital records, disorderly work environment, hazardous and inflammable substances, age of wiring, plumbing adjacent to records storage etc.
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The risks posed by other buildings, or other offices within the same buildings should also be assessed. For instance, a downstairs office may be threatened by upstairs offices.
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Thus, even though lower floors may not be affected by fire, water damage may ensue. A comment that deserves to be made here is that records are at much greater risk in an office environment than in dedicated records storage. For the most part, offices are designed from the perspectives of accessibility and convenience, whereas dedicated records repositories are specifically constructed and fitted out with security and disaster prevention in mind.
Ordinary everyday activities and items present in offices might pose a threat to the preservation of records, for example, water fountains, electrical apparatus and paperwork on desks. Incidentally, some organisations insist on a 'clean desk policy,' the justification for this being that superfluous paperwork left on desks is fuel for fires and is easily stolen.
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Good housekeeping then, is essential in an office environment. Staff members should examine their everyday activities in order to identify potential risks and how change could be effected. Management level staff members should complete this task.
Furthermore, risk analysis includes prioritising risks to be treated. Easily remedied and the most serious problems should be those which are addressed as soon as possible. For example, it is relatively easy to obtain more fire extinguishers both aqueous and non-aqueous , treat wooden filing equipment with a flame retardant, designate a secure delivery point for incoming mail, insert toughened glass in vulnerable windows etc.
It may be done on a phased basis and should involve training and raising the awareness of staff members. Simplicity is a prerequisite of comprehensive and effective planning. The plan should include:. Procedures for the identification and reporting of a disaster situation - depending on the circumstances of the disaster, staff members should take appropriate action to identify and report the nature of the disaster.
Fire should involve working with the fire service to establish how much damage has been done and how the fire broke out. If there is any danger that the building has been damaged structurally, the advice of a structural engineer should be obtained prior to entering the building.
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Should the building be protected by insurance, a representative of the insurance company should be alerted prior to the commencement of recovery work. It is recommended that photographs are taken to record damage. It is crucial that one person is nominated to co-ordinate response to disaster situations. The contact details of all members of staff should be noted in the disaster prevention and recovery plan.
Ascribing distinct activities to each member of staff is essential for the formation of clear lines of communication and responsibility. The activities of each team should be co-ordinated by a team leader. Persons should be nominated to fill these roles. The teams should be responsible for the following broad areas:. The team responsible for the establishment of operations headquarters should set up a desk in order that staff members have a central point to visit for advice. This team should also contact insurance representatives, volunteers, consultants and appropriate tradespeople.
Members of this team should monitor the activities of consultants. The team charged with securing the building should ensure electricity, gas and other services are turned off; set up generators, electric fans and dehumidifiers in order to circulate air, expel smoke and begin to stabilise the environment; and remove debris.
In order to facilitate this work, a floor plan of the building showing emergency cut-off switches should be located. The team responsible for the assessment of damage should take photographs to record damage, and locate and examine records. These teams need only be invoked in the case of a major disaster. Smaller disasters might only necessitate the involvement of one or several members of staff. Should a major disaster materialise, and in order that an office has adequate personnel to respond effectively, it may be prudent to come to an agreement with other offices to secure extra personnel from their ranks.
This may be a mutual agreement. It should be recognised that it may not be possible to get access to the building for some time after a disaster situation has occurred. The principal reason for this is human safety.
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This time should be used to:. This informs the type of damage done to records and what handling procedures should be put in place. With regard to prioritising treatment of records, when vital records have been treated, the following steps should be in place:. The first priority is those paper records that are saturated with water.
Smaller amounts should be air-dried in a room in which fans are circulating. Blotting paper should be interleaved between pages in order to soak up excess moisture. If there is a large amount of saturated records, other methods of drying them are recommended. The most effective method is vacuum freeze-drying. This is a safe and rapid method of treating saturated documents. The effectiveness of vacuum freeze-drying is asserted on the fact that water sublimates directly from liquid to vapour and that distortion is less evident than with other methods.
It is essential that saturated paper is removed from a disaster situation very quickly as fungi are attracted to it and will begin to develop within hours. Freezing halts all fungal activity. To ensure that vacuum freeze-drying is feasible should disaster strike, an office should seek to locate premises which lease their facilities. The second priority is slightly wet or damp paper documents. These may be dried manually as described above, but again, if there are large amounts of records, it may be more practical to vacuum freeze-dry them.
The third priority is records stored on vulnerable, modern media, for example, floppy disks, CD-ROMs, photographs, cassette tapes, videotapes etc. For the most part, it is assumed that if such vulnerable media are subjected to extreme environmental conditions such as extreme heat or moisture, they will be damaged irreparably.
The most effective method of protecting such records media is to routinely make back-up copies and store them off premises. Alternatively, and not as satisfactory, is retention in a fireproof safe. Where photographs survive they should be referred to a photographic conservator. A fourth priority is records suffering from heat damage. The extent of heat damage is dependent on how close the records were to the fire.
While the superficial appearance of records may not indicate damage, the underlying structure may be irreparably weakened. In such cases, attempts at conservation may well prove pointless. The most effective method of recovering information contained in such records will be to copy them and destroy the originals. In fact, if heat-damaged records are photocopied the heat they are subjected to during the copying process may precipitate decomposition.