[This blog post was written by Jennifer Blomberg, head of the Collection Management Branch. For more information, visit the preservation page on our website and the Mid-Atlantic Resource for Disaster Preparedness by the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts and the National Endowment of the Humanities. ]
Prepare, respond and recover are the three key tasks of effective disaster response. A records disaster may be caused by a natural occurrence such as a flood, fire or from a building hazard like leaking pipes or faulty electrical system. Whatever the cause, being prepared for a disaster is essential. Being organized, aware of procedures and having a plan in place before a disaster occurs is the best insurance against losing information. Disaster response involves putting the disaster plan into action and gathering all resources needed. When reaction to a disaster is prompt and efficient, the effects to the records can be minimized.
Important to every disaster plan is having available equipment and supplies in place prior to a disaster situation. Disaster response kits contain a variety of supplies and equipment for staff to respond immediately following a disaster, if the conditions are such that it is safe to do so. The kits need to be stored in an easily accessible location, preferably close to where disasters are most likely to occur. For these immediate response supplies, kits with wheels are good storage containers. They can be easily moved, keep contents clean and dry, and can be used to catch water in a leak situation.
Protection of human life and safety is the first priority at all times when responding to any type or size of disaster. Staff should never risk their personal safety to protect archival holdings. Staff personal protection equipment needs to be in the immediate disaster kit. Some of these items include:
- Nitrile gloves, N95 masks or respirators, protective safety eyewear, hard hats, rubber work boots, scrim suits, and plastic aprons – and ensure responders use this equipment.
The following are some basic supplies to meet immediate needs following a disaster that are commonly stored in disaster response kits:
- Disaster response plan and forms; pencils; flashlights; headlights; batteries; paper towels or unprinted newsprint; absorbent pads; scissors and/or retractable knives; tape; plastic garbage bags and heavy-duty polyethylene sheeting.
All disaster response kits and additional disaster supply equipment need to be clearly marked as “Disaster Supplies”, to be used only in disaster response and recovery activities. These supplies do not need to be of archival quality. During a disaster, creative and practical use of supplies will be necessary for the success of the initial response.
In addition to disaster response kits for immediate response, there should also be additional in-house disaster supplies and equipment on hand for stabilizing the environment and recovery efforts. These types of supplies and equipment will vary depending on the type of collection material, staff levels and the institution’s funding capabilities.