Archive security and disaster preparedness

Preventing damage from disasters

Earthquake aftermath

Without adequate disaster planning and preparation, all the effort, vision and goals of an archive can be destroyed. Fortunately, a wealth of disaster preplanning and response information—much of online—is available to guide archivists, librarians, content and records’ managers, risk management professionals and directors of libraries/archives and operations.

Readiness is critical: archives managers and executive leadership should ideally create, maintain and communicate disaster plans well in advance of a potential disaster.

Although it is always better to prevent damage from a disaster before one happens than to recover and restore after a disaster, prudent planning must include recovery and restoration considerations in case a disaster does occur.

Archives professionals should consider both environmental risks such as water damage, fire and other weather-related disaster scenarios, and security issues, which include planning for human factors such as theft.

Two highly respected professional organizations—Society of American Archivists (SAA) and Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA)—provide well-selected and intelligently organized online resource listings covering topics in disaster preparedness and post-disaster recovery strategies.

SAA offers excellent planning resources that address the needs of a broad range of archives and materials types, while AMIA presents outstanding resources to guide those archives that specifically include tape and film materials.

Team planning

SAA suggested resources

SAA has put together a resource page with links to disaster planning and prevention resources (some free and some for sale), published by a number of government bodies, institutions and private organizations.

This annotated resource listing is organized by resource type (articles, technical pamphlets, books, tools, disaster-plan templates, examples of plans, tutorials, bibliographies and more). Especially valuable are actual examples of disaster plans published by specific archives, libraries and special collections.

The following disaster preparedness and recovery resources recommended by SAA are helpful:

  • Emergency Management. Created by Library of Congress, this webpage presents an overview organized under risk management, preparedness and response and recovery topics.
  • Emergency Response Training. This 76-page PDF document published by the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) details and illustrates with photographs what happens in an actual disaster, stresses the importance of exercise and training and explains how a good disaster plan works. Includes exercises and sample drills.
  • Disaster Plan Exercise. This webpage, presented by the California Preservation Program, provides guidance for how to “provide staff with experience in the implementation of an institution’s disaster plan.” It offers archives managers with information about how to run a disaster-preparedness workshop for your institution’s staff.

AMIA suggested resources

AMIA has created an excellent page listing resources specifically on the topic of disaster recovery for audiovisual materials. Some especially helpful items include these:

  • Disaster Planning. Published by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. This online guide covers prevention and planning practices for managing both short-term (fire, flood and other severe types of damage or destruction) and long-term (weather factors such as high humidity; environmental pollution) factors.
  • Disaster Recovery–First Actions For Film, Tape, and Discs. Published by AMIA, this PDF provides a checklist of immediate response actions to take right after a disaster. The checklist is organized under “immediate actions” to be taken as soon as the area is safe to enter and “secondary actions” to be taken once the disaster is no longer ongoing.
  • Salvaging Flooded Tapes Checklist. Published by AMIA, this is a succinct, bullet-point listing of steps to take to respond to tapes that have experienced water damage.
  • First Aid for Fire Damage. This brief checklist, published by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, provides a listing of immediate actions to do to respond to fire damage of multimedia materials including films, video and audiotapes and CDs and DVDs.

Wherever you choose to maintain and store your archive, it’s critical that you make disaster preparedness and recovery a top priority. The well-known phrase, ‘An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure,’ could not be more appropriate. The fact that you have an archive signals the importance of safeguarding it for the long run. Environmental and climate disasters are among the biggest threats to your collection, and current climate data and reports are pointing to the need for greater urgency to prioritize disaster planning.

LAC Group offers protection against all these threats, emphasizing both security and environment factors in all our storage facilities and relieving some of the disaster planning burden for you. Our preservation and archiving heritage is in the motion picture industry, which means our current film vaults are located in Southern California. Because of this, we offer geographical separation with two facilities in distinct locations for added protection, as well as features that reduce the risk of seismic activity, fires and other external threats.