Developing and Maintaining a Vital Records Program
Chapter 5 – Disaster Recovery and Salvage
When emergencies or disasters occur even the best protective measures may not prevent damage to records. Consequently, records recovery plans need to be developed for timely and economical response to records disasters in order to salvage or replace damaged records and the information they contain.
- Condition of Records. When assessing damage to records, the recording medium must be taken into account. For example, photographic negatives and microfilm that are water damaged require different treatment from water-damaged paper records. Also, records with access restrictions are to be handled only by personnel with proper clearance. Damaged records should be separated from undamaged records as soon as possible to speed up repair and recovery.
- Disaster Recovery Specialists. A list of disaster recovery specialists, including their areas of expertise, addresses, telephone numbers, and an individual point of contact should be prepared before an emergency or disaster occurs. The list should be checked annually to ensure that it remains accurate and current. Be aware that disaster recovery specialists often concentrate on very specific problems. One recovery specialist may focus on recovering water-damaged paper records, while another may concentrate on recovery of water-damaged magnetic tape. Consequently, it is important to develop as broad a listing of records disaster recovery specialists as possible to respond appropriately to all the potential risks.
- On-Site Equipment and Supplies. It is also effective to maintain certain equipment on-site to help mitigate water damage to records. Appendix F includes a list of recommended equipment and supplies.
- Facility Integrity and Security. In the event of a major disaster at the facility, priority must be placed on facility security. Should there be any evidence of damage to the building structure (e.g., perimeter walls or roof) which would allow unauthorized access, immediate security precautions must be taken. The affected area should be cordoned off and security personnel obtained to maintain 24-hour protection until the building repairs can be made. This effort should be coordinated with the GSA building manager and the Federal Protective Service. Similar security concerns are also of major importance for any off-site staging areas which may be needed as part of a disaster recovery effort.
- Staffing. After initial emergency conditions have been stabilized, Records Officers will determine the need for manpower. Emergencies occurring during on-duty hours have a ready resource of available staff. Any FAA staff member may be asked to come in during off-duty hours to deal with an emergency situation. Deliverables shall be added to the contract task orders to ensure that these duties are covered under the contract. The highly sensitive nature of the majority of FAA holdings makes it impossible to authorize use of volunteer staff. The value in free labor does not justify the increased risk of breached security.
2. Records Recovery – First Steps.
- Begin documentation. At the very end of disaster recovery, you will need to write a report detailing what happened, how it happened, what response was taken, the results of the response, and the casualty report of damage to records. Start this process right away. A sample Records Damage Assessment Site Survey form can be found in Appendix 5. Get out the camera, a notebook, and a pencil. The more notes you take now, the easier your life will be over the next days and weeks. The final report will attempt to determine effectiveness of recovery techniques used. Photographs and written records should show conditions of the building and damaged records, and the procedures followed in recovery. Be sure to document all resources used to cope with a disaster, including personnel, materials, time, and expenses. This documentation can be important in helping to obtain emergency funds.
- Ensure building is safe to enter. Electrical and gas hazards must be eliminated before any recovery operations begin. The Facility Director, Safety Officer, or similar FAA official will notify Records Officers when the damaged building is safe to enter.
- Activate records recovery phone tree if appropriate.
- Assess the situation. Records Officers will determine the most appropriate initial course of action for pack-out in accordance with the Records Priority List. Each situation will present unique specifics that must be considered in selecting this order. Records of secondary priority that are only slightly damaged, damp, and in present danger of becoming soaked or damaged may take precedence over primary-priority records that are already soaked or damaged and are not likely to be further damaged by remaining in situ a while longer.
- Review the options for records recovery. Fan-drying or air-drying on site is suitable for slightly damaged records. Or, records may need to be removed to an off-site professional recovery operation or to a freezer until decisions can be made. You will need to begin making decisions soon.
3. Records Recovery Step 1 – Pack-Out.
With the exception of damage by insects and animals, almost all damage to records during disaster is, in the end, water damage. Even records that survive initial damage by fire or explosion will have been both saved and further damaged by water. Recovery of records from water damage involves three steps: Pack-out, Restoration, and Relocation.
- Determine pack-out goal. Start with the end in mind. Do not begin pack-out until a site has been carefully selected. Will the volume of damaged records and the intensity of the damage require records to be sent off-site for restoration? Can some or all damaged records be salvaged in-house? Is a combination of in-house and off-site restoration advisable? Answers to these questions will clarify the answer to the important question of where damaged records should be removed to. Remember that freezing soaked records will buy time so that decisions about method of restoration can be made at leisure.
- Determine pack-out logistics. Options for removing wet boxes from shelves should be selected in accordance with the extent of the damage (quantity), the intensity of the damage (quality), and the number of available staff. A large number of dampened boxes and a large number of staff might make the bucket-brigade system function well. Boxes so badly soaked that the integrity of the box is compromised might call for conveyor belts or transferring boxes directly from shelf to streamline with a minimum of handling.
- Document contents of removed boxes. Any box removed from the shelf must be identifiable by box numbers. If a box is wet but structurally sound, this may be automatic. If the box cannot be relied upon to remain intact or cannot be salvaged, place its contents in a plastic garbage bag, one box per bag, and ensure that any box panel with identifying numbers is placed in the bag with box contents. Tie each bag securely to ensure integrity.
- Document removal of boxes. Keep careful records about what box numbers and from what locations have been removed, and where they have gone. If box removal is sizeable, this information is best eventually entered into a database so that reports can be acquired on various fields: total number of removed cubic feet, cubic feet per record group, etc. Data can also be arranged in multiple formats: by shelf location, by accession number, etc.
- Remove damaged boxes. Transport with least handling possible to either the location for in-house drying or to the dock for transfer to off-site freezer or drying facility.
- Special concerns – fire-damaged records. Extreme caution must be used in handling paper damaged by fire. The records will be both brittle and wet. Pieces of paper toweling or unprinted newsprint (from preservation supplies) should be placed under each charred page before moving the item. The towel or newsprint serves two purposes: to absorb moisture and to provide support. The corners of the towel or newsprint are then used to lift and move the document.
- Special concerns – muddy records. Do not attempt more than minimal cleaning of wet records during the pack-out phase. Bound volumes may be gently dabbed with a sponge or soft cloth to remove mud or surface dirt, but do not rub or brush. Do not attempt to open water-damaged bound volumes. Loose textual records, if already soaked, may be rinsed, but do not wash in the sense of using friction on the page. Attempting to remove mud from wet paper forces dirt further into the paper's fibers. Save cleaning until documents are dry.
- Special concerns – photographic media and microfilm. Stabilize wet black and white photographs, negatives, and microfilm by sealing in polyethylene bags and placing in plastic (not metal) garbage cans under cold, clean running water. Do not allow them to dry. They may be left in running water for up to three days before being transferred to a professional recovery unit, but the earlier recovery begins, the better. Color photographs must be transported to a professional photofinishing laboratory within 48 hours after water immersion since the color layers will begin to separate. If this is not possible, freeze them. (There is some inherent risk with freezing color photographs since ice crystals may form and rupture the emulsion layer.)
- Special concerns – preparing materials for freezing. Place materials designated to be vacuum- or freeze-dried in interlocking plastic milk crate containers, which are lightweight and provide air circulation and proper drainage. Loosely pack materials, unwrapped, in crates until crate is approximately three-fourths full. Wrap bound volumes with freezer or wax paper and place on their spines in crates. Do not pack volumes too tightly to allow for air circulation. Place oversized material on uncolored cardboard, and wrap in packages not more than two inches thick. Burned and charred materials require special care in handling, as the paper or bindings are very brittle. Support single sheets on uncolored cardboard and secure them with another sheet of cardboard or heavy paper.
4. Records Recovery Step 2 – Restoration.
Restoration involves returning records to the condition in which they were prior to the disaster. It is handled either in-house or off-site.
- Following are some of the issues to be considered.
- Virtually any wet document can be restored if prompt and proper action is taken. Exceptions are documents containing water-soluble ink. Immediate microfilming is the only reliable solution here, and even this may be unsatisfactory.
- In-house restoration is suitable for records that are damp or moderately wet only in places. It is accomplished by fanning and refanning files amid rapidly circulating, dry air, detailed below.
- Off-site restoration is accomplished through professional companies and therefore is not detailed in this plan. FAA involvement in this process is limited to visiting records at the recovery site from time to time, and ensuring necessary security.
- As noted above in Step 1 – Pack-out above, freezing wet records can stabilize them. No further damage occurs while wise choices of restoration processes can be reached in a calmer atmosphere. Freezing records also gives the option of drying a few boxes at a time on site.
- Off-site drying is expensive in terms of cash outlay to a contractor. In-house drying is expensive in the amount of staff time required to do it well. Choice of method may be influenced by consideration of these costs.
- Following are the restoration steps to be followed.
- Set up drying area(s). Select an area where heat and air conditioning are still operable, and where space permits ease of activity. Set up tables, floor fans, and possibly dehumidifiers. Cover work surfaces with plastic sheeting. Direct fans to blow into the area, but do not train them directly onto work surfaces. Air should be generally circulating, but not blowing directly onto drying paper.
- Fan records. The goal is to separate damp and moderately wet sheets of paper from each other to allow circulating air to dry them. Remove files from boxes, and stand them up in milk crates or other non-rusting supports. Fan folders so that pages are not in a solid block. If fastened pages are significantly wet, it may be necessary to remove fasteners.
- Preserve documentation and provenance. Keep boxes bearing box number in context with box contents, or in some other fashion ensure identification information remains attached to the files. Ensure the order of files remains intact if possible.
- Refan. Check records at least daily and re-fan to expose damp areas of pages to dry air. Continue to do this until records are dry to the touch, with no damp spots remaining.
- Special concerns – bound materials. Blot bound volumes with unprinted newsprint or paper towels at intervals of two to ten pages, changing the interleaving as frequently as possible and as often as necessary until dry. Blotting paper should be removed regularly, and interleaving should be changed at the same time until the volumes are dry. Bound volumes maybe partially opened at this time to allow drying by fans. Wet volumes of coated pages should not be allowed to dry unless thin sheets of Mylar
polyester are inserted between pages. When coated paper dries together, the clay coating that makes it shiny bonds with the clay coating of the next page, producing an irreversible bond stronger than the paper. It is then virtually impossible to separate the pages.
- Monitor climate. The warmer and drier the air, the faster records will dry. Large floor fans should circulate air, but not be trained directly on the documents. Leave fans running 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Relative humidity of 35-50% is optimum. Dehumidifiers may be necessary.
- Provide security. While records are in the drying process, damaged records must be protected by security equal to that provided in the stacks.
- Do not try to clean records until dry. After the documents are dry, mud becomes dirt, which can be brushed off with cheesecloth or soft-bristled brushes.
- Rebox records when dry in new boxes. Record box numbers on their fronts and any other pertinent information that may be useful in identifying contents. Occasionally contents will not fit back into a box because they have swelled and warped in the drying process. When this happens, the accession takes up additional space. It may be necessary to reassign accession to a different location or to rework the box list to show contents of boxes.
- Keep customers appraised. Let owners of affected boxes know the situation. Provide complete information about what happened, how it happened, steps taken to solve the physical problem(s), accession and box numbers of affected records, and recovery steps in progress.
5. Records Recovery Step 3 – Relocation.
Recovery is not complete until records are back on the shelves or in cabinets from which they were removed during pack-out. The steps in this process include the following.
- Prepare the shelves. Shelves that have held wet records should be sanitized before replacing records on them. Wash shelves and floor in affected area with a weak solution of sodium hypochlorite (common bleach). Dilute the bleach with enough water so that the bleach can be just barely smelled. An even more effective treatment is quaternary ammonium compounds, available under a variety of brand names.
- Physically relocate boxes. Move boxes to their correct shelf locations as whole boxes are returned from off-site or on-site drying operations. This can happen one box at a time.
- Edit documentation. Update documentation prepared during the pack-out phase so that a master list of affected accessions correctly shows which boxes are back on the shelf and which are still unavailable for reference purposes.
- Provide owner box lists. Prepare lists in which content of boxes is different from when originally shipped to the records center. This will be the case if restored records occupy more space than the undamaged records, requiring extra boxes and/or shifting of contents from one box to another.
- Monitor shelves. Check shelves periodically for several weeks to ensure that mold or fungus has not developed.
6. Freezing and Drying Options.
To stabilize water-damaged materials, freeze at temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing and storage retains records in the condition in which found, and prevents further deterioration while records await treatment. It also provides time to assess the damaged material and to restore the building or stack area affected. Frozen records can be recovered by the following methods. Any may be preferable in a particular situation. They are listed in order from least to most expensive.
- Air Drying. This process is described in detail in "Records Recovery Step 2 -Restoration." The process exposes as much paper surface as possible to circulating air in order to reduce environmental qualities favored by mold: high temperature, high humidity, and stagnant air. The advantage is that it requires little cash outlay. However, there are several disadvantages, such as the disruption of provenance and original order of the records. It is also time- and labor-intensive, and therefore expensive in staff time. Physical distortion of the paper will occur. Glossy paper will, unless handled carefully, stick together when dry.
- Dehumidification. Dehumidification is accomplished by pumping dry air into the building and pumping damp air out. This process is useful for slightly damp records. Advantages: records dry in situ without having to be moved; structure (wet walls, etc.) is also dried at the same time. Disadvantages: it is a very noisy process; dried records will be physically distorted.
- Freeze-Drying. This process pulls moisture out of frozen materials to a large-surface coil from which the water evaporates. (It is the process on which a frost-free freezer operates.) It runs by cycling the temperature up to the thaw point, so distortion of paper is pronounced and coated papers will stick together. It is done off-site, so security of records may be compromised.
- Thermal Drying and Vacuum Thermal Drying. Operates on the clothes-dryer principle. It is a relatively inexpensive process which pulls water out of records by heat. The main disadvantage is that the heating is hard on the paper. In fact, it is the process used in "artificial aging" experiments. It is useful for drying temporary records with a relatively short retention period. It should not be used for permanent records, unless they will be photocopied or microfilmed after recovery and the originals discarded.
- Vacuum Freeze-Drying. Operates by "sublimation" in which crystalline ice is converted to steam just at 32 degrees Fahrenheit without becoming water. Papers dried by this method are not cockled; water-soluble inks do not run; coated papers do not stick together. It is particularly useful for records affected by mold, as sterilization can be done after drying at little additional cost. The primary disadvantage is that it is expensive.
7. Contaminated Records.
Receipt of records which have been exposed to hazardous materials must be isolated and handled according to exposure of the contaminant. The first step is to identify the type of contaminant and provide the appropriate personnel with the type of protective equipment needed to ensure personal safety and preserve the integrity of the documents.
- Steps for Handling Contaminated Records. In the event of chemical or pesticide contamination, the following steps should be taken.
- Move documents to a well-ventilated area.
- Before sorting, persons handling the records must put on protective clothing, mask/respirator (if needed), and chemical resistant gloves.
- The most desirable piece of clothing would be coveralls made of woven fabric such as cotton, polyester, a cotton-synthetic blend, or a nonwoven fabric. Woven fabric should be a tightly woven, sturdy material (such as denim) weighing 7 to 10 ounces per square yard. Coveralls should be worn over long-sleeved shirt and long pants. In some cases, a chemical-resistant suit should be worn.
- Gloves should remain on while removing outer layers of protective clothing.
- Contaminated Records Which Can Not Be Salvaged. Often paper records may be so contaminated that keeping them would provide an unacceptable risk. If the information is critical and not available in any other medium, the following precautionary measures must be taken.
- Drape a large piece of plastic over a photocopy machine and make sure that all buttons and trays are securely covered.
- Place sturdy tape along the sides, top, and cover to hold the plastic in place.
- Copy documents by placing them in a face-down position, and do not use the manual feed.
8. Confidential Materials
Records classified as confidential are restricted to processing or use by cleared individuals and require special protection. Access to confidential materials may only be granted to individuals who have the appropriate security clearance, who have signed the security agreement, and whose official duties require such access (i.e., the "need to know"). Following are some guidelines for handling of confidential materials.
- Transportation should be arranged through the use of a vehicle with a closed vehicle which can be operated by cleared personnel.
- All confidential material should be escorted by an FAA employee with the proper level of security clearance.
- When confidential documents are moved from their secure location, they must be protected with a cover sheet that indicates that the material is confidential.
- Keep confidential materials separate from non-confidential materials.
- Any records containing superseded or outdated confidential information such as confidential business information (CBI) are to be returned to the Vital Records Officer who transferred the material.