Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Records Preservation and Disaster Recovery

For records keepers, there is more to preserving hard copies of important office records than just finding a convenient storage place.  Its important to be prepared in case a disaster such as a flood, fire or tornado occurs.  Paper or microfilm records can also be seriously damaged by more minor events, or by regular storage conditions which are problematic.  Excessive heat, humidity, or exposure to insects or mold can cause great damage over a long period of time.  In Ohio, county government offices have had to deal with a variety of problems that threatened their records:  in Summit County, burst water pipes soaked several boxes of files.  Montgomery County experienced an outbreak of mold which seriously endangered records there.  In Stark County, a roof collapsed during a major rainstorm, and a foot of water covered the floor where some Board of Elections records were located.

Documents damaged by insects

Here in Licking County, records were stored for several decades in the Courthouse attic, where weather, soot, mold and small animals took a heavy toll.  During the last few years, permanent records have been salvaged from the attic and placed in the Records & Archives facility on Buena Vista Street, where temperature and humidity are kept at safe levels, and other building conditions are closely monitored.  Still, the unforseen has occurred at our building:  a couple of years ago a faulty light bulb burst, not far from boxes of records which might have caught fire if they had been closer.

Like the man said in a 1970's TV ad for FRAM oil filters, "You can pay me now, or pay me later."   Some forethought and investment in proper storage conditions can prevent a lot of headaches, misery and loss in the future.  The Licking County Records & Archives Department has a Disaster Response Manual, which specifies staff responsibilities in the event of a major disaster or minor incident, and also includes checklists, salvage techniques, and other information.  There are several Internet sites which give advice about preserving paper files and preparing for disasters.  The National Archives offers guidance at http://www.archives.gov/preservation/records-emergency/.  You can find practical help there such as "What should I do with wet records."

For more information about ensuring the proper storage of records and creating a disaster plan, contact Katy Klettlinger at 740-670-5121.