Decision-making Processes

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Records are a vital element of any organisation. They provide evidence of business functions, activities, and the transactions that support them. They support decision-making processes, protect the organisation's rights, ensure organisational accountability, and form part of the historical and cultural resources available to society. Therefore, it is critical that measures are taken to salvage records when damage is evident. Today we will be learning about how we can recover records from the effects of a disaster.

Adherence to International Standard 15489 means ensuring that the integrity of records are be maintained in event of disaster (as seen in section 8 of the standard). This involves taking measures to prevent the irretrievable loss of vital records and those records which are deemed as having significant retention periods.

Disasters are 'Unexpected events with destructive consequences, including small and large scale events... disasters are dependent, not on the scale of damage, but on the effect that the incidents create' (NSW State Records, 2002. Guidelines on Counter Disaster Strategies for Records and Recordkeeping Systems).

Disasters affecting storage facilities and records may include:

  • refurbishments
  • natural events such as earthquakes,
    cyclones, bushfires, floods, pest plagues;
  • structural or building failure such as malfunctioning sprinklers, heating or air-conditioning systems, roof leaks;
  • industrial accidents such as nuclear or chemical spills;
  • technological disasters such as viruses and computer equipment failures; accidental loss through human error, unsuitable storage conditions or by natural decay of materials;
  • criminal behaviour such as theft, arson, espionage, vandalism, riots, and terrorism; and
  • war.

Disaster does not have to imply something large and catastrophic. Small events can cause serious damage like a small leak through a storage area window that has drenched a collection, a pest invasion, a major flood, a piece of vandalism, theft, etc.

Earthquakes and terrorist attacks may or may not seem very likely in your workplace but are quite possible in others.

Disasters may also be caused by storage conditions that are unsuitable for the media stored and by the natural decay of materials.

(NAA, 2002. Standard for the Physical Storage of Commonwealth Records;

NAA, 2007. Digital Recordkeeping Guidelines).

Dust and dirt - soiling substance, fine particles of earth or other matter, and when combined with water is mud.

Soot - a mixture of very fine oil, carbon and tar particles that represent the materials destroyed in the fire.

(Australian War Memorial, 2010. Cleaning Soot Damaged Objects).

Ash - a powder residue remains from burnt materials.

Water - is absorbed at different rates depending on the age, condition and composition of the material.

(Preservation and Archive Professionals, 2010. Salvage of Water Damaged Library Materials).

Mould - microbial fungi that consumes records.

Pest infestation evidence - the remains of vermin and proof of deterioration.

Damage - to partially destroy, reduce the value or accessibility of records.

As a result of disaster occurring, these are the common things that affect records.

Records which are affected with dirt, soil, soot or ash, become water logged, erupt with mould spores or evidence of vermin will need to be recovered using specific processes.

These disasters effect various record types in different ways. Ultimately however, the consequence is records which are unreadable or inaccessible.

Inaccessible records and records which are damaged beyond recognition may have the following consequences:

  • Affects the integrity of corporate memory;
  • Affects the operational efficiency of an agency;
  • Limits the accountability of the agency; and
  • Requires employees to recreate work that has been lost or destroyed, resulting in wasted time and money.

The more an agency is prepared for a disaster, the better the response.

The better the response to an emergency, the smoother the recovery.

  • Use a checklist to gather information about the damage;
  • Note what actions can be taken to prevent further damage and to stabilise the situation;
  • Simultaneously, document the effects of the disaster by means of photographing and videoing;
  • Contact commercial providers.

The final phase of disaster management is recovery. The recovery phase includes restoring resources and resuming normal business operations. Response and recovery activities often overlap. Recovery activities include treating damaged records, restoring electronic information, and reviewing the disaster management plan.

Surveying and documenting the damage is essential for insurance purposes and for reviewing the disaster plan.

At this stage, it is also important to attempt to stabilise the situation to prevent further damage. This may involve:

  • removing excess water with blotters, towels, mops, wet/dry vacuum, pumps;
  • lowering the temperature and relative humidity as quickly as possible if there has been excessive water damage;
  • opening the windows to allow moisture to escape (consider humidity, security and pests before opening windows);
  • covering display cases or shelves in the storage area (with polyethylene sheeting);
  • protecting records which have not been affected;
  • removing threatened records; and
  • replacing damp storage boxes with dry ones.

At this stage, it is also important to attempt to stabilise the situation to prevent further damage. This may involve:

  • covering display cases or shelves in the storage area
  • prevent mould in water-damaged records (e.g. increase air circulation by using fans, opening windows to allow moisture to escape)
    - anything that may prevent further unnecessary damage from occurring.

Don't forget to protect the records which are still in original condition and have not been affected from the disaster.

Evaluating the damage will guide the recovery process by determining what needs to be done.

This ensures that informed decisions are made. You need to assess:

  • What kind of damage has occurred?
  • What is the scale of the damage? (small, moderate, large)
  • What formats have been damaged? (books, photos, etc.)
  • Have any vital records been damaged?
  • How accessible are damaged records?
  • Are there records which have not been damaged, do they need protection, how accessible are they?
  • What type of salvage is going to be required? (smoke/ water damaged material).

To assist the recovery process determine:

  • the extent of structural damage
  • the extent of shelving damage
  • what systems/ resources are available, e.g. power, fresh water supply
  • the atmospheric conditions, e.g. the presence of water, dirt, soot, smoke
  • the quantities and location of records in the worst affected areas

Finally, identify salvage priority items.

Assess, remove, treat, and/or recover records according to salvage priority and records format.

This begins with taking an inventory and establishing the nature of the damage so that recovery procedures can be decided on.

Ascertain records of priority:

  • Vital records
  • Control records such as indexes, classification schemes, procedure manuals, inventories and registers, etc.
  • Records according to different formats.

If records have been damaged by fire, smoke, water, etc. it is essential to take recovery measures as soon as possible.

Ask participants to brainstorm various records.

Utilising the plan developed in preparation for disaster, refer to contact details and roles and responsibilities of committees and teams. Gather the members of the pre-organised recovery team. Members that are unavailable need to be replaced, depending on ability.

A secure area will need to be established for 'treatment areas'.

Develop a roster which allocates workers adequate food, breaks, and relief.

Begin documenting all processes taken in recovery.

These processes should integrate with the agency's Business Continuity Plan arrangements.

This planning and organisation needs to happen before any salvaging of records takes place.

Allow time for brainstorming about teams, processes and treatment areas.

Discussion of ideas.

The responsibility of determining the priority schedule should be pre-determined.

Advice regarding salvagability and other disposal issues should be sought from Queensland State Archives.

Determine the salvaging process:

  • Priority A - immediate treatment necessary
  • Priority B - essentially stable, can be treated later
  • Priority C - unsalvageable, to be authorised by the State Archivist.

The agency's Retention and Disposal Schedule will be valuable during this phase.

Once the priority schedule has been determined, roles and responsibilities can be allocated.

Team leaders may be assigned to various salvage operations if the scope of recovery is large.

  • Contacts - will you need salvaging advice?
  • Abilities - is the agency capable of recovering records, are professionals required?
  • Security - are the members handling the records allowed access to these records? Will work areas need security?
  • Transfer - how will records be transferred to the work area?

If in any doubt leave it for the conservators.

If staff are not experienced in specific recovery of records processes, professionals should be contacted.

In the Recordkeeping Disaster Management Plan, refer to the compiled list of professionals that can be called on to recover records for the agency.

Liaise with Queensland State Archives for commercial salvage operators.

At this stage, after surveying the extent of the damage, you may decide to contract a commerical salvage company to do the salvage and recovery for you. These contacts should be in your Plan.

Tables and other surfaces will need to be set up in the area, covered with plastic (to stop them soaking up moisture), then butchers paper to help absorb moisture out of the material being salvaged.

The area should ideally have air conditioning, or at least good air circulation. This can be achieved by using fans, dehumidifiers and (if the weather is fine) opening the windows (with discretion).

Extra heating should NOT be employed as warm, moist air encourages mould growth.

(NAA, 2000. Disaster Preparedness Manual)

One part of the area should be set aside to remove dried material to, before it is sorted and re-shelved. This area should be kept dry with another dehumidifier to prevent moist air from the recovery area moving into the dry area. This process could take 3-6 months and can be assisted by commercial salvage operators. Alternatively, a separate resorting area in another part of the building can be set up.

(NAA, 2000. Disaster Preparedness Manual).

Air-dry - increase good indoor airflow with fans, open windows, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

Clean gently - loosen dirt and debris on records with soft brushes and cloths, avoid rubbing.

Freezing - freezing water-logged records buys time in which to plan and organise the steps needed to dry the material, preventing the chance of mould.

It is absolutely vital to record what happens to each object during the process of recovery.

All cleaning should be done gently, especially if the record is robust.

Prevent Mould - forms within 48 hours. Reduce the humidity and temperature around the records.

Packing - if materials are to be frozen, water-soaked materials must be packed appropriately for freezer storage, clearly labelled and documented.


  • Handle as little as possible, wearing soft cotton or latex gloves.
  • Its effects can be made worse if an object is touched with bare hands because of the natural oils present in skin.
  • Handling results in compacting the soot/ash layer, causing it to adhere more tightly to the surface.
  • Records may be brittle from heat, caution must be applied when handling.


  • Vacuum is most effective if undertaken shortly after a fire, before the object is handled.
  • Dry surface cleaning such as vinyl erasers, document cleaning pads, etc. (Use after vacuuming)
  • Soot sponges can be purchased.
  • Water-affected material should be first priority.
  • Records need to be salvaged and dried out or frozen as soon as possible or paper will weaken and mould will begin to grow.


  • Handle with gloves;
  • Wear a P2 Disposable Respirator to prevent breathing in of mould spores.


  • Arrest mould by reducing temperature and humidity.
  • Once dried, mould can be brushed off.

Mould can be toxic. A P2 Disposable Respirator is the Australian standard and should be worn as a minimum. A full respirator may be required.

Staff with respiratory and chemical sensitivity, or compromised immune systems should not be involved. Mould cleaning should not be carried out in an uncontained, air-conditioned building due to risk of contamination. Instead, mould cleaning should be carried out in a well ventilated area (e.g. outside, undercover) with appropriate security.

Professionals should be consulted if necessary.


  • Handle with gloves;
  • Wear a P2 Disposable Respirator to prevent in of pest remains.


  • Fumigation - will require further protection
  • HEPA vacuum is most effective.

A P2 Disposable Respirator is the Australian standard and should be worn as a minimum. A full respirator may be required.

Firstly, a step by step outline of the recovery process needs to be detailed:

  • Evaluation of damage
  • Records inventory, ascertain priority
  • Contact recovery team and professionals
  • Establish command centre (liaise with BCP teams)
  • Brief team and develop a roster
  • Establish dedicated treatment areas
  • Collate supplies
  • Recover records

These requirements will be articulated in the Recordkeeping Disaster Management Plan.

Refer to Recordkeeping Disaster Management Plan, page 12.

The recovery procedure developed in the Recordkeeping Disaster Management Plan will allow the records manager to:

  • Develop strategies to recover your business activities in the quickest possible time;
  • Identify resources required to recover your operations;
  • Speculate a recovery time objective; and
  • Allocate the responsibilities.

The recovery checklist allows the coordinator to physically process the steps of recovery and make comments on each step.

This checklist formulates as a record of the steps taken and by whom.

Refer to Recordkeeping Disaster Management Plan, page 13.

A records manager understands the importance of records as evidence. Records of the procedures taken during the recovery process will be evidence that not only was everything done to salvage as much as possible, but the correct procedures were carried out.

Recovery team contact list and roles and responsibilities

A contact list plan will determine who to contact in the order of who should be contacted first. A description of the teams roles and responsibilities ensures that team members know what is expected of them.

Sources of additional supplies and commercial salvage companies

A list of all suppliers and recovery assistance contact information will be invaluable in the event of a disaster and must be compiled.

If in any doubt leave it for the conservators.

If staff are not trained in recovery processes, professionals should be contacted.

Building and Record Assessment

This checklist should prompt the team to understand what actions will need to be taken to recover records.


  • What the cause of the damage is;
  • The type of damage evident to records;
  • The scale of the damage; and
  • The format of records that have been damaged,

allows decisions to be made in beginning recovery processes.

1. Record inventory

This chart can be photocopied and used to catalogue the
records that are in the area affected by damage.

Information about the records will enhance the chances of the record being recovered, including:

  • Format
  • Security
  • Damage description
  • Treatment required
  • Determining if it is vital
  • Ascertaining a category of salvage
  • Location

Priority Schedule Tracker

This table enables scheduling of recovery items. Records can be grouped or individually tracked. Assigning priority to each record or group of records ensures that records that require immediate treatment are attended to first.

The information collected in the records inventory will compliment the priority schedule.

Salvaging procedures - action sheets

It is critical that salvaging procedures are followed in the event of a recovery. This ensures best practice principles takes place. Included should be procedures for:

  • Air drying
  • Freezing
  • Etc.

Procedures may also be outlined for the various formats including books, photographs, paper, microfilm, maps, diskettes, etc.

Recovery Container

A contents list of supplies which are kept in a recovery container should be included in the plan. This can assist the commencement of recovery and determine what needs to be obtained.

Additional features which are helpful

The larger the quantity of items to be recovered the more processes and people involved. Having forms that can be easily photocopied and distributed can assist in bringing order to the chaos.

The command centre may appreciate having:

  • A recovery boxes register
  • A status report form
  • Personnel Location control form
  • Etc.
  • Seek the advice of book and paper conservators with experience in salvaging water-damaged materials before and during recovery;
  • Recovery of records is secondary to the safety of people;
  • Immediately turn of heat and create free circulation of air;
  • Use dehumidifiers if possible;
  • Brief each worker carefully before salvaging operations being, emphasis the priorities and timing;
  • Do not allow inexperienced people to recover records - they cause more damage more often than not;
  • Allow mould to dry out before removing with a vacuum or soft brush;
  • Carry out all cleaning operations using fresh, cold running water;
  • Always use sponges in dabbing motions, do not rub;
  • Freeze items that cannot be dealt with within 24 hours;
  • Do not attempt to remove mud until dried;
  • Do not hang books when wet;
  • Do not press books when soaked;
  • Do not attempt to write on wet materials;
  • Do not pack newly dried materials until a week later;
  • Paper towelling is more effective than newsprint, although more expensive.

Health and safety issues

An overriding aim of the emergency response it to ensure minimal risk to staff. Observe the following safety precautions:

  • Do not permit entry to the site until the officer in charge has been given permission by the appropriate emergency service;
  • Ensure that contact lists contain specialists to deal with biological hazards (e.g. sewerage contamination);
  • Wear protective clothing, e.g. latex gloves and long sleeves;
  • Wear a respirator if mould is present;

Packing boxes should not exceed the weight recommended in Workplace Health and Safety guidelines


If a disaster were to occur in your agency today, how confident are you that:

  • Staff would know what to do
  • Records would incur minimal damage (due to preventative measures)
  • Records would be promptly recovered
  • The agency will have business continuity.