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Thinking inside the box

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What to do in cases of emergency

We regularly talk to a large number of companies in a range of sectors to see if they need help with their document and storage management.  Typical responses can range from the business having become a “paperless office” to those organisations who are currently handling their own storage solution by keeping everything on site.

This blog provides food for thought for anyone who is currently in charge of the company archive including all those irreplaceable documents that need keeping for accounting, legal or HR purposes. What happens to your precious documents and files if the unthinkable decides to pay you a visit this year?

Much can be done in advance to prepare and protect against disasters, in particular by assessing the risks.

Floods

Climate change means heavier and more unpredictable rainfall. If the flooding is localised, undamaged materials may be protected temporarily (if necessary) using polythene sheeting. Rescue any affected items and remove them to a dry, preferably cool room, starting with material on upper shelves. For relatively undamaged materials gentle first-aid may be attempted with clean cloths, or by inter-leaving with clean blotting paper, but note that items on coated paper require swift professional attention, and in all other cases if inks or dyes begin to run or dirt to spread, the items should be left for urgent professional attention.

Damp but not saturated volumes may be stood upright with the pages slightly fanned out to dry naturally. If air-blowers are used to assist the drying-out process, they should be kept on a cool setting, as heat may promote mould growth. Saturated materials can be very susceptible to damage and should be handled with care. They should not be piled on top of one another, nor should any attempt be made at this stage to separate pages that are stuck together. Seek professional advice on packing for transport.

After draining the disaster area, ventilate it well and if necessary hire a portable dehumidifier until the relative humidity has stabilised within the range 45-60%. Keep an eye on apparently unaffected items, which may suffer longer-term damage if the flood has seriously altered the relative humidity level.

If the flooding is more serious and especially if large quantities of documents are involved, contact your nearest record office for advice. Remedial treatment may include freezing the damaged material until such time as it can be safely dried out. Some record offices now have small freezers for this purpose, or standing arrangements with external contractors. There may be a charge for this service. Items which are to be removed from the premises for treatment should be individually wrapped in polythene bags or cling-film, and an inventory of them should be kept.

Fire

Consider in particular the proximity of any open fires, or other sources of flame or heat such as kitchens or workshops, electrical short-circuits and lightning, or other potential sources of risk such as stored inflammable materials.

Where possible choose sturdily-built storage rooms with good fire-resistance, and ensure that doors and windows are tightly shut when the premises are unattended.

Check that all wiring is sound and up-to-date, and all cabling insulated. Out of hours switch off, and preferably isolate, all inessential electricity. Install smoke detectors and link automatically to the fire brigade or a security firm. Depending on the size of the storage area, provide one or more hand-held carbon dioxide fire extinguishers for use in the event of a small fire in the storage area. Water- based extinguishers are useful in adjacent rooms and corridors. In the case of larger collections of where it might be appropriate to fit an automatic fire-extinguishing system, the advice of the local Fire Officer should be sought.

It almost goes without saying: do not permit smoking; keep loose papers to a minimum and avoid litter. Finally it is worth seeking the guidance of the local fire brigade on how precautions might be improved.

Look out for our next blog on How to Prepare a Recovery Plan.

If all of the above seems like a huge amount of hassle, not to mention staff resource and financial outlay, Filofile offers a free audit to businesses and organisations who may like to look at better ways to handle their document storage and management. Contact us today to discuss how we maybe able to assist you.

Resource: The National Archives

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