Alabama faces natural threats year-round. From flooding to hurricanes to snow and ice, these events can pose a danger to your record storage room. In addition to natural disasters, records storage rooms are subject to more common hazards such as pipes bursting, sewers backing up, or faulty electrical wiring causing smoke or fire damage. You can learn more about how to organize your records in our blog “10 Steps to Wrangling Your Records Storage Room“; however, emergencies and natural disasters can still cause damage to even the most orderly environments.
A written disaster plan can help you better salvage records after a disaster. According to the Society of American Archivist’s glossary, a disaster plan is “an actively maintained document containing procedures and information needed to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from [an] emergency.” Creating a disaster response plan requires an ongoing commitment of staff, time, thorough planning, and regular updates. You may not be able to immediately undertake this type of project.
As a first step, we recommend an activity that takes minimal time and can help you quickly and efficiently respond to a records room disaster: assemble an emergency response kit. This post will focus on the basics of building an emergency kit (also known as “disaster kits” or “response kits”). You can purchase pre-made emergency kits from archival supply companies, such as these from Gaylord Archival and University Products, but you may not need all the items in these kits, or you may need more of certain supplies. For this reason, we encourage you to assemble an emergency kit tailored to your record storage room’s unique needs.
Who Should be Involved?
While putting together an emergency response kit may fall to the records manager or the individual in charge of the records room, building your response kit as a group often fosters a better understanding and sense of responsibility for your organization’s records. The planning group may include staff members that would respond to an emergency in the records room and those who have valuable knowledge of the building. For example, a maintenance representative will be familiar with your building’s quirks and may suggest including more water damage response supplies owing to a history of leaking pipes in the building. Use the suggestions in this post as a starting point to brainstorm what supplies are most important for your records and create a content list for your kit. Emergency kits must be checked a minimum of once a year, and a content list will let you easily check to see if items have gone missing or have been used and need to be restocked. You can find samples of content lists on the internet to provide inspiration, like these from The Smithsonian Library and Harvard Library.
The items packed inside the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s emergency kits include the following:
- 1 x Clipboard with a Pad of Paper
- 1 x “Salvage of Water Damaged Material” Booklet
- 1 x Box of Disposable Gloves
- 1 x Roll of Masking Tape
- 1 x Roll of Duct Tape
- 1 x Bottle of disinfectant
- 2 x Plastic Buckets
- 2 x Work Gloves
- 2 x Flashlights (Plus Four Flashlight Batteries)
- 2 x Pair of Scissors
- 2 x Large Sponges
- 3 x Marker Pens
- 4 x Rolls of Paper Towels
- Approximately Sixty 33-Gallon Trash Bags
- Several Plastic Sheets (Visqueen)
What Container and How Many Kits?
There are different container options for storing supplies. They range from waterproof backpacks to rolling metal carts like the one outlined in this Conserve O Gram from the National Park Service. We recommend that you use waterproof storage bins. These bins are easy to find at most stores and are reasonably priced. The container size depends on the volume of supplies you’ll be adding and the space you have to store the kit. You may wish to postpone purchasing the container until you have gathered all your supplies to ensure it will hold everything. The kit should be stored in a convenient place for grabbing during a disaster, but not in an area where pilfering the contents is tempting. The outside of the container should be clearly labeled on multiple sides. Alert all employees to the kit’s location in case they need to retrieve it.
If you have a single, small records storage room, you may need only one disaster kit. If you have more than one storage room or an off-site storage room, you need to plan on putting together a disaster kit for each storage room.
The supplies that should be added to your disaster kit fall into four categories: Safety Supplies, Office Supplies, Cleaning Supplies, and Informational Supplies. Some supplies fall under multiple categories.
Human safety is the number one priority while responding to any disaster! If you cannot safely respond to the issues, do not attempt to do so. Call the appropriate professionals.
- First Aid Kit – Cuts, scrapes, and even burns are all possible injuries that can, unfortunately, occur when responding to a records room disaster. The first aid kit can be a small basic model and should be reserved only for records room emergencies. Don’t rely on the office first aid kit in a disaster response situation, as it may have been moved or not have the items you need.
- Nitrile Gloves – these gloves will help protect hands for delicate jobs such as responding to mold or handling fragile records. Learn more about responding to mold and mildew in this blog. You should also wear gloves if you are tending to another person’s cut or scrapes. It is generally recommended to have at least three pairs but include a whole box if possible.
- Flashlight with Working Batteries – In a records room emergency, you can find yourself without electricity. Make sure to have a flashlight with working batteries in your kit.
- Batteries – a pack of backup batteries for your flashlight is recommended.
- Plastic Goggles – Protect your eyes from dust, debris, and dirty water.
- Masks – Dust, mold, mildew, and even pollen from the tree that crashed through the records room’s ceiling can all cause respiratory symptoms. Include a pack of N95 or other masks in your kit.
- Disposable Aprons/Hazard Suits– Plastic disposable aprons will protect clothing from dust and can keep responders from getting wet.
Optional but helpful safety items for your disaster kit:
- Headlamps – These will free your hands from holding a flashlight, but a flashlight is often brighter, and controlling the beam of light is more intuitive.
- Rubber Boots– These can protect feet and provide better traction in wet conditions but can also be hazardous for the wearer if they are not properly fitted.
- Caution Tape– If you need to block access to a part of your records room, caution tape is a simple way to do this.
- Leather Work Gloves–Work gloves provide great protection to hands when removing debris like leaves from a drain or if you are going to be moving large amounts of boxes.
Don’t count on having a writing instrument, paper, or even a dry surface to write on when you respond to a disaster in your records room. It might seem silly to waste valuable space in your kit with these supplies, especially if your records storage room is in an office setting but having these office items earmarked explicitly for disaster response will save you time and ensure that you have what you need.
- Clipboard– This provides a sturdy and mobile surface to write on. The clipboard can also hold information sheets you may need to reference.
- Paper – A pack of blank paper, a blank notebook, or at a minimum, several sheets of paper will provide you with something to write on. During a disaster, you may need to create make-shift signs, jot down notes, or even make sketches.
- Pencils and Pens– Ballpoint pens and pencils can be used for making notes and checking off lists. Have at least three pens and three pencils.
- Permanent Markers– Markers help write on boxes and make signs that need to be more visible than what a ballpoint pen or pencil can provide.
- Scissors- Scissors are useful for cutting tape and can work as a box opener when necessary.
- Masking Tape – Masking tape has several uses, including creating make-shift labels, which you can write on with your permanent markers to identify boxes that have sustained damage.
Optional but helpful office items for your disaster kit:
- Disposable Camera w/ batteries– While most of us have a camera on our cell phones, it’s a good idea to have a backup way to capture photographic evidence of the disaster from the very start. Government employees may also wish to avoid using their personal phones to store work photographs.
- Blotter Paper – Absorbent blotter paper can be used for drying paper materials.
A clean records storage room is something you should strive for at all times, but you’ll need cleaning supplies to mitigate records damage post-disaster. Some of the more oversized items in this category may be communal office items that are not stored directly with your emergency kit, such as a vacuum or broom. That’s okay; just make sure the smaller items like gloves and paper towels are specifically designated and kept with the emergency kit. You should note where the large items are stored on your content list.
- Waterproof (rubber) Gloves– Durable, waterproof gloves come in handy for cleaning projects or when working with standing water and provide more protection for hands than nitrile gloves. Have at least three pairs in your disaster kit.
- Vacuum with a hose or a Handheld Vacuum– Ideally, the vacuum should have a HEPA filter for disaster response. If you choose a wireless handheld vacuum, keep it on its charging base and plugged into the wall. This is likely an item that will be stored separately from the kit. If that is the case, make sure to note where it is stored on the content list for your emergency kit (i.e., “cleaning closet on 3rd floor”)
- Paper Towels – Have at least one roll of undyed, heavy absorbency paper towels in your disaster kit. You can also purchase a pack of folded paper towels for this purpose. These will allow you to absorb water from the shelves and even the records.
- Sponges – Choose highly absorbent sponges to help dry water from surfaces.
- Mop and Bucket– In the aftermath of a water emergency in your storage room, the mop can be used to absorb or push excess water away from records. The ideal option is a sponge mop with a built-in wringer, but a cloth mop will work. Just make sure you have access to a mop wringer. If these items are not kept in your emergency kit, note where they are kept on your inventory list.
- Broom– Like a mop or vacuum, the broom may be a communal office item that is stored elsewhere. Note where it is kept on your container inventory list.
- Dustpan – Dustpans are small enough to store in the emergency kit, so you might choose to have a dustpan dedicated solely to the records storage room. This way you don’t have to run around looking for one while responding to an emergency.
- Garbage Bags– 33 gallons or larger, heavy-duty trash bags are the best option for your supply kit. If you are disposing of wet paper or cardboard, you’ll need bags that can handle heavy trash without breaking. Have at least three bags in your kit.
Optional but helpful cleaning items for your disaster kit:
- Plastic Sheets– Plastic sheeting can be used to protect undamaged records when hung over shelves. The sheets also provide a clean surface on the floor or a table if you are moving boxes.
- Wet Vacuum – Having access to a wet vacuum can be invaluable in responding to a water-related incident. Note where the vacuum is stored on your content list.
Informational supplies may be the most important contents of your emergency response kit. These items provide direction on responding to an emergency and include contact information for essential resources. In a stressful situation, many people forget the steps they should take to respond to the disaster or what items they have in an emergency kit, so it is helpful to have these supplies as reminders.
- Inventory/Content List-If using a plastic container, taping the supply list to the inside of the lid is a smart way to ensure that the list is readily available. If items in your disaster kit are kept elsewhere, include them on the content list with their location noted.
- Emergency Contact List – Include the contact information for your security company, non-emergency police, and the fire department. This list should also include companies and individuals that provide services or maintenance to the building, such as utility, gas, electrical, and locksmiths.
- Records Emergency Contact List –The Records Management Section at the Alabama Department of Archives and History should be near the top of this list if you are a state or local agency. Getting in touch with the Records Management Section as soon as possible allows us to help you work through dealing with the destruction of permanent and temporary records. You must report the loss or damage of records to the ADAH.
Other contacts on this list should include emergency response agencies and conservation vendors. Find contact information for some vendors and emergency response agencies on our website here: https://archives.alabama.gov/manage/disaster/resources/
- Building or Agency Emergency Plan-If you have one, include the emergency plan in your disaster kit. You may need to contact your agency about the damage to the building etc., and the disaster plan should walk you through who needs to be notified.
- Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel-The salvage wheel is a compact and helpful item to have on hand for quick reference for various disasters. The wheel provides quick access to essential information on protecting and salvaging your records. It was developed by the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and endorsed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They can be purchased from many vendors online, including University Products. For a history of the emergency response and salvage wheel, see the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property’s (ICCROM) resource of the month article from April 2021.
Check Your Emergency Response Kit Regularly
Congratulations! You have assembled an emergency response kit and should feel confident and ready to respond to a disaster in your records storage room. However, you cannot forget your emergency kit until you need it. Schedule an annual inventory of your kit to ensure that the kit is always completely stocked at all times. Even if you have communicated that the records room emergency kit supplies are to be used ONLY in a records room disaster, supplies can go missing. This inventory should also include checking on supplies like the vacuum and mops to ensure they are still stored in the same location. If they’ve been moved, you must update the location notes. If your office has annual safety or security training, scheduling the inventory around the same time will help connect records management to your office’s safety and security. The Records Management Section is always available to answer questions before, during, and after a records room disaster. Do not hesitate to contact us at 334-353-5039.
References and Resources
American Institute for Conservation. “CDC Care: Collections Emergency Kits” Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDH8J8pZmT8
American Institute for Conservation. “Emergency! If You’re First” Accessed April 26, 2022.
American Institute for Conservation. “Emergency Salvage Wheel” Accessed April 26, 2022.
American Institute for Conservation Wiki. “Emergency Preparedness & Response” Accessed April 26, 2022. Emergency Preparedness & Response – Wiki (conservation-wiki.com)
Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). “Collections Management” Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.carli.illinois.edu/products-services/collections-management/supplies-tools
Council of State Archivists. “Emergency Preparedness” Accessed April 26, 2022.
dPlan The Online Disaster-Planning Tool for Cultural and Civic Institutions. https://dplan2020.org/
The Getty Conservation Institute. “Building an Emergency Plan A Guide for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions” 1999. https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf_publications/pdf/emergency_plan.pdf
Harvard Library. “Recommended Emergency Supplies” Accessed April 26, 2022.
Recommended Emergency Supplies | Preservation Services (harvard.edu)
Library of Congress. “Level of Collections Emergency Scenarios” Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/preservation/emergprep/plan/scenarios.html
Minnesota Historical Society. “Emergency Preparedness & Recover Plan” Accessed April 26, 2022.
Minnesota Historical Society. “Disaster Response and Recovery Resources”
National Archives and Records Administration. “Records Emergencies” Accessed April 26, 2022.
National Heritage Responders. “Tip Sheets” Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.culturalheritage.org/resources/emergencies/national-heritage-responders/tip-sheets
The National Park Service: Conserve O Grams https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/cons_toc.html
New York State Archives. “Sample DISASTER PLAN”
Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute. “ATI Library Disaster Manual” Accessed April 26, 2022. ATI_Library_Disaster_Plan.pdf (osu.edu)
Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. “Disaster Planning Templates” Accessed April 26, 2022.
Ryan, Meghan. “Supplies and Tools for Disaster Response” Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois, January 2017. https://www.carli.illinois.edu/products-services/collections-management/supplies-tools
Rushing, Erin. “MayDay – What’s in our Disaster Kit?” Smithsonian Libraries and Archives Unbound May 1, 2014. https://blog.library.si.edu/blog/2014/05/01/mayday-whats-in-our-disaster-kit/#.Yo-83qjMLB5
Shepard, Elizabeth. “Compiling a Disaster Plan for Archival Collections” Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference Technical Leaflet Series #13, 2018. https://marac.memberclicks.net/assets/documents/marac_techincal_leaflet_13.pdf
Smithsonian Institution Archives. “Emergency Preparedness” Accessed April 26, 2022. https://siarchives.si.edu/what-we-do/preservation/emergency-preparedness
Stanford Libraries. Using Collections Emergency Response Kits” Accessed April 26, 2022.
Braxmeier, Hans. First Aid Kit. 2022
Drew, Lillian. A Person Wearing Rubber Gloves. 2021.
Ds_30. Pencils Rulers Objects Yellow Group. 2020