When disaster strikes - Disaster Recovery Planning

When disaster strikes – Disaster Recovery Planning

Carleen Dekarski Managing archives, Theory in action


Recently I was away for a conference and “that” call came. Disaster has struck. A contractor had an unfortunate accident with water while doing some work in the archive facility. A number of cabinets filled with paper and trace paper of design plans, survey plans were covered in a deluge of water.

So what to do when you are 6 hours away and something must be done now?

  1. Having a robust Disaster Recovery Plan in place is imperative. All the contact points and steps needed for preservation based on record medium type should be included. In this case, dealing with wet paper records!
  2. Ensure your Disaster Recovery Plan is mobile accessible so when you are out of the office it can be easily shared regardless of where you are.
  3. Disaster Recovery kits are imperative – keep those first point of call tools directly to hand until more can be sourced
    1. These should contain items like – paper towels, pencils, pegs, sturdy rope/string, towels, head torches, fans, electrical cords, swing tags, note paper, nitrate gloves, dust masks.
  4. Ensure DR kits are well placed – I have one at the Archive facility and one in the main office at a different location.
  5. Provide clear instruction to a designated lead point and ensure they have a team around them that has the authority and contact points to get more gear and resources.
  6. Priority list of records that need particular immediate attention or removal – in this case I had a list of all items in that particular zone so I can easily determine if there was anything that needed immediate attention.
  7. Photograph as you go and list everything you can, where it came from and where it went
  8. Debriefs after the event to capture lessons

I work with a great bunch of colleagues who contacted me immediately and took instruction perfectly. Most importantly there were many hands on deck and all were interested and prepared to “save the day”.

Post event

Thankfully there have been very few pieces that have been severely damaged. The good news is that generally all the records in the event had previously been digitised.

However, the original records were retained as the digital version is great for general viewing but when printed they are not to scale so the engineers still sometimes request the original for working copies.

Coming out of the event it is really important to understand what went wrong to begin with, how the process worked, what we can learn out of it and where to next.

Lessons learned include:

  1. Better contractor briefing around expectations on the day when working in the Archive.
  2. Having more space available to work in – the processing room is currently at full capacity and it was raining outside so there was limited space to work with huge plans.
  3. Get rolls of absorbent paper instead of hand towels. They were easier to use to than small handfuls of towels.
  4. Have large, absorbent bathroom towels to sop up the wet floor.
  5. More rubbish bins or bags handy. The tiny work waste bins were rather useless to have onsite.
  6. Keep up to date with Disaster Recovery training so there are a number of people who know how to step up when the need arises.
  7. Update the Disaster Recovery Plan where needed and ensure it is recirculated and old copies disposed.

With only the drying out of the carpet and putting the order back together again I think we came out of this event very well. Time to say thank you to all those that came to help and celebrate with pizza!

Recognition: Water photo by Thierry Meier, Creative Commons Zero licence, published with thanks from Arcavee.com

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About the Author

Carleen Dekarski

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I have worked in the quality management, information management and archival field over the last 15 years across Australia, England and New Zealand. The progression from information management to archives was a self taught journey and one that is not unfamiliar in many businesses and communities today. My daily expertise is grounded in local government archives however the principles of archiving apply to all. I am a member of the ICA and ARANZ.