Disaster strikes!

The past two sessions in the Archives and Records Management module have been concerned with preservation, conservation, and, this week, emergency planning and disaster management.

Last week we had Teresea Januszonok from the Sheffield Conservation Unit come to speak with us, and this week involved a tour of the records centre at the university with Records Manager Matthew Zawadski, where there has previously been some flood damage. On this tour we were able to see the space in which the university’s records are kept, and some of the problems and issues that they have encountered. A few years ago there was major flooding in Sheffield, and as newly set up in this building, the team did not have a disaster plan in place. Needless to say, they have one now! This visit was also a chance to find out from others on the course if they had experienced any flooding or similar emergencies in the libraries in which they have worked. One issue was that their library as Grade 1 listed, and as such there were often difficulties with the building in terms of the pipes and guttering. 

Planning for disaster recovery and salvage is important in avoiding escalation of the damage, by improving response time with a standard procedure to follow – reducing panicking and dithering time!

There are four stages;

  1. Raise the alarm
  2. Assess the incident and control it
  3. Containment
  4. Recovery
Wind tunnel
Our wind tunnel to dry water-soaked items

The second part of the session was a fun, messy practical concerned with the third and fourth of these stages, involving salvaging flooded materials, and building a wind tunnel in which to dry them. Although the items had only been in the water for a few hours, some of them were completely saturated. It was these we decided were too wet to dry in the wind tunnel, and were wrapped in bandages and bags for freezer storage. It was really surprising to see just how water-logged and degraded materials could become in such a short amount of time, which really rammed home the importance of disaster management planning and procedures, so one can stay calm and work effectively in such situations.

This practical session was refreshing, as a lot of the course often seems quite theoretical. It is something that is relevant to all libraries, archives, or records collections. It’s definitely one I will remember for when I am working professionally!

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