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Section XII: Emergency preparedness

12.1 Emergency preparedness and disaster recovery in audiovisual collections


12.1 Emergency preparedness and disaster recovery in audiovisual collections

Gerald D Gibson, Library of Congress, Washington DC

Paper presented in the Technical Committee session during the IASA/FIAT conference in Bogensee 1994

In addition to work with colleagues in IASA on this topic, the Library of Congress assigned me the responsibility to analyse the facilities and needs of its Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) and to a develop an emergency preparedness and disaster recovery plan for the audio and moving-image holdings. The following is a preliminary report of the progress at the Library of Congress to date on that work, and a request of assistance from each of you in gathering additional information on how to approach and meet this assignment. Unfortunately, the plan is far from complete, and except for the acquisition and placement of a number of emergency supplies - its implementation has just begun.

Plans have been prepared and are routinely tested in most of our institutions for the safety and protection of personnel. While human life takes precedence when formulating the priorities of an emergency plan, and, in general, building codes are developed to guard against the risks of damage to facilities, little has been done to safeguard collections against the unknown. Most of us have sole responsibility for irreplaceable and valuable objects and collections of information essential to our collective national and international history and cultural heritage. As such, we hold primary responsibility to protect and prevent damage and loss to such materials.

It seems that all of us have made efforts in the past to protect our collections - and some have actually carried through and have strategies in place. Unfortunately, few of us have current plans or have implemented the procedures for those for such situations.

A plan for staff will usually take into consideration a number of points, including general emergency procedures; building alarms and evacuation procedures; health services for emergencies; power outages; elevator safety instructions; and procedures to follow in the event of bomb threats or explosions, chemical spills, fire, and floods. The Safety Office at the Library of Congress has overall responsibility to review, maintain, and implement this plan. For obvious reasons, certain portions of any such plans remain confidential and are shared only on a need to know basis (for example, those parts of such a plan dealing with sabotage threats). Without such secrecy the plans, themselves, can and will be circumvented by the very people they are designed to protect against. Still, the key personnel must be entrusted with planned procedures or the plan is useless. If you do not have such a plan, please write or FAX me in Washington and I will send you a copy of the Library of Congress's strategy for staff emergencies. You can then see how we have approached the issue and modify it to meet your situation and needs. In return, I ask that those of you with such plans in place will, also, send a copy to me for the same purpose.

For collections, the Library of Congress has decided that the Preservation Office, shall have primary responsibility and authority. We have determined that we must assign specific personnel - with adequate backup in the event that they are not available - with assignment for each of the collections. These persons are responsible to prioritize collections and train staff within individual units, prepare and distribute materials on alert procedures for staff orientation and signage for visitors, establish and stock supply lockers/rooms with emergency supplies and equipment, and train appropriate personnel in each unit, and be sure that support staff are, in turn, trained in recovery procedures.

The assignment of primary responsibilty -an individual with specifically identified deputies - is the essential first step and should be done immediately, even if further actions are delayed. The individual must be given full support and all staff must know that in the event of an emergency this person and their surrogate/s speak with the full authority and responsibility of the entire institution. One of the first obligations of this assignment must be to establish a firm schedule for design and implementation of the components of the emergency preparedness / disaster recovery plan.

Emergency preparedness MUST be viewed as an on-going process, consciously and methodically cultivated so that it becomes ingrained into the very fabric of your routine. No single written document will sufficiently address the issues for all situations. Nor should a "Plan" take precedence over the process of planning, prevention, and training. ALL such plans must be reviewed and revised on a regular scheduled basis. Further, emergency preparedness must be a collective endeavour. An emergency preparedness plan must of necessity involve personnel from all functions and disciplines. It must concern itself not just with storage and preservation specialists, but also with engineers, technicians, senior administration, management, and the full range of service groups in your institution.

The first step in such a plan is ASSESSMENT OF RISKS TO THE COLLECTION. It is either the very lucky or the very young collection that has not had at least one major emergency. Many, such as my own institution, the Library of Congress, have had numerous situations over its life. In our case these range from the intentional burning of the collections during times of war, through water in storage areas from burst pipes and leaking sprinklers, to intentional acts of vandalism. One of the first steps of any emergency plan is to assess what emergencies have occurred in the past and to assess their potential for recurring in the future. When beginning this process at the Library we undertook a survey of how much damage would be done should a single sprinkler head go off. The criteria were to evaluate the numbers of items in various formats if stored on floor-accessible shelving in a 25 sq. ft. area, the designed coverage of many such devices. We found that such an event could have serious effects upon a surprisingly large number of items. In the area in which I work, audio and moving-image media, for example, it could affect as many as 38,000 acetate discs, or 50,000 magnetic tapes, or 90,000 vinyl discs, or 14,000 cans of 16mm film. We had to realize that, dependent upon how much time passed before the water were shut off and the standing water removed, the damage from the release of just a single sprinkler head would probably be an emergency beyond the capacity of immediately available staff in the various work units! The resources of the Library would be seriously affected by just one emergency of this magnitude, and it would probably require many weeks to recover and get back to normal. Assuming that irreversible damage was not done at the outset of such an emergency, there is a maximum of 48 hours before such things as mold growth would begin. Even before this, binders would break down and paper dissolve, ink on labels run or be washed off, building structure can, potentially, be severely damaged, electrical circuits can be overloaded and short circuit resulting in electrical fires. The list is very frightening to consider.

An important part of RISK ASSESSMENT is to develop a working file of blue-prints, or plans, of each of the areas where collections are, or might reasonably be expected to be, located or used. Mark this plan wtih such information as: previous problems (leaks, chemicals problems, etc.), alarm boxes, in the event of the failure of lighting, what is the physical arrangement of the area so that personnel can move around with some confidence (where are the aisles, if using compact shelving, where are the controls to shift the stacks, etc.), what is the location for sprinkler and other water shut-off valves and who has keys to access them and authority to shut them off, where are the electrical switches, the master electrical boxes and shutoffs, hand-held fire extinguishers, and location of emergency supplies. These blue-prints should be located in multiple, readily accessible places, not just locked in the director's office. Some of the areas where they should be placed are in the security office, with the local fire department, at the home of key staff member/s and their deputy.

The Library of Congress concluded that, in order to respond as quickly as possible, emergency preparedness must include an established communications system - a telephone tree, for example with appropriate 24-hour contacts for the local fire department, security offices, engineers, and the staff of each unit. This information should be reviewed at the time of ANY staff changes, should be clearly posted for all to see, should be part of the at-home requirements of those in areas of responsibility and authority, and should have clearly designated alternates in the event someone can not be reached.

Another important, but frequently difficult, decision is to PRIORITIZE COLLECTIONS to determine what is to be salvaged first. Most of us do not realize fully that time is at a premium when an emergency takes place. Staff must be made aware of this decision, and must be properly trained in how to evaluate the situation to determine if there is time to salvage even the most valued item in the collection. Of equal importance is TRAINING THE STAFF to know HOW to handle an item and what to do should the most common problem -water- be coming into the area. How is the item handled? Does it need to be covered if water is cascading into the area?

A simple effort we can all undertake now is to determine, acquire, and maintain those supplies essential in the event of the most common problems. The Library of Congress found a firm, ReActPak, which sells a containerized package of some of the most needed items when an emergency arises: plastic sheeting, plastic garbage pails (the corrugated plastic container in which the supplies are shipped serves this purpose), large sponges, pails and buckets, flashlight with extra batteries, protective clothing (plastic aprons, gloves, boots, etc.), blotters to absorb standing water, inventorying materials (paper, notebooks, soft pencils, waterproof felt tip pens, colored pressure sensitive tape, scissors, duct/boxing tape, and a first aid kit), and the like. In addition, we believe that additional stocks of such things as wet-or-dry vacuums, large sheets of heavy duty plastic sheeting (8'and 16' x l50'x 3-5ml. thick, for example), large fans to circulate the air, water proof tape to seal leaks in pipes, battery operated emergency lighting, emergency air support systems, zip-lock bags, plastic bubble-wrap, a large quantity of absorbent paper towels, a large roll of 24" wide polyester nonwoven fabric for interleaving, etc. Finally in this area, if such supplies are not readily available at all times of the day or night they are are useless. This means that the SUPPLY LOCKERS/ROOMS WITH EMERGENCY SUPPLIES and EQUIPMENT must remain unlocked at all times. This, in turn, means that the supplies muct be checked regularly and replenished as needed.

We are just now developing our list of emergency supplies specific to audio and moving-image media. I would welcome hearing from you if you have suggestions -especially if you have experiences.

Even the best plan will fail if the staff are not TRAINED, including SUPPORT STAFF. This includes not only the in-house personnel but, also, such people as the local fire squad - the worst nitrate film fire that I have ever personally witnessed was made MUCH worse because the firemen did not know what was in the storage vaults, did not understand what it meant when told, and treated the blaze as a normal vault storage fire. Further, if they understand the importance and value of the materials in your facility they can possibly make minor modifications which will have major impact on your ability to recover the media and, hence, the data after the emergency is past.

As in much of our audio and moving-image world, the limited research and testing which has been done in this area - and it seems to be very limited - has been aimed at paper and paper-based materials. One of the few documents I know on disaster recovery of magnetic tape, for example, is a recent, not-yet published paper by Edward F. Cuddihy of California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Lab at a conference in Paris this past May. I believe it to be of such importance that I will close this paper with a summary of what Dr. Cuddihy recommends: "...polyester based tape which has become wet, as caused by a flood or accidentally dropped in oceans or lakes, should be kept UNDER clean, cold water -nominally at 0E C- until such time as it can be carefully examined, cleaned of water borne debris, and - if the tape can be easily rewound - wound loosely onto another reel. This winding should, also, be carried out IN ice-water to rinse the layers as they become unwound, or in a cold room having a temperature less than 11EC. The loosely wound tapes should then be placed in a vacuum chamber to dry-out. This chamber may be identical to those used for drying wet books or other wet documents. DO NOT HEAT THE TAPES. For guidance, Dr. Cuddihy points out that, under a hard vacuum, 12.7mm tapes require two to three days for total dry-out, and 25.4m tapes require four to five days.

"After vacuum dry-out, expose the tapes to an ambient environment equal to their intended storage conditions. Again as guidance, Dr. Cuddihy points out that this will, also, probably take two to five days at 20EC and 50% R/H, dependent upon the size of the tape reels and he conditions. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO UNWIND THE DRY TAPE AS IT MAY BE BRITTLE.

"After the tape has been acclimatized to its storage conditions an effort to carefully unwind the tapes should be attempted. Dr. Cuddihy reports that tape which has been exposed to cold water (less than 11EC in his opinion), or moderately degraded tapes, should unwind with reasonable force which does not cause mechanical damage to or shedding of the oxide layer. If the tapes can be unwound, a tissue wipe on a standard tape cleaner is recommended before attempting playback.

At this stage..., there may be two situations.... The first is that the tapes can be unwound and wound from reel-to-reel, but cannot be played without squeal, shedding, and so on. The second is that the tape pack cannot be unwound at all, without oxide damage.

"To achieve a playable condition, a high risk procedure can be attempted. This procedure involves heating the tape pack at 75EC, in vacuum or in dry nitrogen, in an attempt to chemically reverse the hydrolysis reaction, to restart the binder chemistry and its mechanical and physical properties, and to reduce the quality of hydrolyzed products in the polyester urethane binders. There is a reasonable chance that a playable state may be achieved for tapes which could be unwound and wound prior to this heating, and a very low chance for very severely degraded tapes which could not be unwound prior to the heating procedure. Attempting the procedure is a risk/reward trade-off decision, and the heating procedure may have to be repeated several times...."

Dr. Cuddihy does not specifically say so, but I believe it imperative that, once the above steps are completed, and presuming you are able to play the tape, it should be copied as soon as possible."

We at the Library of Congress have not tried this process, so I am not necessarily recommending it, only reporting the information which has come to me. If any of you have had experience in such cases we would all profit from your knowledge.

In conclusion, the Library of Congress, unfortunately, does not yet have an emergency plan for audio or moving-image media or data. We are in the first stages of putting one together and would welcome your comments and experience, particularly if you have been through a crisis with these materials, or you have such a plan in place. I would welcome hearing from you at your earliest possible convenience.


I. Staff Emergency Procedures

A. General Instructions

1. Building Alarms and Evacuations

a. Building Evacuation Assembly Locations
b. Building Evacuation Alarms and Notices

2. Safety Procedures

a. Building Evacuation Procedures
b. Fire Extinguisher Location
c. Fire Notice Procedures

B. Specific Situations

1. Health Service Emergencies
2. Power Outages
3. Bomb Threats and Suspicious Objects
4. Chemical Spills
5. Explosions
6. Fire
7. Flood and Water Damage
8. Medical Emergencies
9. Elevator Emergencies

II. Collection Emergency Procedures

A. Telephone Tree for Internal Use
B. Emergency Site Plan

1. Blue Print of Facility
2. Location of Alarm Boxes
3. Location of Fire Extinguisher
4. Location of Emergency Supplies

a. Contents
b. Use

5. Location of Water and Electrical Shut-offs
6. Location of Previous Problem Areas

C. Collection Priorities
D. Disaster Recovery

1. Staffing
2. Budget
3. Supplies
4. Procedures

a. Magnetic

- 1) Open reel
2) Cassette/cartridge

b. Film

- 1) Nitrate
- 2) Diacetate
3) Triacetate
4) Polyester

c. Grooved discs

- 1) Wax
2) Shellac
3) Vinyl
4) Acetate
5) Polycarbonate/Optical
6) Laminates

d. Cylinders

- 1) Wax
2) Celluloid

e. Mechanical instrument devices

- 1) Rolls
2) Music box discs

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