‘I have never been in an accident of any sort and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort’
-E J Smith (Captain of the Titanic)
Yesterday the conservation team and several library curators, managers and employees participated in a one-day course on practical disaster recovery by Fiona Macalister, representative for Harwell. She covered several areas of disaster planning and recovery including; why a disaster plan is needed, how to deal with damage, damage management, handling material and salvage. After receiving instruction on how to deal with several types of objects we split into groups and “salvaged” books, newspapers, pamphlets, photographs, microfiche and slides from several water-filled boxes. We had to decide whether items needed to be frozen, air-dried, flat-dried or left to dry on lines. It was a good exercise in both decision-making and practical salvage of wet material.
One of the things that struck me was the importance of practical damage management. Fiona described how it is important to not front-load salvage operations with the most complex and labor-intensive activities. When faced with a flood situation it seems natural to start salvaging the saturated items first then focus on the superficially wet items, however when considering how much time it will take to salvage each type of damage it will be more productive to save the superficially wet items first. I can see how a knee-jerk reaction would be to save the soaking wet items, however it is important to remember they are already saturated, not much more damage is going to happen to them by sitting in the water a bit longer. The superficially wet items however are at risk of becoming saturated, therefore they should be dealt with first. That said there is no standard set of rules for a disaster, each will have varying circumstances and stumbling blocks along the way. Many of those can be bypassed through the implementation of a disaster plan. Even better would be for a test run of the plan to take place in order to iron out the kinks before a disaster occurs. All in all it was an interesting and informative day.