Disaster Preparedness – 2


Before a reliable disaster plan can be written, it is important to understand the potential hazards to the collections and to undertake strong preventive and protective measures.  It is helpful in determining potential hazards in archives to bring in outside experts who understand the technicalities of buildings and their services.  At this time in the planning process it is necessary to set up hazards surveys, create appropriate forms to be used, and establish the correct channels for communication.  For a large institution, establishing a task force or sub-committee to carry out these surveys is a good idea to avoid slowing down the entire planning process.

The results of the surveys will provide objective information for the planning committee to consider and to make recommendations to the administration.  Because surveys are part of the planning process, the results are usually not included in the written disaster plan which is intended as a guideline for future as well as present preparedness.  However, the methodology, the staffing, the schedule, and any documents or recommendations for conducting future surveys, should all be part of the written disaster plan. 


Once the hazards to collections are understood by the planning committee, appropriate measures for preventing disasters which might result, and for protecting collections, can be developed.  Assessing the results of the surveys, and setting priorities for the problems revealed, will aid in making appropriate recommendations for rectifying or alleviating potentially disastrous situations.   A good planning process report will include specific ideas for preventing potential disaster, financial and staffing implications, and suggestions for changes.


When the first eight steps of the planning process are completed, the committee should be well prepared to write a disaster preparedness and recovery plan which will include steps for preventing disaster as well as details for response and recovery if disaster strikes. 


Disaster planning is not expensive, and its costs are to be found mainly in staff release time.  Disaster prevention and protection are more costly than planning because changes in maintenance, buildings, and equipment may have to be undertaken to eliminate hazards.  Disaster recovery costs a great deal.  Obviously, preventing disaster is of key importance, and risk managers or insurance experts can often assist in weighing decisions, and may even be able to offer reductions in premiums to offset costs of preventive equipment or improvements. 

In addition to the resources required to dry, clean, repair, and restore disaster-damaged collections and buildings, there are immense hidden costs involved in recovery which are not so readily apparent.  For example, all archive functions may cease or be drastically reduced.  Technical processing backlogs build up; staff morale plummets; and funds for collection development may have to be diverted.  Careful though ahead of time is needed to counter or deal with these possibilities.  

The preparedness process must include some planning about finances, and the resulting recommendations sent to an administrative body for consideration.  In planning for preparedness and recovery there needs to be some understanding, at the least, about where funds would come from for the immediate purchase of necessary supplies and services in case of disaster.  This can be a specific emergency or contingency fund, or may instead be discretionary or special funds which could be designated for the purpose.  Even if the library or archive sets aside only a very modest sum each year, eventually the accumulated savings could serve well if they were required for recovery. 


The disaster plan should be made available to all personnel in the archive, and to key security people outside the organization, such as police and fire staff.  It may be appropriate to withhold particular parts detailing security, but the body of the plan is important for people to read and understand.  However, it is not enough simply to distribute the completed document.  Meetings to explain its use and importance are the final step in the process to ensure an understanding of its significance.  It should be required reading for all new staff, and brief explanations of the use of the emergency sheet should be made.  Most importantly it will serve as the working document for a disaster emergency team.  Finally, the plan should serve as the basis for meetings with fire and police experts, as well as those within the broader institution, if appropriate.  It is important for them to know how to use the plan to accomplish the best possible result if disaster should strike.  Their advice and support will be some of the most valuable available.


No charge of this magnitude is complete without a report on the process.  The report should contain a brief statement of the charge to the committee, the goals the committee set, the methodology adopted, and the final outcome.  It should include recommendations made by the committee, the actions taken, and a statement of any continuing responsibilities or tasks.  And the report should thank everyone by name who contributed to the planning effort.