Disasters do occur and they often affect records and recordkeeping systems. This page is designed to provide quick and easy access to information you might need if you are dealing with a disaster or liaising with an insurance assessor.

For detailed advice on managing disasters, please see:

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Quick tips for managing a disaster

If you are dealing with a disaster which affects records or recordkeeping systems, you should:

  • Activate your counter disaster plan for records and recordkeeping systems
  • Contact your insurer (check the Protocol for assessors)
  • Contact State Records NSW if records are damaged or destroyed (contact Recordkeeping Standards and Advice on 9714 3080 or govrec@staterecords.nsw.gov.au). Museums of History NSW will also be able to provide advice and guidance on salvaging the records (contact our Senior Conservator on 9673 1788)
  • Assemble all equipment and resources you will need for your recovery operation (includes fans, dehumidifiers, trolleys, disaster bins etc)
  • Salvage and recover priority records first!
  • Photograph and document the disaster; you will need records of the disaster for your insurance claims, reporting to management, and to State Records NSW.
  • Check the guidance on Counter disaster reaction and recovery plan for appropriate salvage and recovery information and techniques
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    Quick tips for managing recovery

    You will need to:

    1. Assess the damage to records

    • What records are affected by the disaster?
    • What physical format are the records (eg paper, photographs, maps and plans, video, tape etc)?
    • Take photographs of the disaster and the damage to records.

    2. Determine the extent of the damage

    • What damage has been done to the records?
    • Can the damage be repaired?
    • Are the records stored in boxes?
    • Are the boxes wet, but the contents dry?
    • Are records wet, damp, only a little wet, or soaked?

    3. Identify your recovery priorities

    • Use your organisation’s recovery priority list to determine which records you will need to recover first.

    4. Identify need for expert assistance

    • Identify and determine whether you will need to call in expert assistance for the recovery (this will depend on the nature and severity of the disaster and the quantity of records affected).
    • In making this decision, you will need to liaise and discuss external assistance with management and your insurer.

    5. Establish recovery operations

    • Decide on a location for your recovery operations
    • Organise necessary equipment and resources for recovery
    • Start moving records to the recovery operations location for treatment.

    Your organisation's counter disaster plan should cover these steps in more detail.

    See our Protocol for assessors and our Recovery checklist for more tips on recovering records.

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    Quick tips for managing wet records

    Time is of the essence when dealing with wet and mouldy records. Here are some tips on what you should do and treatments that should be avoided.

    Dealing with wet records in the first 48 hours

    Water damage is the most common result of disasters, and mould growth is always a high risk in disasters involving water. Flooded areas and wet records must be dried out quickly.

    • Dry out the space. If this is not possible, remove the wet records to a dry area quickly
    • Where the quantity of records permits, air-dry the records by fanning them out and interleaving pages with blotting paper/butcher paper/grease proof paper.
    • Use portable dehumidifiers where the records are drying to speed the drying process and provide good air circulation.
    • Use pedestal fans to increase air circulation and aid in drying

    Processes that should NEVER be used on State records and State archives during disaster salvage:

    • Decontamination with any chemical fumigant. Fumigants include ethylene oxide, hydrogen peroxide gas (e.g. bleach), methyl bromide, or any proprietary fumigant.
    • Decontamination using gamma irradiation.
    • Freeze drying of photographic or film collections.

    Processes that pose risks to State archives

    • All processes except air drying pose some risk to records and should only be undertaken by highly trained staff and reputable companies
    • Freeze drying can cause damage to some formats, e.g. photographic materials, and should only be used where the size of the disaster precludes air drying
    • Freezing is only recommended for some formats and is only recommended where the quantity of records would mean they cannot be dried within 48 hours.

    Appointment of disaster recovery team

    It is important that the disaster recovery company appointed by your organisation and insurer has the right expertise for records salvage and restoration. Remember, you should liaise with State Records NSW about the appointment of a disaster recovery team and the recovery processes used on the records.

    What procedures do you and the disaster salvage company have to put in place to determine whether the records have been adequately and appropriately treated?

    • Moisture content readings should be taken of records following salvage and treatment to establish whether records have been dried adequately – they should fall into the normal range for dry paper
    • Where mould growth has been observed or is suspected, records should be tested to establish whether mould growth is abnormal compared with the baseline levels at the affected site
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    Damaged records

    Once records have started to be recovered, you will need to identify the records and make decisions about what to do with the records.

    It will be necessary for you to make decisions about the records using authorised retention and disposal authorities and in consultation with your organisation. Importantly, you will also need to follow your organisation’s disposal authorisation processes.

    Copies, publications and ephemeral records

    • If the affected records are identified in organisational policy as ephemeral and can be disposed under Normal Administrative Practice, then you may not need to recover the records and the records can be destroyed.
    • HOWEVER, care must be taken to ensure that only records able to be disposed of under Normal Administrative Practice are destroyed.

    Time expired records

    • If the affected records are covered by retention and disposal authorities, have been retained for the minimum retention period, and are no longer required for administrative, legal, financial, audit or business needs, then your organisation may decide to dispose of the records rather than recover them.
    • REMEMBER to document the disposal of these records and follow your organisation’s disposal authorisation processes.

    Records needed for business purposes or State archives

    If the affected records are:

    • still required for ongoing business
    • not covered by retention and disposal authorities, or
    • identified as State archives

    then in the first instance you must contact State Records NSW to discuss these records. We will also liaise with Museums of History about any records that are identified as State archives. Contact Recordkeeping Standards and Advice on 9714 3080 or govrec@staterecords.nsw.gov.au

    Remember, you must contact State Records NSW before you make arrangements for the disposal of records damaged in the disaster.

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    Before a disaster strikes!

    Its important to plan and prepare for disasters. You need to:


    NSW State Archives and Records would like to acknowledge the use of the University of Technology Sydney's records recovery assessment tool in the development of this guidance for NSW public offices.

    Published April 2014 / revised February 2015 / revised June 2015/ revised  November 2017 / revised May 2019 / updated November 2022

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