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Identify recovery priorities

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

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?

Determine if you need expert assistance

Identify and determine if you need to call in expert assistance for the recovery.  This will depend on:
  • nature and severity of disaster
  • quantity of records affected by the disaster
  • extent of the damage to records (is it minimal impact on a few records or severe damage to many records? If large quantities of records have been affected by water, it may be necessary to freeze the records until they can be dealt with)
  • is mould growing on the records?  Is it 48 hours since the disaster occurred?
  • does the organisation have the expertise and resources required for recovery? Are staff trained in recovery techniques and can you use internal resources for the recovery process?

In making the decision to use the services of a disaster recovery specialist, you will need to liaise with management and your insurer.  See our Protocol for assessors for disasters at NSW Government organisations which involve records.

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Recovering records

Once you have identified your priorities for recovery, the recovery operations can commence.  You will need to:

Organise a location

The location used to recover records must:

  • be secure and not affected by the disaster
  • have appropriate space to spread records out (preferably on benches and tables, not the floor)
  • be accessible if you are using trolleys to move records, and
  • have power and a phone, and if required, network access.

Organise necessary equipment

You may need the following items:

  • fans
  • dehumidifiers
  • trolleys
  • blotting paper or perforated paper towels
  • pen and paper to document the recovery actions taken
  • rubber gloves and dust masks (these will be required if mould has developed)

You will also need items located in your 'disaster bin'.

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Some tips for recovering records

Disasters involving fire

The recovery of burnt records presents a range of  problems. The effects of fire include:

  • heat
  • soot
  • burnt edges
  • melted coverings such as plastics, and
  • possible water damage.

Burnt materials can be frozen, but any restoration other than basic cleaning, rebinding and rehousing should be left to an experienced conservator.

Disasters involving water

Most recovery operations involve recovering wet records.

Airdrying of records must be undertaken within 48 hours of a disaster and if the material is not soaked.  If items are not dried quickly and within the 48 hours, mould will start to grow. Note: airdrying may result in some distortion of items and should not be used for items with soluble inks.

If materials cannot be airdryed because the quantities of records are too great, you do not have the facilities to airdry the records, or mould has started to grow, then you will need to consider freezing the records.  Freezing is a useful option as:

  • it stops the growth of mould and mildew (while the object is still frozen)
  • it may stop bindings from warping, depending on the method of drying
  • it stabilises water soluble materials such as inks and dyes, and
  • it gives your organisation time to plan for recovery and restore buildings and equipment ready for the material.

However, conservators do not advise the freezing of vellum, photographs, glass plate negatives, electronic media such as diskettes, videos, cassettes or vinyl records.

As soon as the record quantities requiring freezing are decided, companies with appropriate freeze facilities (these will be listed in your organisation's counter disaster plan) should be contacted and arrangements made for transport.

Tips for airdrying records

The following tips have been taken from the Counter disaster reaction and recovery plan guidance.  Please refer to the Guideline for further information.

Books and volumes

  • If not too wet, stand upright and fan out pages.
  • It too wet, interleave the pages with absorbent paper towels.  Replace paper towelling regularly until pages are dry.  (Don't overdo the interleaving and put in too many sheets of paper towel, as this may break the book's spine.)
  • Tunnel airflow from fans through books to dry them out.
  • DO NOT use heat to dry books as it will encourage mould.

Pamphlets and small bound items

  • Hang over racks or improvised washing lines made of string.
  • Tunnel airflow from fans through items to dry them out.
  • DO NOT use heat to dry items as it will encourage mould.


  • Files should be removed from boxes or shelves carefully and laid flat in small bundles.
  • Interleave the bundles with absorbent paper towels. Replace paper towelling regularly until pages are dry. Ensure that the original order within the file is maintained.
  • Glossy papers should be fully separated and interleaved or frozen.
  • Tunnel airflow from fans through items to dry them out.
  • DO NOT use heat to dry files as it will encourage mould.
  • If metal clips are used in the files, replace metal clips with plastic clips to ensure that rusting clips doesn't damage documents.
  • If coloured file covers are used and ink is seeping into the documents, you may need to replace the file covers.  Remember, if you are replacing file covers to accurately record all information from the old file cover onto the new file cover.

Maps and plans

  • Unroll and stack flat up to 10 items high.
  • Interleave with blotting paper and press dry.

Photographic prints

  • Can be air dried if treated rapidly.
  • Remove photographs from mounts or separate from each other to prevent the emulsion sticking.
  • Rinse with cool water if necessary. Do not touch or blot surfaces.
  • Place emulsion side up on blotters or lint free cloths or hang by placing clips on non-image areas, ensuring there is no overlap.
  • If wet, immerse in clean cold water in polyethylene bags. Send to a processing laboratory within 2-3 days for reprocessing and drying (except historic ones).

Photographic negatives

  • Remove negatives from envelopes.
  • Wash in clean running water.
  • Hang to dry or lay flat with emulsion side up.
  • Eastman colour film should only be handled by a processing lab. If there are large quantities of negatives they should be frozen and air dried.
  • If wet, negatives should be sealed in polyethylene bags and placed in plastic garbage cans under cold, clean running water while the negatives are still wet. They should be transferred to a laboratory within three days.
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Further information

Not all record formats are listed in this checklist.

Remember to check the Counter disaster reaction and recovery plan guidance, and the National Film and Sound Archive for information on caring for audio visual materials for further information.


Updated May 2019

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