Baltimore Academic Libraries Consortium Disaster Preparedness Plan

Compiled by the

BALC Disaster Preparedness Committee

Baltimore, Maryland

Revised Edition
(updated links 2013)


  1. Introduction
  2. Resources for Preparing Disaster Plans
  3. Recovery Methods by Format
  1. Books
  2. Manuscript and Rare Book Materials
  3. Electronic and Magnetic Resources
  4. Magnetic Media/Film, Optical Discs, Videos
  5. Phonograph Records
  6. Photographs, Slides, Films, Microforms
  7. Art Works



The Baltimore Academic Library Consortium (BALC) library directors appointed a Disaster Planning Committee in the fall of 1997. The charge of the directors was to prepare a list of experts, facilities, and local suppliers that could be contacted in a disaster and to compile up-to-date information on the proper techniques for coping with flooding and other threats to a library’s collections. It was hoped that this document would provide a basic template from which each library could fashion its own plan, based on its own unique circumstances and requirements.

The Committee’s main objective was to prepare a manual that could serve as a reference tool in an emergency, especially when power is out and computers are not functioning. The manual, which appeared originally in 1998, presents basic information on how to handle damaged library materials and provides a list of experts, suppliers, and service companies in the Middle Atlantic area. In 2005, the BALC directors, realizing the need for updating the manual, appointed a committee of four to take on this task. This revised plan, appearing in 2006, is the product of that effort.

Jeanne Drewes, formerly Head of the Preservation Department at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the BALC Disaster Planning Committee, initiated a “Disaster Mitigation Planning Assistance” website that is now being hosted on CoOL by FAIC: This website provides broader access to disaster recovery resources in the United States and Canada, and links users to sample disaster plans found at CoOL (Conservation OnLine) and to recovery techniques found at the CoOL and SOLINET websites.


Tom Beck, UMBC
Sandy Marinaro, Villa Julie College
Jack Ray, Loyola/Notre Dame Library
Tamara Smith, University of Baltimore



There is a wealth of information available online to use in developing an emergency preparedness and response plan. The following list contains sources that can be used as starting points for preparing a plan to meet the specific requirements of an individual library:

CoOl (Conservation OnLine): Resources for Conservation Professionals, a project of the Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries (now a project of FAIC), provides full-text documents related to disaster planning and response:

The Disaster Planning section of SOLINET’s Preservation Publications page includes a list of leaflets that are available online. Two of the leaflets provide guidelines for disaster planning:

1) The Disaster Planning Process
2) Contents of a Disaster Plan

SOLINET’s Preservation Publications page is located at: (SOLINET is now a fee-based organization called LYRASIS.)

The Northeast Document Conservation Center maintains a Disaster Assistance site, which includes a useful Worksheet for Outlining a Disaster Plan.  The NDCC Disaster Assistance site is at:

The Emergency Response and Salvage Wheels, developed by the National Task Force on Emergency Response, provide guidelines for steps to be taken during the first 48 hours following an emergency. Order information for the wheels is available at:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) site has an Emergency Response Action Steps page that outlines general salvage techniques and also lists “first 48 hours steps” to be taken for each type of resource at:


American Library Association. Disaster Response: A Selected Annotated Bibliography. (ALA Library Fact Sheet 10).

Kahn, Miriam B. Disaster Response and Planning for Libraries. 2d ed.  Chicago: American Library Association, 2003.






Water Damage

There are five ways to dry wet books and paper records. It is important to remember that no drying method restores materials. They will never be in better condition than they are when drying begins. If time must be taken to make critical decisions, books and records should be frozen to reduce physical distortion and biological contamination.

1. Air Drying

Air drying is the oldest and most common method of dealing with wet books. It is most suitable for small numbers of damp or slightly wet books and documents. It is seen as inexpensive, but is extremely labor- intensive and can occupy a great deal of space and result in badly distorted bindings. It is seldom successful for drying bound coated paper.

If materials are not completely soaking wet, and the decision is to air dry materials, then use the following procedures:

a. Load materials onto book trucks or pack into plastic milk crates

1) Handle one item at a time.

2) Use both hands whenever possible.

3) Pick up or remove items so that other items are not damaged.

4) Do not press water out of a wet item. If a book is soaking wet, its condition will be so fragile that it should only be handled enough to put it in a carton

5) Do not stack wet books when packing them in cartons. The weight may damage the ones on the bottom. Instead, place them in an upright position, or only if absolutely necessary, spine down.

6) If possible, record the call numbers of the first and last book being packed in each carton or truck. Masking tape can be used for labeling.

b. Prepare drying area

1) Select an area for drying materials. Preferred areas should have large amounts of available table space. Floors in hallways, etc., may also be used for drying books.

2) Bring in dehumidifiers, place in strategic (and out of the way) locations and turn up to high. Designate a person to check and empty dehumidifiers.

3) If possible, lower temperature to the coolest feasible level.

4) Bring in fans and place them in strategic (and out of the way) locations. Use appropriate speed (usually low or moderate) for moving air over materials for maximum drying.

5) Arrange tables for convenient drying and access to library materials. Cover tables with plastic sheeting, then with paper to absorb water. Change paper regularly (otherwise the books will reabsorb the water).

6) If the air-drying area is self-contained and full of books, it may be necessary to fumigate the entire room.

c. Move books

When milk crates and book trucks arrive at the drying site(s) the following are recommended:

1)Lift materials carefully and place on tables and/or floors.

2) Keep related materials together whenever possible

3) Place books with firm bindings on their tail or head edges and open them so the leaves fan and evaporation can begin.

4)Place soft-cover items with spines down and open them in the middle.

5) For items that can stand alone without much sagging, turn leaves systematically to accelerate drying.

6)If water drains away from very wet items, mop up excess water.

2. Dehumidification


This method has been used for many years to dry out buildings and holds of ships. Large commercial dehumidifiers are brought to the facility with all collections and equipment left in place. Temperature and humidity can be carefully controlled to user specifications. The technique is successful as long as the process is initiated before swelling and adhesion have taken place. This method has the advantage of leaving the materials in place on the shelves, eliminating the costly step of removal.

3. Freeze drying

Books and records that are only damp may be dried successfully in a self-defrosting blast freezer if left there long enough. Materials should be placed in the freezer as soon as possible after water damage. Books will dry best if their bindings are supported firmly to inhibit initial swelling. Freezing must happen quickly and temperatures must be below -10 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce distortion. Expect this method to take from several weeks to several months. Coated paper may adhere with this method.

4. Vacuum Thermal Drying

Books and records may be dried in a vacuum thermal-drying chamber. The vacuum is drawn, heat is introduced, and the materials are dried above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that the materials stay wet while they dry. Thus, books often become distorted, but loose papers can be dried more successfully.

5. Vacuum Freeze Drying

Frozen or wet materials are dried at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, thus eliminating further distortion. The physical process known as sublimation takes place: ice crystals vaporize without melting. Rare and unique materials can be dried successfully, but leathers and vellums may not survive. Although this method is more costly, the cost of rebinding is reduced and mud or soot is lifted to the surface, making cleaning less time-consuming.

If materials are soaking, dripping wet, they cannot be air-dried successfully. Freeze instead.

If the decision is to freeze-dry library materials, the options are:

a. Ship immediately to freeze-dry facilities.

b. Transport materials to local freezers.

c. Rent refrigerated trucks to transport materials to temporary freezer storage facilities.

d. Leave materials where they are and have the freeze-dry company carry them out.

If materials are packed for freeze-drying, use the following procedures:

  1. Follow all procedures listed above for air drying to the point of packing items for transport.
  2. Wrap individual items in freezer paper, shiny side toward books, before placing in plastic milk crates.


If there is fire damage, the odor is reduced by freezing the books. There are special sponges for cleaning soot-damaged materials.


To combat mold, DON’T ALLOW IT TO DEVELOP! Maintain moderate temperature and humidity (70 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 55% or lower rh). Circulate air and dust regularly.

If mold is discovered, check to see if it is active (soft, fuzzy, smears easily) or dormant (powdery, easy to wipe). If it is active and affects only a single book, consider withdrawing the book from the collection. If it is dormant, do the following:

For wet material:

Air dry or freeze, or Brush off spores working outdoors and (if possible) with a fan blowing the spores away.

For dry material:

Brush off spores outdoors and (if possible) with a fan blowing the spores away, or

Vacuum using a triple action filtration vacuum.

Fumigation is no longer recommended for mold because fumigants are toxic to people, the residue remains on the object, and fumigation does not prevent the mold from returning.

Always wear gloves and, if possible, coveralls or a lab coat. Wash hands after handling any object with mold or that is suspected to have mold.

If mold is discovered in large portions of the collection, do not attempt to clean up without first consulting a mycologist to determine if toxic molds are present.

Before books are returned to the shelves, the shelves should be disinfected and the mold situation monitored for a period of time.


Plastic Sheeting
Paper, plain (unprinted) newsprint or absorbent paper towels
Freezer Paper
Milk Crates or Cartons
Book Trucks
Labeling Supplies: masking tape, waterproof felt-tip pens
Rubber Gloves
Sponges for cleaning soot
Disinfectant for cleaning shelves




Estimating Water Absorption

Manuscripts and books dated earlier than 1840 will absorb water to an average of 80 percent of their original weight. Some may absorb as much as 200% of their original weight. Since there is a greater concentration of proteinaceous materials receptive to water in such early books and papers, they are especially vulnerable to mold when damp. Modern books, other than those with the most brittle paper, will absorb an average of up to 60% of their original weight.

The major part of all damage to bound volumes caused by swelling from the effects of water will take place within the first four hours or so after they have been immersed. Since the paper in the text block and the cardboard cores of book bindings have a greater capacity for swelling than the covering materials used for the bindings, the text block of a soaked book usually expands so much that the spine assumes a concave shape and the fore-edge a convex shape, thus forcing the text block to become partially or completely detached from its binding. The board cores of bindings absorb a great amount of water in such circumstances and are usually the source of mold development between the board papers and flyleaves.

Leather and vellum books especially those of the 15th. 16th, and 17thcenturies, can usually be restored successfully if they are dried under very carefully controlled procedures. Such materials are usually classified as rare and should be treated accordingly by not mixing them with less rare materials during preparations for salvage, stabilization, and drying. The advice of a certified book conservator may be essential in order to safely carry out the most appropriate methods. If the material is frozen, freezer paper should be used between each volume to prevent sticking.

Do not wash the following categories of items:

× Open or swollen volumes

× Vellum or parchment bindings or pages

× Leather bindings

× Fragile or brittle materials

× Materials with water soluble components (freeze these immediately)


Manuscripts and other materials in single sheets create particularly difficult problems if they have been scattered. An indication of the approximate location in which they are found during the salvage operation may be extremely helpful at a later date. Materials should never be moved from the site in large batches or left piled on top of each other, either at the site or in adjacent temporary housing, since the excessive weight of water-affected books and paper records can lead to severe physical damage.

Archival Box Files

Archival box files fare better than book material because their boxes are made of porous board stock that can be expected to absorb most of the water, protecting the contents. Each box should be carefully inspected and the box replaced if it is water-saturated. Failure to do so will increase the risk of physical damage as boxes may collapse from pressure during recovery, shipment, and cold storage. Papers that have adhered together should be frozen. Often the freeze drying will allow the papers to be separated without damage.

Coated Papers

Coated papers are the most vulnerable to complete loss and should not be permitted to begin drying until each volume can be dealt with under carefully controlled conditions. The period between removal and freezing is critical. It may be necessary to re-wet them with clean cold water until they can be frozen. Coated papers must be separated immediately to prevent blocking. If sheets can be separated, they can usually be air dried successfully with some cockling. Cockled pages can be photocopied to retain intellectual content if the original does not need to be kept.

Manuscripts, Documents and Small Drawings

Freeze or dry within 48 hours. Don’t separate single sheets. Interleave between folders and pack in milk crates or cartons. Air, vacuum, or freeze dry. Air dry flat in small piles (1/2 inch) or individually if possible. Change blotting paper beneath the materials before it becomes soaked.

Vellum, Parchment, Leather

Handle wet vellum, parchment, and leather very carefully. Always use a support such as cardboard to handle this material. Do not open or close. Do not separate covers.

Wet vellum, parchment, and leather should be air dried where possible. A combination of tension and pressure drying may be required to dry this material successfully. Slow and gentle blotting of saturated areas can enhance drying.

When freezing is necessary, vellum, parchment, and leather items should be separated with freezer paper during packing.

Criteria for High-Priority Water Damage Prevention

× High Value (historic, monetary)

× Irreplaceable (manuscript or autograph materials)

× Fragile Materials (difficult or impossible to recover). Vellum covers, leaves of documents,

books with covers that have “red-dot” and other significantly deteriorated leather (leathers after 1820),

coated paper stocks (e.g. art books, glossy magazines or books with photographic reproductions particularly from

1890 to 1950).

Sources Consulted:

National Archives and Records Administration

Library of Congress

Fire Damage

× Fire damaged books should be handled as little as possible during the retrieval and recovery process

× All fire damaged material should be assumed to be fragile and handled as little as possible prior to


× Wrap fire damaged books in clean unprinted paper or freezer paper and place between cardboard sheets

for protection. Clearly label all packages

× Burned and wet books should be frozen for later treatment


× Do not wipe mold from wet (or dry) books

× Wet moldy books should be frozen, then vacuum freeze dried and fumigated before cleaning

× People with a history of allergies and respiratory illness should not handle or clean moldy items




Supplies that are to be used specifically for archival (including rare book or manuscript) collections:

milk crates or cartons

white blotters (free of dyes)

flat boxes or covered plywood

freezer paper

silica gel

polyethylene bags and/or sheeting


vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter

thermohygrograph or sling psychrometer

labels for milk crates

waterproof/grounded heavy-duty extension cords

absorbent paper towels or plain newsprint paper

plastic sheeting rolls of 3-5 mil thick plastic

recording supplies (including pad of paper, index cards, pens and water proof felt-tip pens)

crepe bandages for wrapping vellum books



The best disaster preparation for electronic and magnetic media is toBACK UP the data contained on these media. Backups depend on your local hardware and software configurations. With electronic media it is crucial that you be prepared for a failure; the question is not if it will happen, butwhen it will happen.


· If you are connected on a network, become familiar with the network’s backup procedures. Many systems do daily backups and also have drive areas where you can do additional backups.

·If you are a stand-alone, you should back up important data frequently. Familiarize yourself with your operating system’s backup software.

· Do not keep your backups in the same place as your computer. Store them off site.

· Know your vendor contractual agreements! Who is responsible for corrupt and lost data? Who backs up tape data, etc.?

· Realize that all equipment has a life span. Try to project when disks will fail. Read your warranties and manuals. Look at consumer ratings and tests.

·Identify staff at various levels of your organization who have responsibility for systems and computer procedures.

· Train staff in backup and disaster potentials and how your institution or department deals with them.

Disaster Potentials

The following may occur alone or in combination:

· Water – intrusion of water or other liquids into areas or equipment.

· Fire – combustible or electric.

· Infrastructure outages – power outages, drops, surges, utility outages, telecommunications failure, corrupt data, etc.

· Hardware and software failures – numerous, hard to foresee; loss of gateway access, heat, magnetic destruction, hard disk failure, wear of equipment, etc.

· Sabotage by hackers, employees, users of systems, viruses, vandalism, etc.

· Accidental destruction of hardware, software, or data.



Electronic and magnetic media formats are being upgraded and changed continuously. The special handling instructions listed below for this material reflect current thinking. During emergencies involving this material, care should be taken to ensure that actions reflect technological change and treatments that are appropriate.

In General:

· Vacuum cleaners and other equipment with electric motors should not be used near magnetic media. Long suction hoses can be used to keep vacuum cleaners clear of this material.

· Chemical or abrasive cleaners should not be used.

· Hair dryers or other such equipment should not be used to dry these media.

Water / Mildew / Soot / Smoke / Mold / :

1. Magnetic Media

· Wear gloves when handling.

· Avoid scratching the surface.

· Clean drive heads frequently.

· Do not use cleaners or hair dryers on these materials.

· Water is especially damaging to magnetic tape – the longer the exposure to water the greater the damage. Tape should be stored in water tight containers.

· Backup frequently.

·Success rates for salvaging tape are low and the process is very labor-intensive. Improperly handled tape may damage playback heads.

·Have these materials processed professionally, if possible.

2. Hard Disks

·Hard disks may not be salvageable, depending on the nature of the damage.  Recovering data from a hard disk may require the expertise of your institution’s computer systems office or a  private company.

· Backup frequently.

3. Tapes

· The casing may protect the tape. If the tape is damaged remove from the case.

· Rinse in lukewarm water – leave wound on the reel.

· Place on blotting material to dry.

· Insert back in case – make a new copy.

· Do not use cleaners or hair dryer (air dry).

4. Diskettes

· Remove diskette from the case and bathe in distilled water.

· Dispose of the old casing.

· Dry with a lint-free cloth.

· Insert back in a new case (a case from an old disk is fine, just as long as it is dry) – make a new copy

· Do not use cleaners or hair dryer (air dry).

5. Compact Disks

· Handle disks by the outer edges.
· On recorded side (no writing), working from the center of the disk in a straight line, wipe off with a soft, dry cloth (lint-free is preferable).
· Use distilled water if available.
· Do not use cleaners or hair dryer (air dry).

Heat and Fire

· Heat and fire are extremely damaging to electronic media.
· Assess the damage. If it is determined that the damage is not severe, follow the instructions above for water damage.
· If damage is assessed as serious, no backups exist, and data is important, a conservator or other professional should be consulted.

Electronic Disaster Resources:

In-house resources you may already have access to, or can purchase reasonably.

Programs already on your computer that can be used to help recover files, directories, etc.
Examples:  Backup – Diagnostics – Recycle bin – System information – Undelete.

Rescue Professional Computer File: Data Recovery Software.  AllMicro, Inc., Clearwater, Florida.  Recover lost data from physically damaged floppies and hard disks

LAN/WAN Systems.  It is best to consult the person responsible for maintaining your Local Area or Wide Area Network.

Your organization’s/institution’s computer services/systems department.


Edwards Disaster Recovery Directory. Brookline, MA: Edwards Information, 2006.

Cougias, Dorian J., E.L. Heiberger, and Karsten Koop. The Backup Book: Disaster Recovery from Desktop to Data Center. Lecanto, FL: Schaser-Vartan Books, 2003.

Iraci, Joe. Disaster Recovery of Modern Information Carriers: Compact Discs, Magnetic Tapes and Magnetic Discs. Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute, 2002.

Toigo, Jon W. Disaster Recovery Planning: Preparing for the Unthinkable. 3d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.

Wallace, Michael, and Lawrence Webber.The Disaster Recovery Handbook: A Step-by-Step Plan to Ensure Business Continuity and Protect Vital Operations, Facilities, and Assets.NewYorkAmerican Management Association, 2004.


Business Protection Systems
Disaster recovery and business continuity planning software.

CBL Data Recovery Technologies Inc.
Data recovery services for failed hard drives in laptops, desktop computers, data servers, raid arrays, tapes, and all other data storage and media.

Disktek Data Recovery 
World-renowned experts at recovering data lost due to file corruption, mechanical or electrical failure, virus activity, system malfunctions, accidental erasure.

Flashback Data
Data recovery (emergency same-day shipping available), computer forensics, tape extraction, cloning, and remote backup services.

McAfee, Inc.
Security and intrusion prevention software for various formats (ViruScan, etc.).

Strohl Systems Group, Inc. 
Business continuity software and services. Authors of LDRPS (disaster recovery planning system) and BIA Professional (business impact analysis software).
(Acquired by SunGard in 2008.)

Symantec Corporation
Wide range of planning, backup, and recovery software for various formats (Norton Utilities, etc.).

Local area companies:

American Data Recovery (offices nationwide)
Tysons Boulevard
1600 Tysons Blvd. 8th Floor
McLean, VA 22102
Services: Emergency Data Recovery of all operating systems and media; remote recovery; computer forensics; data conversion
Area: Maryland, DC, Virginia

Blue Lightning Computers, Inc.

Services: Computer repair; data recovery; web page design; web server; custom programming; technical assistance.

Data and Information Solutions Corporation (DISC)
(formerly Maryland Data Recovery)
4203 Ulster Road
Beltsville, MD 20705
Services: Drive-independent spin-stand data recovery of all operating systems; removable media recovery.




Magnetic tape used in videos is similar in chemical composition to motion picture film and to microfilm; therefore, salvage methods are similar as well. Recovery efforts for optical disks (CD and DVD formats) are similar to those used for magnetic tapes.

Priorities: Unique items or non-commercial tapes and films should be ranked first for recovery. Older tapes/film should be treated before new tapes/film. Commercial and non-unique tapes/film should be replaced if they are water-damaged.

Water Damage

·Do not allow tape to dry out. Any sediments in the contaminating water will dry onto the tape and be more difficult to remove.

·Rinse with distilled water at room temperature. In a water disaster, videos and films can be immersed in water for several days if the water is clean.

·If water is muddy or sewage contaminated, use soapy water at room temperature to remove debris.


×Use just enough of a mild detergent (dishwashing liquid that is dye-free and perfume-free is OK) that is required to remove any oils or greases from the tapes. When wiping debris from an optical disc, wipe from the center of the disk to the edge (NOT around the disk in a circular motion).

·Dry using air drying, dehumidification, or vacuum drying. Do not use freezer drying, vacuum thermal drying, or vacuum freeze drying. Freezing of tapes can actually cause more damage. When drying an optical disk, take care not to scratch the surface with a

·If a cassette has been exposed to water for an extended period of time, it may be necessary to open the cassette and check the condition of the cassette spindles and springs. If they show evidence of corrosion or rusting, they should be replaced.

·When all tapes and containers are dry, have the tapes cleaned professionally or use a special tape-cleaning machine.


Mold is attracted to magnetic tape-based materials and videotapes. Mold should be removed by professional tape restoration firms to prevent loss of image, sound, or information.

·Properly equip recovery personnel with gloves, eye protection, dust/solvent mask with a HEPA filter, and  protective smock or lab coat. Inhalation of mold spores and bodies can be a significant health risk.

· Isolate the tape from unaffected tapes.

·Keep at a humidity <50% RH and a temperature < 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

·Vacuum the mold from the tape pack or disk, avoiding direct contact. The vacuum should be fitted with a HEPA filter.

·Brush the remaining debris from the tape pack or disk.

Fire Damage

·Tapes that have experienced heat or fire damage can be respooled onto new tape reels if the old reels have warped or charred. Tapes in cassettes may need to be transferred to a new cassette if the cassette shell has warped.

·If the tape is “blocked” (the binder coating melted and the tape winds are stuck together), there is no way to recover it unless it has been backed up on another tape in another location.

·A slightly warped CD or DVD may still be playable, but recovery may not be possible if it is severely warped.


·For mild shock, re-tension the tape pack and respool to correct any shifts in the tape pack wind.

·If the tape reel or cassette has been damaged, the broken pieces should be replaced.

·In more severe forms of shock, resplicing of the tape may be required.

·A shattered CD or DVD cannot be repaired.

Particulate Matter (Soot, Dust)

·Soot or dust can be vacuumed from tapes, cassettes, or disks. Avoid contact with the material as much as possible.

·Soot or dust that cannot be removed by vacuuming may be wiped off with a lint-free cloth dampened with distilled water. Avoid getting a tape wet if it is not already wet.


·A tape that has been inadvertently demagnetized usually cannot be recovered with a commercial
recorder. A special recorder capable of reading information from a tape with a very low signal-to

· noise ratio would be required.

· Stray magnetism is not a problem for CDs or DVDs

Distilled water
Dust/solvent mask
Eye protection
Lab coat
Lint-free cotton cloth
Mild detergent
Vacuum (with HEPA filter)

Audio Mechanics (music and sound restoration)

Chace Audio Archive Services (sound and audio restoration)
NBD International, Inc. (water- and smoke-damage recovery of videotape)

Ontrack Data Recovery (magnetic media, computer tapes, hard drives and diskettes)

Smolian Sound Studios (sound restoration, classical music archives)

Tek Media (services and supplies for AV materials, particularly video)

VidiPax (video, magnetic media, some film)



Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Box 543, Annapolis, MD  21404-0543; (410-757-0488)
The ARSC Technical Committee has compiled an Audio Preservation and Restoration Directory:

Gilles St. Laurent, Audio Conservator, National Library of Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0N4; (613-996-5423)

National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute
2021 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027; (323-856-7600)




Not much can be done to save fire- or water-damaged phonograph records. Heat from a fire will melt the plastic quickly, and prolonged exposure to water will warp the records beyond repair. To a large extent, these materials are considered not salvageable. However, undamaged records with surface dirt can be carefully cleaned. It is best to have cleaning done by a sound conservator.

CAUTION: Always handle phonograph records by the edges and wear white cotton gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.

Particulate Matter (Soot, Dust, Dirt)

Wash records in a 1% non-ionic wetting agent in distilled water. Recommended are Kodak Photoflo solution or Lissapol TN450.

Use a clean soft brush to carefully remove dirt.

Keep vinyl, shellac, and acetate discs out of contact with water if at all possible, because they are very susceptible to damage from water. Do not attempt to wash these, but save for a conservator.

Wash the record with distilled water and set in a rack vertically to air dry, away from strong heat sources (high heat can warp records).

Supplies needed:

Soft brush
Clean distilled water
Vertical drying rack (i.e. dish rack)
Rubber gloves


Emergency Salvage of Photographs

Because of the number of photographic processes and their wide variety, responsible advice for the emergency salvage of wet photographs is difficult to provide.

Minimize immersion time – photographs need to be dried as soon as possible or frozen.

Problems occurring from immersion – images separate from mounts, emulsions can dissolve away or stick together, staining can occur. Mold begins to grow within 48 hours at 60%RH and 70F. Mold causes permanent staining.

Prints should be salvaged first: exceptions include deteriorated nitrate and safety films, which are extremely susceptible to water damage.

Processes that should be salvaged first: ambrotypes, tintypes, collodion wet plate negatives, gelatin dry plate negatives, gelatin dry plate negatives, lantern slides, deteriorated nitrate or safety films, autochromes, carbonprints, woodbury types, deteriorated or unhardened gelatin print, color materials. These will not survive any immersion.

Processes more stable in water: Daguerreotypes, salted paper prints, albumen prints, collodion prints, platinum prints, cyanotypes.

Air Drying Photographs

Separate photographs – if photos are stuck together, freeze (see below).

Drain off excess water.

Place face up on absorbent material (paper towels).

Curled photographs can be flattened later.

To Freeze Photographs

Place photographs in small plastic bags, several to a bag.

Interweave photographs with non-woven polyester material or wax paper (makes it easier to separate).

Drying Frozen Photographs

Thaw, then air dry – as a group of photos dries, peel apart, place face up on absorbent material.

Vacuum thermal drying (frozen material is thawed and dried in a vacuum) is not recommended for photographs. Gelatin photographs will have a tendency to severely mottle and stick together.

Photographs can be vacuum freeze dried (no thawing occurs); however, this process is best used with informational rather than artistic photographs. Gelatin photographs may mottle but won’t stick together.

Wet collodion glass plates must never be freeze dried, they won’t survive.  Also true for ambrotypes, collodion lantern slides, and tintypes.

Dried or frozen photographs are reasonably stable.  They can be stored until a conservator can be consulted.

Digital Output Prints

Ink-jet and other digital output prints are extremely sensitive to moisture, high humidity, smoke, and other risks. Since they cannot be restored after a disaster, avoidance of risk before a disaster is the best treatment.

Storage in sleeves and folders inside sturdy archival boxes diminishes risk. Placing the boxes on neither the top nor bottom shelves of a range also diminishes risk.

If flooding occurs, remove boxes from standing water as soon as possible to avoid bleeding of the dyes and loss of image sharpness. Even if a box is not wet, remove it to an area where humidity is closer to normal levels. Elevated humidity can also cause dyes to bleed. Do not open boxes until they have acclimated.

Emergency Salvage for Slides

Slides should be rinsed and dipped in “photo-flo” slide cleaner and air dried by hanging on a line or propped on edge. Slides should be removed from frames for drying, then remounted. Slides mounted between glass must be removed from the glass or they won’t dry.

Salvaging Wet Motion Pictures

If only outside of container is wet, dry and relabel.

If the film is wet, fill the can with cold water and replace the lid. Pack into plastic pails filled with cold water or cardboard box lined with garbage bags. Ship to film processor for rewashing and drying.

Salvaging Microforms

If the microfilm is still boxed, do not remove from box. Rubberband boxes, wrap five cartons of film into a block with plastic wrap. Pack the blocks into a heavy-duty cardboard box lined with three garbage bags; tie each bag separately. Ship to microfilm processor.

Pack and Freeze: Aperture cards, microfilm strips in jackets, diazo microfiche.


Aperture cards – remove film chips from mounts. Wash chips and dry them binder side up on absorbent material. Remount.

Microfilm strips in jackets – cut the strips from the jackets. Wash and dry the film and insert new jacket.

Diazo and vesicular microfiche – remove from enclosures. Inspect diazo films for blistering and delamination. If damaged, replace. Wash all damaged microfiche in cool, clear water. Dry on absorbent material or hang dry on line.

Information provided by Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover, Massachusetts 01810-1494 508-470-1010


Cinema Arts, Inc.
207 Lincoln Green Lane
Newfoundland, PA 18445
Repairs and duplicates all types of contemporary motion picture film.

Film Treat
42-44 Orchard Street – Suite 4
Long Island City, NY 11101
Restoration of motion picture film.

Document Reprocessors
5611 Water Street
Middlesex, NY 14507
Vacuum freeze drying.

Smolian Sound Preservation Studios
1 Wormans Mill Court #4
Frederick, MD 21701
Restores most types of audio media.

Vidi Pax
30-00 Forty-Seventh Avenue, 6th Floor
Long Island City, NY 11101
Recovery of videotapes from fire and water damage.

WRS Film & Video Labs
1937 North Birchwood
Cherry Hill, NJ 08003
Processes, transfers, and restores all types of film, video and CD-ROMs.


Bibliography of Photograph Preservation:

Eastman Kodak Company:Conservation of Photographs. Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Co., 1985.

Ellis, Margaret Holben. The Care of Prints and Drawings. Nashville: AASLH Press, 1987.

Henderson, Kathryn Luther, and William T. Henderson. Conserving and Preserving Materials in Non-book Formats. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1991.

Hendricks, Klaus B., and Brian Lesser. “Disaster Preparedness and Recovery: Photographic Materials.”  American Archivist  46(1) (Winter 1983): 52-68.

Robb, A. “The Effect of Relative Humidity on Ink-Jet Prints.” Paper presented at Conference on Preservation and Conservation Issues Related to Digital Printing, 26-27 October 2000, Rutherfors Conference Center, London. London: Institute of Physics, 2001.

Smithsonian Institution. Photographic Negatives in the Juley Collection: Their Care and Preservation.  Slide/Tape program, approximately 30 minutes long.

Swan, Alice.  Conservation of Photographic Print Collections. Library Trends 30(2) (Fall 1981): 267-96.

Weinstein, Robert A., and Larry Booth.Collection, Use, and Care of Historical Photographs. Nashville:American Association of State and Local History, 1977.

Wilhelm, Henry G., and Carol Brower. The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional  and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures.  Grinnell, IA: Preservation Pub. Co., 1993


Information on the Internet:

Conservation OnLine –

National Archives –

National Media Lab –

Digital Output Prints Information  –




Planning is imperative in displaying sculpture. Think about how the sculpture will be removed in case of emergency. Wheeled pedestals or dollies, as well as an escape route without stairs, will be needed. Therefore, displays should be limited to the first floor. Besides dollies, fireproof blankets and a crane should also be kept on the premises. Coating the sculpture with a protective wax seals its pores and helps preserve it. Sculptures should be cleaned and coated every year. Most importantly, the artist must record, photograph, and insure all works of art. Before starting on any conservation, the artist, if possible, should be contacted.

Sculpture and fire

Wood sculptures must be removed first, and are usually quite heavy.

Plastic sculptures have no chance of survival unless removed in the early stages of the fire. Because of their light weight, they can usually be carried.  Keep in mind that plastics emit toxic fumes while burning.

Sculptures made of copper or other soft metals (lead, tin) may suffer substantial damage depending on how long they are exposed to the fire.

Bronze, steel, and iron sculptures will suffer surface damage, but can withstand heat fairly well, though they will develop a patina.  Bronze melts at 1700 F and steel and iron above 2000 F. They may also be damaged by falling objects, or by falling to the ground if their pedestal is destroyed. Therefore, removal may be advisable.

Stone sculptures will crack under heat and their surfaces will be affected (depending on the kind of stone).  They are also extremely heavy, so wheeled pedestals and a short escape route without stairs are advisable.

Sculpture and water

Sculptures located in seaside towns are very prone to damage from the chlorides in ocean water.  They should be cleaned and coated with protective wax every year.

Plastics and stone do well in water.

Bronze will not be affected much, although long exposure will create a surface patina.

Steel and iron will rust from exposure to water. Salvage these sculptures by sand blasting or cleaning with chemical solutions.

Steel and iron will rust from exposure to water. Salvage these sculptures by cleaning them by sand blasting or chemical solutions.

Sculpture and dust

Dust carries pollutants such as sulfates and nitrates, which when mixed with water from humidity or rain, turn into sulfuric and nitric acids. These acids are very abrasive to metals and stone and will eat away at untreated material, leaving pits in the copper, bronze, marble or stone sculptures, and ultimately consuming a metal sculpture right through to its hollow core. To protect these sculptures, clean and coat them with butchers wax every year to seal their surfaces.

Stone and plastic can be washed.

Bronze, wood, and steel can be dusted with a dry cloth and chemicals.

Sculpture and earthquakes

Sculptures placed on pedestals filled with sand will sink into the pedestal instead of falling off.

Sculptures can be bolted to their pedestals or affixed with a wax called quake wax.

Very tall sculptures are better off being placed in a Plexiglas covering instead of being bolted down.

Sculptures in storage should be placed in boxes and covered with plastic wrap.  Ideally, every sculpture should be stored on its own dolly.

For more information:

Schodek, Daniel L. Structure in Sculpture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993.

Jones, Denny A. Principles and Prevention of Corrosion2d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.

Save Outdoor Sculpture!
Heritage Preservation
1012 14th Street, NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20005

Hirshhorn Conservation Lab – Mr. Lee Aks
Museum Offices: 202-633-4674
Phone: 301-297-7377

International Sculpture Center
14 Fairgrounds Road, Suite B
Hamilton, NJ 08619
Phone: 609-689-1051
Fax: 609-689-1061



Separate the merely wet paintings from those with structural damage. Structural damage includes tears in the canvas, flaking, lifting, and dissolving of paint and ground layers.  Consult a conservator for these paintings.

The treatment of items of high monetary, historic, or sentimental value should only be performed in consultation with a conservator.

Paintings under glass

Remove the backing material from the frame.  If the item is not stuck to the glass, carefully remove it from the frame and air dry.  If the object appears to be stuck to the glass, do not attempt to remove it from the frame.

Water damage to paintings

Works on canvas or cloth (acrylic or oil):

If the painting is on an easel, transport horizontally, with the image facing upward.  If unable to do this, carry painting facing you, holding sides of frame with palms of hand.

Use more than one person to transport the larger paintings.

Water damage must never be frozen.  Air dry immediately.

Paintings should be unframed before drying, but not removed from the stretcher.

Structurally sound paintings should be dried flat and face down on a layer of Japanese tissue paper that is spread on a clean, padded surface. Make sure tissue paper is not wrinkled.

Cut blotters to the inside dimensions of the stretcher frame.

Cut a sheet of plywood or thick masonite to the same dimensions, or smaller to fit inside the stretcher keys.

Cover the back of canvas with a blotter (abut blotters end to end for a large canvas), then the board, and finally weights.

Change the blotter frequently until the canvas is dry.  If the tissue on the face of the painting sticks to the paint layer, leave it in place.


Artworks on paper

Do not separate sheets that are stuck together.

Do not blot the surface of artworks created with water soluble media.

Interleave artworks in a folder.

Transport artworks flat with supports or in their containers.

Artworks should be air dried.

If artworks have mold or saturated backings, or are stuck together or warped, it may be appropriate to freeze and vacuum freeze dry.

To dry paintings with high or fragile impasto layers, consult a conservator.

For more general information:

Mayer, Ralph. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques. 5th ed. New York: Viking Press, 1991.

Émile-Mâle, Gilberte. The Restorer’s Handbook of Easel Painting. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976.

Hours, Madeleine. Conservation and Scientific Analysis of Painting. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976.

The American Institute for Conservation maintains a referral list of conservators who will be able to provide guidance for treating private collections.
Phone: 202-452-9545

The Disaster Mitigation Planning Assistance Website also maintains a searchable list of experts, services, and supplies:
Mayer, Ralph. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques. 5th ed. New York: Viking Press, 1991.

Émile-Mâle, Gilberte. The Restorer’s Handbook of Easel Painting. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976.

Hours, Madeleine. Conservation and Scientific Analysis of Painting. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976.

The American Institute for Conservation maintains a referral list of conservators who will be able to provide guidance for treating private collections.
Phone: 202-452-9545

The Disaster Mitigation Planning Assistance Website also maintains a searchable list of experts, services, and supplies.

Local Conservators:

Katherine G. Eirk
5523 Oak Place
Bethesda, MD 20817
Phone: 301-571-9764
Conservator, Art on Paper Books, Paper

Kitty Nicholson
National Archives
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740
Phone: 301-837-3614
Fax: 301-837-3615
Conservator, Art on Paper Books, Paper, Photographs

Terry Boone Wallis
Hyattsville, MD

James von Ruster
The Old Print Gallery
1220 31st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Phone: 202-965-1818
Fax: 202-965-1869
Conservator, Art on Paper Books, Paper




Absorbent material such as unprinted newspaper, blotters
Paper towels
Clean cloths
Wax paper or non-woven polyester material
Vacuum freezer
Artist’s brush or soft cotton


Photo-file slide cleaner

Motion Pictures

Plastic pails
Cardboard cartons
Garbage bags


Rubber bands
Plastic wrap
Heavy-duty cardboard boxes
Garbage bags


Plastic sheeting
Japanese tissue paper
Plywood or masonite


Pedestals with wheels
Fireproof blankets
Sand blasters
Chemical cleaners for metals
Protective wax
Quake wax
Plastic wrap

For more information;

Dorge, Valerie, and Sharon L. Jones.Building an Emergency Plan: A Guide for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions. Getty Conservation Institute, 1999.

Disaster information for museums from the American Museum of Natural History:

Caring for Your Treasures. American Institute for Conservation: