Respond and assess damage to records

Respond to a disaster to reduce damage to records

Consider these steps to assess and prioritise actions.

  1. Implement your plan and contact your Disaster Recovery Team members to meet near the disaster site.
  2. Plan and coordinate your recovery action. Do not rush. Time spent in planning will greatly assist the records recovery process.
  3. Make sure that it is safe to enter, assess and undertake salvage–contact your Workplace Health and Safety Officer.
  4. Limit initial entry to Building Manager, Records Manager and Safety Officer (or equivalents).
  5. Assess the condition of the site, extent and type of damage and records affected (even if only at broad level).
  6. Document as much as possible and collect evidence of damage with photos, videos, and/or written reports.
  7. Prioritise records for salvage based on your assessment and salvage priority lists.
  8. Develop a salvage plan.
  9. Engage commercial recovery specialists if the incident is beyond your physical resources.
  10. Prepare work areas.
  11. Protect or move undamaged/unaffected records to a clean, dry area if possible.

Check what (if any) documentation is required to support insurance claims (e.g. photographs, expenses).

Find more information and resources on responding to a disaster.

Assess and prioritise damaged records for salvage

Don't assume records are unsalvageable or rush to dispose of damaged records.

The most common threats to records include:

  • water: from total saturation through to slight dampness or humidity
  • contamination: dirt, smoke, biological, chemical
  • physical or structural failure: tears, fragmentation, disintegration, distortion, collapsed hanging systems
  • heat: charring, distortion, desiccation.

All of these can be addressed. Consult with a commercial salvage provider or QSA Preservation Services if you are unsure how to proceed.

Damaged digital records may also be salvageable. Digital storage devices often have sealed sections which can increase the likelihood of successful data retrieval.

Assess records

You will need to determine:

  • which records are the most valuable (use your salvage priority list)
  • what records are the most damaged and/or most vulnerable
  • the type and degree of damage
  • if information itself has been lost or compromised
  • if time is a factor in the degree of damage and how salvageable the records are.

You will need to seek advice from your ICT service providers and a professional recovery agency to:

  • assess the damage to digital records and storage
  • provide you with the probability of successful recovery
  • quote on recovery costs.

Don't connect power to electrical devices until you have been advised it is safe to do so by the appropriate electrical safety personnel.

Prioritise damaged records

Priority should be given to vital and permanent value records, and water-affected records.

Identify if backups of digital records exist as this will help you prioritise salvage efforts.

If wet and damp material cannot be dried within the first 48 hours, you will need to arrange to freeze suitable items. Time will increase the damage and decrease the chances of salvage.

Soiled, burnt and fragmented records are less likely to suffer more damage from time.

Focus on the record itself. Damaged file covers, bindings, boxes and containers can be removed and replaced. Check inside boxes and housings–records themselves may not be as damaged as their containers.

Make sure you don't lose control information when discarding boxes and housings or separating parts.

Use the following table to triage damaged records and for the best salvage method to use.

Salvage methods for paper, books and parchment

MethodTo be used
Air dry (within 48 hours)Yes
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)


Salvage methods for plans

MethodTo be used on paper and cloth plansTo be used on film-based plan
Air dry (within 48 hours)YesYes
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)NoYes

Salvage methods for computer memory

MethodTo be used on computer tapes and floppy disksTo be used on flash and external hard drives
Air dry (within 48 hours)YesNo
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)YesNo
Specialist salvage onlyYesYes

Salvage methods for media

MethodTo be used on optical mediaTo be used on magnetic media
Air dry (within 48 hours)YesYes
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)NoNo

Salvage methods for photographic material

MethodTo be used on photographic printsTo be used on photographic negatives
Air dry (within 48 hours)YesYes
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)YesYes

Salvage methods for transparencies

MethodTo be used
Air dry (within 48 hours)Yes
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)Yes

Salvage methods for motion picture films

MethodTo be used
Air dry (within 48 hours)No
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)Yes
Specialist salvage onlyYes

Salvage methods for microforms

MethodTo be used
Air dry (within 48 hours)Yes
Keep wet (up to 48 hours)Yes

If records can't be salvaged

If records cannot be salvaged, or if you are unsure, contact the QSA Preservation team for advice.

You will need disposal authorisation before destroying unsalvageable records. Find out how to lawfully dispose of damaged records and what to do if records have been lost.