Disaster Preparedness

In light of the recent fires in the area, I decided to discuss a lesser-talked about aspect of archiving. When people think of archives, they usually think about private or state institutions that house specific collections, such as the Black Mountain College Collection, that help us interpret history. In reality, archives often contain administrative records from various businesses. For instance, just today Heather and I dug into minutes from the Bank of Black Mountain. I have also sorted records from a local economic development group at the WRA and have seen records from other businesses in the area. These administrative records come from local establishments and so it is understandable that some archivists, such as Heather, will often reach out to these places to help them better understand how to take care of these documents while they are still housed at the business.

Having a disaster plan in place as well as disaster supplies readily on hand and knowing what organizations around you to approach if you need help cuts down drastically on response time to disasters. In the case of the most recent wild fires—and particularly the one that destroyed hotels and homes in Gatlinburg—it helps to know what items are absolutely necessary. For instance, if a hotel is on file, there may be certain documents that only exist in paper form in the office and should be given priority. Having these papers in a central, easily accessible location allows the business to remove them quickly if there is a fire and the building must be evacuated immediately. Information that is kept electronically should be backed up, but the backup should not be kept in the same location as the originals. (This should be common sense… should be.) To help ward off potential disasters such as these, Heather and a group of other archivists and museum and library professionals helped revitalized a group called MACREN (Mountain Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network). Some of the things that MACREN has put together to help other organizations and businesses are a list of sources for reliable information on methods of preservation for different materials, a questionnaire on preservation preparedness, handbooks containing information on preservation and emergency procedures, preservation pails (which include supplies that can be used during emergencies, like a tarp, rope, scissors, etc.), and an electronic newsletter that has how-to articles for the salvaging and recovery of items. MACREN members have also gone to muesums, libraries, and historical sites in the area to help with disasters. Heather has shown me pictures of a library that she and others visited to help out with a disaster. A pipe had burst on the second floor of the building that the library was in. After a while, the weight of the water caused the ceiling of the first floor—the library—to collapse. The head librarian estimated Heather and other members of MACREN saved them a few thousand dollars by helping them dry out books appropriately. Being an organization specific to this region, MACREN may not be the first choice to help the businesses of Gatlinburg recover and salvage items (although I am sure they would not refuse). However, there are other organizations available. North Carolina has a statewide organization called Crest. There is also a national organization called the National Heritage Responders (NHR).

This is just the tip of the iceberg for preservation, salvage, and recovery. The topic itself is expansive! There are certain techniques for salvaging different metals, fabrics, furniture, wood, different types of paper, animal skins, etc. Likewise there are specialists in each are to call upon. MACREN, Crest, and the NHR have as many specialists as would like to join that they can refer to in any given situation. To give you a good idea of some of the things that MACREN has put together to help others become better prepared, I have attached a few documents discussing sources of reliable information on preservation, a list of basic items for disaster preparedness, and the questionnaire that MACREN gives to those inquiring about disaster readiness.