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International Congress on Archives 2004 - pres 182 MICHAS CPTE (Page 3)

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International Congress on Archives 2004 - pres 182 MICHAS CPTE
International Congress on Archives
What was the reality in 1997?
Some disasters are beyond our control. Keep in mind that in 1997 it wasn't clean water, but instead dirty
river water and that flooding affected everybody: institutions and general public.
In some places in 30 minutes the water level reached 1,8 meters. Everything under this was under water
immediately. The force of the water was large and caused the failure of shelving and other storage furniture, as
well as the throwing out of objects from their places in repositories.
The flood in 1997 affected five state archival units and archive materials and files in various public
institutions, including court, state and self-government administration organizations. The libraries were severely
hit as well.
Unfortunately, even though there existed a written disaster planning model it was never practised and
existed only on paper.
The biggest problems appeared with packing and stabilizing collections as well as with staff and human
Stabilizing wet materials as quickly as possible is essential for successful reaction.
One of the safest ways to stabilize books, documents, photographs, textiles, and other archival materials is to
freeze them. All physical distortion, as well as all biological action stops. But in 1997 there were not enough
freezing facilities and those available often did not want to take affected archival material.
If freezing is not possible a collection must be stabilized before drying by removing from the disaster site to
one where temperatures and humidity are as low as it is possible and where the air can circulate freely. Archival
material must be then air-dried immediately.
This practice was the most common in 1997. This method required additional people who were hired to
assist in this long lasting process as well as large amount of space. Sometimes when the weather allowed it, this
method was also performed on the open air. Additionally and fortunately, vacuum chambers designed to dry
wood were with success adopted to dry some of the collections.

To sum up 10 km of archival material was damaged. Unfortunately about 5% of the total collection that had
been flooded was permanently destroyed.

Are there any practical things to do when nothing was prepared. when nobody was really trained?

Continuing what was said before already there are some practical things to do even when nothing has been
prepared, even when nobody is really trained there are some steps that can be taken:
firstly the use of common sense
secondly you need to elect one disaster coordinator to lead and distribute work according to the
plan you've made in site
you must react quickly and according to the plan
you need to assess and evaluate the degree of damage to your collection, make priorities
remember that affected collection materials must be carefully relocated to a controlled and clean
do not forget about labelling the bags, crates boxes etc. of the sorted materials
you should get help from various specialists to assist and supervise you - from Fire Brigades to
conservators etc. - call them, have their numbers in hand
you must know from them what you should do to avoid distraction of objects
ask local authorities as well as appeal for help in the media to made them informed that you need
human resources/volunteers, freezing facilities or facilities to run air drying etc.
you should think of adapting the materials and tools you've got at your disposal in this situation; for
example as in Poland in 1997 when vacuum chambers designed to dry wood were adopted to dry
some of the collections as well
take in consideration that collections may require fumigation before they can be handled safely
remember to work safely using gloves, facemasks, boots, construction, hats and appropriate
probably this doesn't close the list - hope to get feedback from the audience on this topic
you have to remember to document the damage by making written and photographic
documentation of the situation.

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