Disasters can pose a significant threat to your agency's records. To help you manage the risks, we recommend you have a disaster preparedness and response plan.
However, sometimes records are lost or damaged, despite the best planning in the world. If your records have been lost or damaged because of a disaster, here's what you need to know to find out if they can be salvaged.
If you need more detailed advice, contact Queensland State Archives on (07) 3131 7777 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also have a look at our Preservation Services page.
If you have records that can't be salvaged, get in touch with us so we can provide advice and help you figure out what our best options are. Also have a look at our advice on lost and damaged records.
Basic dos and don’ts
Do contact your Workplace Health and Safety Officer before entering any hazardous areas.
Don't take any unnecessary risks, especially in regard to health and safety, while attempting to salvage records. Take time to organise and coordinate your approach.
Do move undamaged records to a clean, dry area if possible. If more flooding or water inundation is likely, try to move undamaged records to higher ground.
Don’t assume records are unsalvageable. Records may look worse than they are – consult with a commercial salvage provider or Queensland State Archives if you are unsure. Remember your obligations under the Public Records Act 2002.
Do collect evidence of damage as quickly as possible with photos, videos, and/or written reports. If possible, identify which records are damaged even if only at a broad level e.g. personnel files.
Don’t let wet records sit for too long once waters have receded. This will help prevent mould developing.
Do identify if electronic backup of records exists as this will help you prioritise any salvage efforts. You may need to contact your IT department for advice.
Don’t rush to dispose of damaged records. Further advice will be available from Queensland State Archives.
Do investigate opportunities for salvaging records (including use of commercial providers) as soon as it is safe to do so.
Don’t forget damaged electronic records may also be salvageable.
- How can I dry a small quantity of water-damaged records myself (i.e. a quantity that can be managed in-house)?
- How can I dry a large quantity of water-damaged records if I don’t have the necessary resources/space?
- What should I do with heavily soiled and water-damaged records?
- How can I replace documents which prove my identity, such as a birth or marriage certificate or change of name document?
FAQ 1: How can I dry a small quantity of water-damaged records myself (i.e. a quantity that can be managed in-house)?
Prioritise your most important records and work on those first.
Find a clean, dry and well ventilated work space with:
- Plenty of tables, benches or other hard surfaces (if the surface is timber, try to cover it with plastic sheeting as the exposed wood will absorb the run-off water and the records won’t dry)
- Fans (if you have electricity – they will speed up the drying time and also help to prevent mould growth from stagnant air and humidity build up)
- Paper towels
- Clothes line or cord
- Stationery to note all control information (e.g.. file locations, notes, names etc.)
- Personal Protective Equipment – gloves, P1/P2 masks, clothing and footwear protection.
Allocate a special temporary storage area for items that have been dried and need re-shelving.
Air drying procedure
If the records are muddy or soiled, clean first by holding the record firmly closed under a gentle stream of cold, clean water. Gently dab with a sponge if necessary.
- Do not rub, brush or attempt to open pages at this stage
- do not use hot water, detergents and bleaches
- do not attempt this on maps/plans.
Figure 1 Figure 2 Volumes / books
- Handle carefully. Wet paper is very fragile and prone to tearing from its own weight.
- If there is enough space, gently remove files from boxes or containers (noting down any control information such as file locations, notes and names) and lay flat on the table. Interleave with absorbent paper towels making sure they are longer than the records and taking care not to put too much strain on the fastener. If space permits, fan the files out for greater exposure (see figure 1 below).
- As the interleaving sheets become saturated, discard them and replace with dry sheets.
- If space is limited you may be able to string some lines and hang folder-enclosed records from the middle (see figure 2). If the records are sodden they may need to be partially dried flat until they are strong enough to hang.
If strong enough, volumes should be dried upright with the covers open slightly (see figure 3 below)
Illustration courtesy of National Archives of Australia (used with permission)
If pages are waterlogged rather than just damp at the edges, or not rigid enough, lay flat and interleave with blotting paper or paper towels. The amount of interleaving paper used for one volume should not exceed 1/4 of its spine thickness due to the risk of damage to the binding. As with files, this interleaving should be changed often and disposed of. When almost completely dry, books should be laid horizontally and lightly weighted (e.g. with a covered brick or other heavy object).
Never attempt to stack or press wet, swollen books.
Recently dried records should remain in the temporary storage area until the usual records area has been completely cleaned and dried. Inspect these records regularly for signs of continuing damp or mould. Only re-shelve records when you are sure that the records and permanent storage area are dry.
FAQ 2: How can I dry a large quantity of water-damaged records if I don’t have the necessary resources/space?
Prioritise your most important records and work on these first.
If you have a large quantity of damp/wet records, freezing is probably your best option. This will give you time to:
- Stop or halt any mould growth
- Determine if temporary records can be disposed of legally. Check if records are covered by a retention and disposal schedule. If you are unsure what this is, contact your Records Officer or CIO. Queensland State Archives can also be contacted on (07) 3131 7777 for more information
- Decide if you will attempt to dry the records yourself or contact a commercial salvage company.
Gather the following resources:
- Crates and/or pallets for easy transport into freezer storage (if possible)
- Plastic bags or freezer paper
- Waterproof marking pens.
Freeze packing procedures
- If you decide to contract a commercial provider, clarify whether they have any specific freezing requirements
- Where possible, freeze wet records in original containers (e.g. boxes, filing drawers, plan cabinets). Try to handle records as little as possible
- If records cannot be frozen in their original containers, separate loose records from each other by wrapping in plastic bags/wrap or freezer paper. This will prevent records from sticking to the material beside it (see figure 1 below).
- Place all items vertically into plastic crates. Registers should be placed with the spine down.
Illustrations courtesy of National Archives of Australia (used with permission)
- Ensure each crate is numbered and a list of its contents is attached. Use waterproof pens or freezer pens for this purpose
- Do not pack and freeze wet/sodden and damp records together, as the damp records will absorb the excess water. Separating damp records from wet or sodden records will make eventual air drying easier
- Do not freeze the following
- glass plate negatives
- magnetic tapes (audio, video, computer etc.)
- floppy discs
- photograph albums
- If you are drying records in house, only remove small quantities at a time, and allow them to thaw in a cool, dry area. Wash or remove any mud or soil while the records are still wet.
FAQ 3: What should I do with heavily soiled and water-damaged records?
- Firstly determine if it is sewerage or simply mud
- If it is sewerage, leave the records in-situ and contact your Workplace Health and Safety Coordinator
- If they have been ‘trampled in the mud’ and are unrecognisable, photograph the records and seek advice on their legal disposal
- If they are still somewhat intact, attempt to wash the mud from the records by following the Air Drying procedures. If the records are still legible, freeze the records, seek commercial assistance, or air dry in-house
- If washing is not possible, photograph, document and seek advice on legal disposal.
FAQ 4: How can I replace documents which prove my identity, such as a birth or marriage certificate or change of name document?
- Affected Queenslanders can arrange replacement birth or marriage certificates by contacting the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages on telephone 1300 366 430 or emailing BDMemail@example.com. For more information, visit www.justice.qld.gov.au
- To replace deed-poll records of changes of name, contact Queensland State Archives for:
- Northern district up to 1950
- Southern up to 1995
For records from the Central district, contact the Supreme Court Registrar in Rockhampton.
Links to selected sources of additional information