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We're guessing that you're here either because you have a disaster on your hands, or you are trying to get prepared.

If you have a disaster, take a deep breath. It is far better think calmly and plan your recovery efforts than to rush into the disaster, make mistakes, and cause even more harm.

If you are here to plan for recovery, or to get some ideas, good for you. We hope that the advice we offer helps.

Either way, if we can be of assistance, call us at 803/787-6910. If it is after hours, leave a message. If you are in the midst of an emergency, tell us -- we check messages frequently and if it is urgent, we'll call you back, regardless of the hour. There is no charge for phone consultations.

First things first.

Human Safety . . . The first thing to consider in any disaster is the safety of staff and patrons. Human life is far more valuable than any collection. So, the first thing you may need to do is to determine if your building is safe to re-enter. This may involve consultation with a university or college physical plant, the county or city building department, or perhaps the fire department.

You also need to be aware of building safety issues. This doesn't mean you need to be an engineer, but you should exercise common sense. There are some key building features that suggest serious problems:

  • A structure shifted on its foundation.
  • A structure with washing or erosion under the foundation.
  • Brick mortar joints that are loose, that have eroded mortar, or walls where there is loss of brick.
  • Cracks in walls that weren't present before, or that are larger than before, the disaster occurred.
  • Shifting of structural members, such as walls or floor joists.
  • Electrical service that has been under or in water.
  • Spalling of concrete and warping of steel structural members (especially lightweight steel trusses) after a fire.

If you see any of these problems, you need the assistance of a building inspector or structural engineer -- and you shouldn't enter the building until you have been told that it is safe to do so.

If you are here to get some ideas on planning for a recovery, it would be worth your while to find out now who will be responsible for determining if your building is safe to re-enter. Sit down with them and explain the nature of your collections and the problems that can be caused by a delay in recovery. Find out now, before there is a crisis, what that individual can do for your institution to make those initial critical hours a little easier.

You must also determine if you have the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to allow you and your staff to safely re-enter the building. This may include hard hats, boots, respirators, gloves, safety glasses, or other items. You must also determine if your staff has had the appropriate OSHA safety training to allow use of PPE.

For example, if you are assigning staff hard hats, are you complying with the training requirements of 29CFR1910.135? If you have mold and need respirators, have you complied with the OSHA Respiratory Protection Plan requirements of 29CFR1910.134? And if you think gloves may be necessary, have you complied with 29CFR1910.132-138?

But what do you do if you have a disaster right now, and your staff doesn't have all this training? Our advice is that you think long and hard about the risks of handling your own recovery. You might be better to contract the recovery out to a firm that has already provided its employees with the necessary training. At the very least you should contact legal council to advise you on the potential risks of not complying with OSHA requirements.

If you're here to learn about recovery steps, this should be a clear warning to you. Most institutions are poorly prepared to handle recovery -- not only are staffs not trained in recovery efforts, but they are also unaware of OSHA requirements to ensure the health and safety of staff. Being prepared for a disaster means far more than learning how to pack wet books.

Minimize Additional Damage . . . Make sure the fire is out before trying to recover. What we mean is that there is no sense in trying to recover if the disaster is still on going.

If you have a leak, make sure that it is at least temporarily repaired before you begin recovery. If you have mold, make sure that the HVAC system is operating correctly before cleaning up.

Also, look for secondary damage or problems. Are you sure this is the only leak in the roof after the storm? Is this the only damage caused by the tornado? Are you certain there are no other pockets of mold elsewhere on the floor or in the building? Don't be satisfied that the damage is limited until you have checked out everything.

Document . . . Document the disaster, and your recovery efforts. Document in photographs for your insurance. Document what you are doing by sending emails to those to whom you may ultimately need to report, like the dean or provost, county commissions or city manager, or board of directors. Document bid specifications and bids you receive from contractors. Document staff time on recovery. Don't assume that just because this is a crisis to you that others will see it that way and forgive any procedural errors.

Think Before Doing . . . It may sound simplistic, but too many people rush into recovery. Their adrenaline is pumping and they think that fast action is all that counts. But they are wrong. One of the first lessons in disaster recovery is do no harm.

This means that you need to think about what needs to be done, how you are going to go about doing it, and what (if any) repercussions there may be.

Remember to Care for Yourself and Your Staff . . . While recovery of buildings and collections is crucial, so too is watching out for signs of anxiety, stress, and fatigue. Disasters often do damage far beyond the obvious effects to buildings and collections. You need to understand that there can also be emotional damage. It is important to watch out for yourself -- and your staff -- just as you are watching out for your collections.

Warning signs of stress include:

  • short tempers, frequent arguments
  • getting upset over minor issues
  • difficulty sleeping, bad dreams
  • aches, pains, stomach problems
  • apathy, loss of concentration
  • depression

Here are some steps that you can take -- and encourage your staff to take -- in order to minimize stress. Discuss your problems. Talk to your family, friends, and other staff members. It helps to realize that you aren't alone and others are having many of the same feelings. Rest often and eat property. You're more likely to suffer from stress and other health problems if you aren't eating regular meals. Also, being active helps, just be sure you don't overdo. Set a manageable schedule. No matter how desperate the disaster situation may be, there is only so much that can be done at any one time. Prioritize items for both yourself and your staff. Try to return to pre-disaster routines as soon as possible. Routines give you something predictable to depend upon. Watch for signs of stress -- in yourself and others. Often others will notice signs of stress before you do. Listen to them and take action. Seek help. Don't be too proud to admit that you may need professional assistance to get rid of depression and anxiety. A good source of help is the American Red Cross. Another, especially for stress, is the American Psychiatric Association.

With all these considerations out of the way, you are now ready to actually begin recovery efforts.


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