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Records Recovery

Montana experienced the worst floods in recent history in 2011. Being adequately prepared before disaster strikes directly impacts the speed and efficiency of recovery efforts.


Water Occurs in 85% of all Emergencies/Catastrophes.

It makes things heavier and more fragile, and mold can set in within 48 hours.

If you can’t attend to wet records right away, freeze them! It stabilizes them and the possibility for mold growth. It allows for air drying at your own pace and chosen method. It also buys you time. Business records require careful packing and tracking.

Records that are essential (business critical) should be recovered, first. Always. With pre-planning, essential records should be backed-up, off-site, and readily available for use within an efficient length of time.

Other records may not be recoverable, due to their sustained damage or when the (unexpected) cost to recover them outweighs the business need for them. State and local government agencies should follow the chain of approval for records destruction, prior to any destruction of public records.


Every business should have an emergency plan. Creating and maintaining a comprehensive contingency plan is key. Take a free online business preparedness assessment from the American Red Cross. provides an overview of how to be prepared and what resources are available to you from the federal government.

Be aware of natural disaster floods no matter where you live, but especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water, or downstream from a dam.


Take pictures before beginning recovery (photos or video). This can be very important for insurance reasons, federal reimbursement, resource assistance, etc. This is true whether self-responding or obtaining vendor or commercial services.

State agencies should contact the Department of Administration – Risk Management to obtain help or required forms. Ask if you can start salvage prior to an adjuster arriving.

Local goverments should also contact thier insurance carrier (Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority or private carrier).

Private parties should also contact their private carriers.

Obtain prior authority of financial spending for supplies, services, maintenance or contractors, overtime, etc. Monitor and document what is being paid for.

Recovery – Forms:

Is your agency prepared for an emergency? The American Red Cross has a great program designed to help you become better prepared for emergencies. You can join for this free, self-paced program and complete a 123-point self-assessment of your level of preparedness to reveal areas for improvement.

In Case of an Emergency You May Need the Following:

Basic Supplies and Materials
Fans, dehumidifier, absorbent materials, plastic sheets, plastic tubs, wet-dry vacuum, clothes line, wooden clothes pins, plastic clips, buckets, mops/sponges, tables and chairs, wax/freezer paper, dry boxes, garbage bags, plastic gloves, rubber boots, dust masks, office supplies, zip-lock bags.

Environmental Controls/Stabilize the Environment
Help obtain and set up fans and dehumidifiers. Get an HVAC system running when safe. Keep temperature and humidity low.

Request temperature (and humidity) be lowered to help slow down further deterioriation (i.e., mold, wich can set in within the first 48 hours). It is recommended to obtain 65 degrees and humidity at 35%.

Remove standing water and cover damaged windows and doors
Help obtain and set up fans and dehumidifiers. Get the HVAC system(s) running when safe (however keep temperature and humidity low).


Assess damage and prioritize most important records to be recovered first
If possible use a pre-established assessment form to identify and capture the record types (titles), location, condition and type/degree of damage.

  • Records in immediate danger
  • Essential records
  • Records closest and most accessible
  • Most vulnerable/damaged
  • Least vulnerable/damaged

Create salvage and clean recovery area
Pack records out of danger area for recovery. Transfer to new storage if undamaged, or for freezing if too much damage has occurred.

Tracking will be important. Triage records by record type and type/extent of damage.

Actions Taken:

As soon as possible, freeze records and bag and refrigerate CD and DVDs. Records can be frozen with mud on them, if necessary. Freezing allows you to recover records at your own pace.

Large quantities of moldy records may require professional recovery. Smaller outbreaks could be handled in-house.

Line a dry box with a large garbage bag. Pack records supported by folders or freezer paper to bundle. Interleave groupings with wax or freezer paper. Do not stuff boxes as paper will expand. Do not replace wet folders. Do not try to unfold or separate individual pages.

Label boxes on all sides.

If required, wash dirty records by using a series of tubs to avoid re-ingraining dirty water or mud.

Microfilm & Oversized Documents:

Microfilm/fiche can be kept in clean water for up to 48 hours. It can be rinsed carefully (if not the silver halide copy) and air dried on a clothes line. However, check, as you may need to deal with advanced surface contamination, which may require it to be rewashed/reprocessed by a professional.

Large or oversized documents (maps, architectural drawings, art work) are very fragile and require good support when handling. They may also require wax paper or Holitext/Tellon (a spun polyester) during drying as they are often made of coated papers.


For books, don’t open them if you are freezing or cleaning. If you need to rinse, do so with the book closed tightly. Dehumidification will minimize swelling, cockling, and potential for mold.

Books are best recovered through air drying, freezing and then air drying, or vacuum freeze drying. If air drying damp or moderately wet books set the book up on edge, interleave with blotting paper, and fan out the pages. If very wet, lay flat, interleave, and fan out pages. Turn pages often for even drying. Interleaving should not strain the binding; limit interleaving to every 20-25 pages.


If photographs are stuck together, do not try to separate them. Consult a conservator/contractor. They can be carefully rinsed if surface is not cracked/flaking. They can be frozen (except if glass plate negatives, cased images, or collodion processes). Interleave with freezer or wax paper and pack in folders for support.

Air dry photos with the image side up on blotters or hang on clothes line. Stack with Holitex/Tellon polyester interleaving and weights to minimize curling and splitting. They can be kept in clean water for up ot 48 hours. These rules apply to most prints, slides, and negatives; if in doubt, consult and conservator.

Audio & Video Records:

Coated papers will “block” if not dried quickly and interleaved with wax paper or Holitex/Tellon (a spun polyester) between each page.

Encapsulated or shrink wrapped materials probably require removal from the plastic to dry. Handle carefully, pulling plastic from back side, and stabilize.

CDs and DVDs should be removed from their casings. The casings should be dried and retained for identification. Do not freeze. Avoid scratching by handling at hubs and edges. Carefully rinse if needed. Do not rub to clean. Blot dry and air dry completely.

Make a copy of the CD or DVD when dry. Carefully rinse as needed.

When dealing with audio and video records, keep the casings closed during the initial rinse to avoid mud transfer. Do repeated rinsing as needed. Note, these also can be kept in water up to 72 hours awaiting a conservator or contractor.

Gently shake excess water off (open access gate). Air dry. Consult a media specialist for duplication/transfer. In certain cases, can be freeze-dried (contractor required). Applies to cassettes, tapes and reel-to-reel.

Commercial Drying:

Dry records can be vacuumed off — carefully — using a soft paint brush or nozzle to assist in cleanup.

Commercial drying options work well, but normally must be budgeted for
Thermal vacuum freeze-drying is similar to vacuum freeze-drying in that a vacuum is used along with controlled heat to vaporize water, but this method also has a patented procedure to compress materials back into shape. This can be expensive.

Freeze-drying: a process that places wet records in a self-defrosting freeze (under -10 degrees Fahrenheit), then after frozen, the ice is slowly sublimated. Takes more time and is expensive.


Records Destruction Authority