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Emergency Response Plan Action Steps

Emergency Response Plan Action steps


If you have advanced warning:
  • People come first. Provide assistance and take special notice of the needs of people with disabilities.
  • Move or secure vital records/high priority items if it can be done safely.
  • Screw plywood over windows or use tape to reduce shattering.(Please Note: Taping windows to prevent flying glass is not a recommended practice.)
  • Verify master switch shut-off (water, gas, electricity) by trained staff.
  • Move items away from windows and below-ground storage into water-resistant areas:
    • Flooding: move items to higher floors.
    • Hurricane: avoid areas under roof.
  • Wrap shelves, cabinets, other storage units in heavy plastic sealed with waterproof tape.
  • Move outdoor objects indoors or secure.
  • Take with you lists of staff, institutional/public officials, insurance and financial data, inventory, emergency plan and supplies.
  • Appoint a staff contact to give instructions on returning to work.


  • Remain calm, reassuring and alert staff to potential hazards.
  • Look for loose or downed power lines, avoid area then report problems to local utility.
  • Look for electrical system damage: sparks, broken/frayed wires, smell of burning insulation. Turn off electricity at main switch if you can without risk.
  • Shut off water.
  • If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing, open a window and immediately leave the building. Turn off gas at main valve if trained to do so. Call gas company at once
  • DO NOT REENTER THE BUILDING until declared safe by security or emergency management officials.


  • Gather staff off-site to assign tasks and review salvage priorities. Create a team big enough for the work.
  • Establish a "Command Center" with office equipment (computers, photocopier) and communications tools (walkie-talkies, cellular phones).
  • Create a secure salvage area with locks, fans, tables, shelves, plastic sheeting, drying materials and clean water.
  • Notify emergency officials of the extent of damage. Contact peer institutions or professional groups for help.
  • Appoint a media liaison to report conditions and need for help/volunteers. You may have to limit access to collections.
  • Verify financial resources: amount and terms of insurance, government assistance, potential outside funding.
  • Contact service providers for generator, freezer, drying or freeze-drying services and refrigerated trucking.
  • Arrange for repairs to security system.


  • Some building contents may be contaminated. Do not enter without current tetanus shots, protective gloves/clothing, hard hat and NIOSH-approved respiratory mask.
  • Identify and repair structural hazards. Brace shelves. Remove debris from floor.
  • Reduce temperature and relative humidity at once to prevent mold outbreak. Ideal targets are less than 70° F/45% RH.
  • If warm outside, use coldest air conditioning setting; cover broken windows with plastic.
  • In cool, low-humidity weather open windows, use circulating fans. If mold is already present, do not circulate air.
  • Do not turn on heat unless required for human comfort.
  • Remove standing water and empty items containing water; remove wet carpets and furnishings.
  • If everything is soaked, use commercial dehumidification except in historic buildings.
  • Purchase needed supplies.


  • Once it is safe to enter the building, make a preliminary tour of all affected areas. Wear protective clothing.
  • Do not move objects or collections without documenting their condition.
  • Use a Polaroid-type camera or video camera to record conditions of collections and structure. Make sure images clearly record damage. Supplement with better quality photos when necessary.
  • Make notes and voice recordings to accompany photographs.
  • Assign staff to keep written records of contacts with insurance agents and other investigators, and staff decisions on retrieval and salvage.
  • Make visual, written and voice records for each step of salvage procedures.


  • Leave undamaged items in place if the environment is stable and area secure. If not, move them to a secure, environmentally controlled area. If no part of the building is dry, protect all objects with loose plastic sheeting.
  • When moving collections, give priority to undamaged items and those on-loan. Separate undamaged from damaged items.
  • Until salvage begins, maintain each group in the same condition you found it; i.e., keep wet items wet, dry items dry, and damp items damp.
  • Retrieve all pieces of broken objects and label them.
  • Check items daily for mold. If mold is found, handle objects with extreme care and isolate them.


  • Notify insurance representative or risk manager. You may need an on-site evaluation before taking action.
  • Make a rough estimate of the type of materials affected and the extent and nature of damage. A detailed evaluation can slow recovery now.
  • Look for threats to worker safety or collections. Determine status of security systems.
  • Look for evidence of mold. Note how long the materials have been wet and the current inside temperature and relative humidity.
  • Documenting the damage is essential for insurance and will help you with recovery.


  • Establish salvage priorities by groups of materials, not item-by-item. A library might use subject areas or call number, archives, record groups and a museum may consider material groupings.
  • Focus first protection efforts and salvage work on:
    • Vital institutional information, employee and accounting records, accession lists, shelf list and database backups.
    • Items on loan from individuals or other institutions.
    • Collections that most directly support the institution's mission.
    • Collections that are unique, most used, most vital for research, most representative of subject areas, least replaceable or most valuable.
    • Items most prone to continued damage if untreated.
    • Materials most likely to be successfully salvaged.


General Tips
  • Contact architectural conservators, historic preservation agencies,, and/or structural engineers before cleanup, especially for buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Follow the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties.
  • Remove standing water from basement and crawl spaces. Contact a structural engineer before pumping water; pumping can collapse foundation when groundwater is high.
  • Remove flood-soaked insulation, wallboard and non-historic wall coverings. Support loose plaster with plywood and wood "T" braces.
  • Clean historic elements first, using non-abrasive household cleansers.
  • If you treat non-historic features, do not harm historic elements.
  • Inventory found items, loose decorative elements, furnishings and collections. Save for reuse or as restoration models.
  • Air-dry with good ventilation.