Parsing the State of State Records Report: Emergency Preparedness

Feb 28, 2020

Parsing the State of State Records Report: Emergency Preparedness

By Veronica Martzahl
Emergency preparedness continues to be a focal point of state archives activities. With increased risk of natural and man-made disasters, the importance of responding quickly and efficiently to protect staff and collections is crucial. While the percentage of respondents who indicated they have an emergency preparedness and recovery plan in place dropped from the FY2016 survey (89.1% to 82.7%), the raw number of these affirmative responses increased slightly from 41 to 43.
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When it comes to plan review and revision, the number of archives stating their plans are updated annually also decreased in terms of percentages of responses (53.7% to 45.3%) with the raw data remaining static (22 to 24). A significant part of reviewing and revising a plan is training staff to implement it. This is an area that shows room for improvement. The majority of respondents rarely or never engage in emergency response drills beyond basic fire or tornado drills. It can often seem like there isn’t time for training, but when disaster strikes the training is critical. We often discount the emotional toll that seeing our collections and institutions impacted by a disaster can have on us. Being able to fall back on our drills and training can get us through the initial shock of the situation and help us respond calmly and effectively. 
As an example of how disaster can literally strike, since the FY2018 survey, the Massachusetts Archives has experienced a lightning strike that blew a hole in the roof and caused water to flow down four floors of vault space. The strike occurred at 4:00 pm, a half hour before the staff would have been leaving for the day and was only discovered because someone happened to be in the top vault when the incident occurred. Thanks to training and preparation the staff received through the Archives’ participation in COSTEP MA (Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness Massachusetts), they were able to spring into action and minimize the impact of the water pouring down the exterior wall. Only a small number of duplicate annual reports were damaged in the incident. And just as importantly, part of the recovery involved assessing our holdings of disaster supplies and discussing “lessons learned” – like adding a lightning rod to the roof! 
I’d love to see the next survey ask not only about preparation, but also ask if respondents have had incidents requiring a response. It can be scary to admit that bad things can happen to our collections, but only by being honest and sharing our experiences can we learn from each other. I’d also like to see if archives are starting to implement any activities to help mitigate the impact of climate change on their collections. Are we reconsidering our temperature and humidity levels to reduce the amount of energy we are consuming? Are we exploring alternate energy sources for our new facilities and our renovated buildings? Are we reinforcing our brick facades or raising flood barriers? It will be fascinating to see how our conversations about disaster preparedness change over the next few decades. 

Category: General News

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