Friday 3 May 2019

May Day 2019: Parish Flood Preparation

May 1st was the Society of American Archivist's May Day, a time for archivists to do something to protect their holdings in the event of a disaster. May 5th to 11th is Emergency Preparedness Week in Canada, when we should all think about what we would do in a dangerous situation. It's good to plan for different events like fires, power outages, and storms, but at the moment there are a lot of communities in our province that are being affected by flooding. Here in the Archdiocese of Toronto we encourage parishes to keep their own archives, so we thought we'd write a few tips for parishes on how to prepare for and react to flooding to keep their records safe.

Flooding at College and Bathurst Streets, Toronto

April 7th, 1929

City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 16107

According to Conservation Ontario, "flooding is the leading cause of public emergency in Ontario." Many parts of the Archdiocese have been affected by flooding in the past, so everyone can benefit from planning ahead. Here are a few steps you can take to make sure that the records in your parish will survive this type of emergency.


  • Think safety first. Your records aren't worth an injury.
  • Work with a plan, not in panic.

Before a Flood:

  • Know your risk: You can check the website of your local conservation authority to see if your parish lies within a floodplain; but, even if it's not in a flood plain, your church is not immune to flooding. Keep an eye on the news for warnings and alerts.
  • Make a plan: Include your archives in your disaster plan. Having a plan ahead of time reduces the mistakes that come with panic. Make sure that key people like the pastor and other parish leaders are familiar with the plan and their roles and responsibilities. Practice your plan!
  • Maintain your building: Your records are safer if your space is properly cared for. Clear gutters and downspouts to make sure water is directed away from the building, and make sure street drains are clear of ice or debris. Inspect for leaks or cracks that could let water in. 
  • Make a list: Knowing what records are in your parish and their location can help you prioritize what to move if you have warning of a coming event, or help you prioritize what to recover after an event. A list also helps you keep track of where records have been moved so you don't lose anything.
  • Store records properly: Keep vital records in a secure fireproof and waterproof cabinet. Do not store records in the basement or on the floor. Vital records are those that are essential to continuing operations. In a parish these would include sacramental registers, legal documents, financial documents, property records, insurance documents, contracts, leases, and anything else you need to function. 
  • Back up important records: 
    • Your electronic records should be backed up regularly on an external drive and stored in a secure location. The archdiocesan department of Management Information Services can provide advice. 
    • Vital records on paper should be copied and kept in an secure location. Sacramental records are already microfilmed by the Archives, but other important documents should also be backed up and kept in a secure location. The Archives can provide advice.

During a Flood:

  • Safety is number one! Don't walk into flooded areas until you have the OK to do so from maintenance personnel to reduce the risk of electrocution.
  • Assess the situation. Communicate with disaster recovery team members and ensure that everyone knows what the plan is.
  • If water is dripping from the ceiling, cover shelves and cabinets with plastic sheeting.
  • If records are moved to higher ground or offsite, keep impeccable notes of their location. 

After a Flood:

  • Call the Archives for advice and assistance.
  • If your documents get wet they can be salvaged, but action needs to be taken quickly to reduce the risk of mould, which can cause permanent damage. 
  • If mould is present, always wear protective equipment such as gloves and masks. Move mould-affected items away from other items to prevent spreading.
  • If there's too much material to handle quickly, use your list of records to prioritize treatment.
  • Remember to record where records have been moved.
  • Drying documents:
    • Handle documents with care to reduce the risk of tearing.
    • Gently rinse dirt off before drying.
    • Move documents to a space where the temperature and humidity can be controlled. A cool, dry space with lots of air flow is best. Use fans to circulate air.
    • Lay documents flat on a clean, sturdy surface lined with clean paper towels, and replace towels as they become soaked.
    • Put paper towel or clean white paper in between leaves of books.
    • Don't try to pull apart paper that is stuck together. Freeze and consult a conservator.
    • Don't blot water-soluble ink.
    • Hang photographs from a clothes-line or dry face up on paper towel. If photos are stuck together, don't try to separate them. Freeze them and consult a conservator.

  • Freezing documents:
    • If records can't be dried within 48 hours, freezing is an option. 
    • If possible, pack items in milk crates or something that will allow air to circulate.
    • Pack documents flat with freezer paper every few inches or between folders with bigger documents at the bottom
    • Pack books spine down with freezer paper between each book. Don't pack too tightly, but don't allow books to sag.
    • Place records in an industrial freezer, or a frost-free model household freezer on its coldest setting to avoid the formation of ice crystals.
    • When time allows, thaw and follow drying procedures.

Documents are gently rinsed to remove dirt and debris during a training exercise.

ARCAT staff photo

Photos are hung to dry on a clothes-line.

ARCAT staff photo

Wet documents are laid on paper towel.

ARCAT staff photo

Paper towel is placed between pages to wick moisture away.

ARCAT staff photo

Remember! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! We're always here to help with planning and response, and there are lots of resources available to help you learn about what to do in an emergency:

No comments:

Post a Comment