Imagine that you are confronted with damp and soaked collections due to damage to your building from high winds and heavy rains. Which collections will be your highest priority? Setting salvage priorities is one of the most difficult tasks connected with disaster planning and recovery. To prevent delay and disagreements among staff during a crisis, it is best to identify high priority holdings in advance of an emergency.
High priority materials will vary from institution to institution. However, all organizations must give priority to vital records (e.g., accounts payable, payroll and personnel records, legal documents). Without these materials, it may be difficult to restart operations in a timely manner. Don't forget to include computer data in your salvage priorities. Data salvage priority should go to data that is not backed up at all and does not have offsite backups.
Following are types of collections that may be high priority:
As a first step, set priorities by department or by sections of the collections. Since it is most likely that an emergency will affect only a portion of the collections, these priorities can serve as a basis for setting overall collection salvage priorities for the institution. This should be done by a committee made up of representatives from each department and/or area of the collections.
If your institution has an up-to-date collection development policy or retention/disposition schedules (in the case of archivists and records managers), use them to help determine which collections are most important. As a general rule, do not to try to set salvage priorities on an item-by-item basis. While there may be the occasional object of value that deserves to be considered on its own, it is much more practical to designate groups of items for salvage.
A color-coded map can be used to identify the location of high priority items (although this information must be protected to avoid creating a "shopping list" for thieves). Collection priorities should be shared with the fire department prior to an emergency.
During a disaster you may find that some collections are beyond salvage, particularly if they have spent significant time in adverse conditions. Exposure to fire can damage some formats (such as negatives and microfilm) so that salvage is impossible. Materials that have been wet for a long time may also be too badly damaged. If books with coated paper have been wet and begun to dry, their pages may block together, making them unsalvageable. In cases like this, you will have to move on to the next priority collection and concentrate on those materials that can be successfully salvaged.