LSU expert offers advice on protecting priceless items during storm season

LSU Archival Expert Ed Benoit offers advice for people who want to protect their valuable items and documents during hurricane season.

Planning ahead is key, he says. When responding to a natural disaster, collecting valuable items and documents can be low on the list of priorities when life is at stake. These are the ways Benoit recommends you store and preserve items and documents. irreplaceable before the possibility of storm damage.

Here is a Q&A with Benoit, followed by some useful links, provided by LSU:

How do you recommend keeping physical copies of photos or papers?
“The most important thing when approaching materials and photographs on paper is the temperature and relative humidity in which the elements are stored. The materials prefer consistent temperatures in the range of 65 to 75 degrees with lower humidity. Of course, after a storm, the air conditioning goes out the window. In this case, it is more important to keep the items clean and dry to prevent immediate mold growth. Preparation and prevention are key. If possible, you should store documents in acid-free folders and boxes before a natural disaster. With photographs, avoid (at all costs) sticky albums or stuff stuck to a page. If you have framed photos, use a mat between the frame and the photo to prevent the photo from sticking to the glass.

What kinds of documents do you recommend people keep?
“When it comes to personal collections and archives, what people value most varies widely. In the world of archives, we define value in particular ways – and not just monetarily – but something important to one individual or family may not be so essential to another family. I recommend sitting down and making a list of objects, documents, photographs and audio-visual materials that are both irreplaceable and carry significant meaning. You can then prioritize the list. What could you take with you during an evacuation? What would you try to put in sealed containers before evacuating? »

Items that you may consider irreplaceable include family heirlooms, important family photographs, military equipment, travel journals, audio recordings or interviews with deceased family, video recordings, etc.

Do you recommend using digital storage?
“Yes, if it’s well planned. With cloud storage, it’s easy to save digital images, and many people digitize their family photos. If someone decides to do this, be sure to carefully select the platform you use. You want to make sure it will meet your needs. If you’re only uploading images, you might consider a photo-only solution, but for most people a more general cloud service is preferable. If you are considering local digital storage, such as an external hard drive, I recommend making duplicate copies and storing them in different physical locations. Finally, don’t assume that scanning an item will replace the original – it won’t. On the contrary, it can facilitate sharing and could be used to create a facsimile of the original if necessary.

If you’re not tech-savvy and need to keep your image copies in other ways, what do you recommend?
“As I noted earlier, you need to create a priority list. What will you take with you if you evacuate? For other items, have waterproof containers you can put things in while you make your final preparations for You can then place the containers as high as possible, in a closet shelf, for example.This will provide additional protection but may not guarantee survival during a storm.

What about videos/tapes/DVDs?
“These are things we call magnetic tapes and optical media. Anything you currently have on tape formats you should try to digitize or transfer to another format as soon as possible. Magnetic tape degrades rapidly over time and improper storage conditions. Since most VHS tapes and cassette tapes were made over 20 years ago, time is running out fast. There are videos online on how to scan these items, or you can consider using one of the many professional scanning companies. DVDs and other optical media are better protected but may also experience data degradation over time. Scanning these documents can also be beneficial.

What kind of damage do you expect if you don’t protect your valuable photos/assets?
“The biggest problem after a hurricane is the growth of mold. This can quickly ruin photographs and other objects and cannot be easily countered. There are ways to clean objects that have been under water, including including documents and photographs, but time is of the essence after the storm. As materials spend more time underwater or in mud, they are more susceptible to permanent damage. Photographs, for example, will lose their emulsion layer and become sticky, documents will disintegrate and, as many people know, given enough time, temperature and humidity, mold will take its toll.

Final Thoughts
“The biggest obstacle to protecting your family treasures during hurricanes and severe weather is that you have to prepare well before the storm hits. By the time you think about evacuating, it’s too late to think properly about what you might want to protect and how. At this point, your mind is racing and you will inevitably forget something. As with anything hurricane-related, planning well in advance is essential. »

Free Resources

North East Records Conservation Center (NEDCC), Caring for Private and Family Collections.

FEMA Fact Sheets, “After the Flood: Tips for Recovering Damaged Family Heirlooms” and “Recovering Water-Damaged Valuables and Heirlooms”.

Select a list of MayDay annotated resources from the Society of American Archivists:

Caring for Your Family Archives: Presented by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) under the tabs Preservation and Archives Professionals, Family Archives. FAQ-style guidelines for the care, display, and conversion of personal archival records.

Caring for Your Treasures: Presented by the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). Contains guidelines, organized by medium (books, glass, metal, photos, etc.), on how to care for and maintain heritage objects.

Booklet on damaged books: written by Caroline Bendix and presented by the British Library Preservation Advisory Centre. Describes the most common types of book damage and outlines potential repair work for this damage. Formatted in PDF; contains illustrations and graphics.

Film Damage: Presented by the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). Contains general guidelines on how to salvage water-damaged film and video tape, FAQs, and a list of film labs across the country.

Preservation FAQs: Prepared by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Preservation and Conservation Unit. Answers to frequently asked questions about books and paper, photographs and works of art.

Find a curator
Free. Presented by the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). National web search allows narrow or broad search depending on specialty, type of material, type of preservation advice needed (e.g. surveys, consultation, duplication-copying, disaster planning, consultation of exposure) and geographical area.

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