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How To Defend Your Company’s Archives Against Disaster

August 16, 2022 • History Factory

Your company’s assets are invaluable. They provide tangible details of your company’s history, contain important documents and sensitive information, and are a hallmark of its heritage.

Are you one leaky pipe away from losing them for good? You wouldn’t be the first.

While there is no absolutely foolproof way to prevent unforeseen disasters that might result in the loss of your collection, there are tried and true steps you can take to mitigate any potential risks.

From controlling natural light to coming up with a plan for worst-case scenarios, there are plenty of proactive ways to protect your company’s archives.

Safeguarding Your Archives Is Securing Your Investment

Whether your organization keeps its assets in the basement at corporate headquarters or it’s your Q4 goal to start the process of building an archives, you know what’s in that collection is significant:

  • Business records spanning decades
  • Polaroids from your company’s NYSE day
  • Your company’s first physical employee newsletter
  • Early prototypes and blueprints

Artifacts such as these make up the tangibles of what your company is all about. And they’re an investment.

There are many reasons to keep a dedicated collection of your company’s assets: brand building, benchmarking and more. Each artifact has the potential to:
Spark a new big idea or reinforce your mission statement

  • Guide your leadership’s decisions about what to do next
  • Engage your employees by showing them what it means to be part of something bigger

If you leave your archives vulnerable to obvious (and not so obvious) threats, you’re leaving yourself open to the huge risk of not being able to benefit from their unique value.

4 Smart Ways To Keep Your Company Archives Safe

Warehouses, attics, closets and basements might be tempting places to store your company’s important stuff. We get it: Storage space is limited.

Unfortunately, these places are magnets for all different types of disasters that can wreak havoc on the integrity of your collections.

On top of that, it’s not only where you store your assets but how you store them that matters.

To sidestep any unwanted threats, here are the four areas that need your attention when it comes to keeping your archives safe.

Control Who Has Access to Your Archive

Keep your assets secure: Put in place controlled, monitored and secured access into and out of your archives environment.

Not everyone from your company should have access to your archives. Not only do your assets likely include certain confidential information to which not everyone should be privy, but untrained visitors can also unintentionally misplace or miscategorize assets, rendering them next to impossible to locate again.

Behind every good archives system is an organizational standard. Unless you know the ins and outs of that categorization system, it’s easy to compromise its integrity. Keeping your archives primarily accessible to those who are in the know can help maintain its cohesion and utility as an easily searchable, well-organized resource.

For those with access to your archives, set some ground rules: No food or drink allowed. Otherwise, you’re just one coffee spill, grease smudge or trail of crumbs away from compromising your collection.

Lastly, don’t ignore the threat of theft. You never know who may be eyeing certain priceless items in your collection. A security system that controls who can come in and out can safeguard against your assets getting into the wrong hands.

Create the Right Environment

The environment in which your assets live can either preserve them or accelerate their deterioration. With variables including humidity, temperature, light, and even your storage space’s location, it’s worth it to get everything just right.

The Society of American Archivists recommends keeping the temperature in your archive space between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity levels of 40 to 50 percent.

  • If it’s too dry in your archive space, paper can become brittle. But if it’s too wet, mold can develop, spreading faster than you can say “stuff happens.”
  • If temperatures in your archives are too warm or too cold, that can encourage pests. Using a pest control service is a good idea regardless of your climate control.

Setting up a humidity system can ensure your humidity levels remain stable. If you’re in a region with consistently high humidity, like Florida, you can install a humidity system on the outside of your building that tells you how to compensate for humidity already in the air. (This can be extra beneficial when a tropical storm or hurricane is coming.)

After you shore up your temperature and humidity levels, take a look at your lighting situation. Natural light is great—for you. But it fades and warps assets beyond repair. Instead, install a motion sensor light that turns off when no one is in the room. And pick LED light bulbs over fluorescent lights.

Lastly, consider the location of your archives within the building. Is it right next to a bunch of big windows that let in a draft? Is it close to a loading dock that may destabilize your preferred ambient temperature and humidity levels? If so, consider moving to a more insulated space.

Prepare for Fires and Minor Floods

Unfortunately, the Library of Alexandria didn’t have the safety systems we have today, such as sprinkler systems and smoke detectors. Perhaps some of it could have been saved.

Fires happen, and there is only so much you can do to prepare for them. To prevent fire and smoke damage as much as possible, engineer your space to have sprinklers in certain compartmentalized zones. Ensure your assets are in boxes and folders to better protect them from water or smoke damage. And don’t forget to keep your smoke detectors up to date.

The opposite threat is water. When that once-in-a-century hurricane floods your area, you’ll be glad you put everything up on raised shelves and never left anything vulnerable on the floor.

If you live in a region prone to earthquakes, these precautions are even more important, since an earthquake can trigger fires or floods.

Build a Digital Defense

Your archives collection extends beyond analog artifacts, so you have to consider how to protect your digital assets as well: Time to call in IT.

No doubt your company is on top of its cybersecurity. But its safety net should apply to your archives as well. After all, your company’s assets could be prime material to be held for ransom.

And finally, on a more prosaic but equally important note, be sure to have backups of your digital archives in different physical locations in the event of a server failure or physical server damage.

Put Together a Disaster Recovery Plan

Sometimes catastrophes are too big to be thwarted by sprinkler systems or humidity controls. That’s why it’s essential to have a mitigation plan for protecting your assets in the lead-up to an impending threat (such as a hurricane) and a recovery plan for the aftermath.

Each disaster plan will look different from organization to organization based on variables such as the contents of your collection and the location of your archives.

For example, if you’re in a region prone to wildfires, your disaster preparedness plan may involve prioritizing what items you evacuate first—whereas if you’re in a region where hurricanes are the norm, you’ll need to know what to relocate to higher ground.

As you prepare your company’s disaster plan, ask yourself questions like:

  • What type of threats are you particularly vulnerable to?
  • Who will be responsible for what?
  • What can you sacrifice in order to save other items?

The best offense is a good defense. There’s no way to entirely prevent disasters, but you can minimize their damaging effects—and safeguard your investment—by being prepared for them.

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