Blog – Disaster Preparedness, Disaster Recovery, Document Recovery

Emergency Preparedness: The 4 R's

With storm season approaching it’s important to prepare your archives to the best of your ability. Polygon sponsored CoSA in creating an emergency preparedness resource page with some in-depth checklists and information for your archives. In this blog we’ll be sharing the 4 “Rs” which represent the 4 stages of emergency preparedness, Risk, Readiness, Response, and Recovery.

 Below are the key takeaways of the 4 R's, keep reading for additional details for each phase



Begin by identifying vital records and the risks they may encounter. Then develop and implement policies and procedures for mitigating those risks.



Next, develop plans, policies, and procedures for mitigating risk and responding to emergencies.



The window before the records deteriorate beyond recovery can be as short as hours. The time it takes to respond can be critical. 



This last phase involves the necessary actions taken to salvage the records to the best possible extent. 




Any records can be damaged or lost due to a variety of factors. When we think of damage and loss, we think of natural disasters such as tornados or hurricanes, however, there are many other ways that records can be lost or damaged. It would be cost-prohibitive to try to protect all records, so it is important to determine which records are unique and essential to either the government or its citizens.

The first steps would be to identify your essential records and the risks to those records, then develop and implement policies and procedures for mitigating those risks.

  • Consider your entity’s critical functions, and designate, and prioritize the essential records.
  • Identify and evaluate the risks to those essential records.
  • Evaluate and develop preparedness and mitigation strategies to protect and ensure continued access to essential records in case of natural disasters or human-caused threats.




Once you have identified the essential records for your entity and identified and evaluated the risks to those records, the next step is to develop plans, policies, and procedures for mitigating risk and responding to emergencies.

Some risk factors have simple and inexpensive mitigation solutions. Others will be more complex and costly. In most cases, the cost for any mitigation will still be less than any costs for recovery after a disaster has occurred.

Essential for readiness include:

  • Plans, such as disaster/emergency preparedness plan, COOP, or records emergency action plan (REAP)
  • Policies and procedures for reducing risk (mitigation), preparedness, response, and recover
  • Trained personnel

Tools such as dPlan, a free online program, can help institutions write comprehensive disaster plans. dPlan provides a template that allows museums, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions of all sizes to develop a customized disaster preparedness and response plan. For more information go to




Response is the immediate and short-term actions taken during and after an emergency or disaster to assess and address needs, including protection of health, safety, and property, including records. Response time for records can be critical –the window to begin assessment can be as little as 72 hours after the disaster, before the records deteriorate beyond recovery.

Response actions should be established to the extent possible in disaster/emergency preparedness plans and might include:

  • Assemble response team(s)
  • Conduct initial collections damage assessment to identify immediate needs – removal, freezing, etc.
  • Conduct initial facility damage assessment/health and safety issues assessment to identify immediate actions and whom to call for assistance




The Recovery phase involves the actions necessary to bring things back to normal to the extent possible, including full damage assessment, insurance claims, salvage and stabilization of records, and the resumption of business operations.

Recovery actions may address both short-term and long-term needs, such as:

  • Resume critical operations at a pre-established location
  • Address immediate collections needs, e.g. freezing wet records
  • Address longer-term conservation needs
  • Complete full facility and equipment damage/condition assessment and address repair/replacement needs – walls, carpeting, furniture, etc.
  • Return treated collection materials to storage and availability


To download a printable version of the 4 R’s as well as additional resources and checklists click here:


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