If you’ve never experienced a paper-related disaster, you’d be surprised how fast things can go off the rails in document storage areas. And schools, government offices, law firms, medical offices, and other businesses and facilities that deal with a lot of paper are all at risk. It only takes an everyday event, like a pipe break, storm, sewer backup, or flooding, to cause a business nightmare that is difficult to recover from when not handled properly.

In the spirit of Halloween, this post highlights 5 key things you should be aware of for preventing document damage horror stories. But first, let’s explore a quick example along with how a little preparation for a potential disaster can help eliminate scary surprises and save you money and time in the long run.

The Strange Case of The Bare Footprints

When it comes to paper damage, our document team regularly sees difficult and occasionally very strange situations. Take the example of a building in Louisiana that was locked and supposedly unoccupied when a sewage backup flooded a document storage room and other areas. When our team went in to inspect the damage, there were bare footprint marks everywhere, including on some documents.

Spookiness and grossness of the situation aside, it’s important to understand that just because something gets wet or worse, it’s likely still salvageable. In fact, in most cases, the majority of wet and soiled documents can be recovered, even if they’ve been completely submerged for two or three weeks.

The High Costs of a Delayed Response

Although the initial shock from flooding or other incidents can be difficult, a lack of preparation only makes things worse on a couple of levels.

First, it leads to delays when time is of the essence. The problem is that paper starts to deteriorate once it’s wet, so the sooner you can stop that deterioration through freezing, the greater the recovery chances.

Second, it leads to higher recovery costs. The longer paper sits wet, the more carefully it will need to be handled. Not to mention that delays can lead to mold, staining, ink bleed, and blocking which contributes to greater costs.

Prevent Document Damage Nightmares by Following These 5 Tips

1) Develop a retention policy

Prepared companies and organizations usually have some sort of detailed inventory or system for determining whether or not files are within a mandated retention period. By labeling boxes according to retention periods, and including a destroy date on the boxes, you can save time and money during the recovery process.

2) Carefully consider your storage area

It’s understandable to want to use the basement and other undesirable rooms or spaces for storing documents. Keep in mind, however, that basements are usually more humid than upper floors and they also often house water heaters and include exposed pipes, sewer drains, sump pumps, and other things that can put your documents at risk. That’s why it’s always preferable to store important books and documents in safe and dry areas above the ground.

3) Have a disaster recovery plan (DRP) in place

A good DRP helps you develop processes and procedures for the different types of disasters your business or organization is most likely to face. It provides a resource for knowing exactly what to do and who to call in the face of difficult circumstances.

4) Partner with a specialist ahead of time

Document recovery requires specialized processes, proficiency, and equipment, including freeze-drying chambers. Some providers bill themselves as document recovery professionals but rely on ineffective equipment and processes, which can lead to subpar results and mold. By vetting your document recovery provider options ahead of time, you can ensure that they will be able to meet your standards. You can also get on the same page about response needs prior to an emergency call to reduce confusion or slowdowns when a disaster does happen.

5) When in doubt, freeze it

If your documents are damaged by water and you are delayed by a PO process or some other situation, freeze or refrigerate the documents as soon as possible. Freezing the documents will help reduce the overall damage to the documents and buy you some time. Just remember that water from anything but a water pipe may be contaminated with hazardous materials, and you need to remember to clean the freezer accordingly once the documents have been removed for processing.

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