As flood waters devastate towns in Queensland and Western Australia, the NFSA has prepared advice on how to save precious audiovisual material. Film and tape is very susceptible to damage from water, especially when contaminated with dirt and debris. Each type of object is affected in a slightly different way and requires a slightly different approach in preventing further damage. In all cases, the sooner you can start recovering the objects, the greater chance of minimising damage. The NFSA can assist by providing information on the best ways to salvage your flood damaged objects and give these precious objects the best chance of recovery.
The first step is to make sure that the object has actually been affected by the flood waters. Often the film can or tape box will provide enough protection to prevent the water actually touching the object. If the object is not touched then just protect it from further damage that is likely to be caused by the damp conditions such as mould.
A second step is to keep any identifying information with the object. There will probably be a stage at which some sort of prioritisation will be necessary and deciding which object to spend the time and money on will be tough enough without having to wonder which tape or film has the most important content.
Here are some simple steps to help salvage and stabilise your audiovisual objects. These are not conservation treatments and objects should still be examined and possibly treated by an experienced conservator before you attempt to play the object.
The biggest threat to flood affected film is mould and bacteria. Both these will feed off and destroy the film very rapidly. Both mould and bacteria may pose a health risk to people. If the film appears to be mould affected, take all the precautions necessary to avoid skin contact and do not breathe in the mould spores.
If your film has been affected by floods then:
Film do nots
Magnetic tapes are objects such as audio and video cassettes and reel to reel audio. Again with magnetic tapes, mould is a problem and appropriate care must be taken in respect to your health. The most immediate problem is the potential for the part of the tape, known as the binder, to decay.
MiniDV tapes are made from different materials and these are very sensitive to water. The recovery rate from miniDV that have been affected by floods is not high so be prepared for some losses with these objects.
If your tapes appear to have been affected by flood water then:
Tape do nots
Acoustic recordings vinyl records (LP’s and 45’s) and optical discs, such as Laserdiscs, CDs, DVDs, BluRays, are known as discs. While all these objects are fairly resistant to the immediate effects of floodwater, there may be long-term effects, especially for optical discs.
Mould may be found on some discs but it is more likely to be growing on the paper covers and inserts. If there are signs of mould, take all the precautions necessary to prevent skin contact and breathing in the spores.
Discs that may have no permanent label, for example CDs or DVDs containing home movies, can be temporarily labelled using cardboard and string.
Disc do nots
In all instances, it is important to seek professional advice before trying to do any more than is suggested above. Audiovisual objects are very fragile and well-meaning attempts to recover the objects often lead to the total loss of the object. Remember that most damage occurs after the flood, so quick stabilising action and seeking professional advice is the best way to ensure that your precious objects will stand a chance of survival.