Sources for the Recovery of Valuable Personal Belongings

Updated: May 6, 1998

Following any type of disaster, priorities for response will naturally be focused upon such basic necessities as our personal health and safety, physical and emotional well being, food, clothing, and adequate shelter. As clean-ups begin, citizens may discover that treasured personal belongings have been damaged as a result of the disaster. The Georgia Department of Archives and History, a division of the Office of Secretary of State, offers information and advice for individuals seeking assistance in salvaging their personal belongings. Citizens may speak directly with the Archives' Conservator by telephoning (404) 656-3554. Queries may also be directed to: Please do not hesitate to contact us if you believe we may be of any assistance.

Below are a number of on-line and telephone resources we hope you may find useful as you begin recovery efforts for your personal belongings.

Salvaging Personal Belongings

Additional Sources for Information:

Potential Hazards to Materials and Individuals

See also the GDAH Technical Leaflet on Disaster Preparedness


The American Institution for Conservation (AIC) is the national membership organization for conservation professionals, dedicated to preserving the art and historic artifacts of our cultural heritage for future generations. AIC's Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice defines appropriate conduct for the conservation field. The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) provides a free Conservation Services Referral System for members of the public interested in locating and selecting conservation services. FAIC may be reached at (202) 452-9545. Along with referrals, FAIC will furnish written information about the process of selecting a conservator for specific conservation needs.

The American Institute for Conservation offers the following publications on-line:

The Minnesota History Center offers information on salvaging a variety of materials as part of its repository's disaster preparedness plan. While their disclaimer notes that the applicability to these approaches are based on the needs of their institution, salvaging procedures for a wide array of materials are offered. It includes information about archaeological materials, books, inorganics (ceramics, glass, metal, and stone), leather, magnetic media, microforms, organics (bone, hair, horn, ivory, shell), paintings, paper, photographs, records albums, scrapbooks, textiles, vellum/parchment, and wood. Visit this site at

In addition to the materials cited above, CoOL, Conservation-Online, has a wealth of information pertaining to disaster preparedness and recovery. Detailed texts relating to salvage techniques for specific materials may be located through /bytopic/disasters/



Not all salvage approaches are appropriate for the long term preservation of all materials. Some techniques, like freezing, may be most desirable for the effective drying of paper-based items, but inappropriate for paintings on canvas, cased photographs, or magnetic media.

The salvage of personal belongings may at times involve materials that have been contaminated by sewage or other hazards. Approaches to disinfecting may not be compatible with long term preservation considerations. For example, bleach may disinfect, but will also do irreparable harm to the structural integrity of family papers or works of art. If hazards are involved in salvaging personal belongings, bring this fact to the attention of a consulting conservation professional.


Do not underestimate potential health problems cause by mold. Even dormant (powdery) mold must be readily addressed lest it become active once conditions are favorable for growth. Molds commonly develop due to poor air circulation, moisture (high relative humidity), and high temperatures. A discussion of appropriate precautions for handling mold outbreaks can be found at /byauth/Kaplan/moldfu.html

Health Assistance and Information

Health concerns are always be of paramount importance. Contact local county health department officials for advice on dealing with specific hazards. Georgia citizens may also contact the State Environmental Health and Injury Prevention Branch by telephoning (404) 657-6534 and speak with Ade Oke or Warren Abrams if you suspect health hazards associated with disaster recovery activities. If hazards exist, health and safety precautions will need to be incorporated into a conservation salvage protocol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about potential health hazards related to all types of disasters through its ERCG, Emergency Response Coordination Group, part of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health. You may reach a 24 hour emergency hotline at (404) 639-0615. Their website is: The ERCG has two main functions: 1) to help local, state, and federal agencies plan responses to emergency situations and 2) to respond to requests for emergency recovery assistance after technologic disasters such as radiation, chemical, or biological releases, and after natural disasters such as hurricanes, wind storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or floods.

Disaster Preparedness and Prevention

CDC's "Prevention Guides to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety Before, During and After Emergencies and Disasters" can be found at: and provides information about earthquake, extreme cold, extreme heat, flood, hurricane and tornado. This site will provide information about the nature of certain disasters, preparations for disinfecting drinking water, food safety, sanitation and hygiene, precautions when returning home, inspecting damage, clean-up, and chemical hazards.

You may reach also topics directly by specifying the type of disaster about which you are interested in learning more about by indicating the "disaster type" following the word "prevent" in the address given above. EXAMPLE: will take you directly to information about tornados--including identification, advanced planning, injury prevention guidelines, and recovery considerations.

The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) website includes recent news about current disaster recovery efforts. Response and Recovery information is available at http:/ Salvage Wheel and Emergency Response Steps can be found at The FEMA site alerts us to a link for the Federal Trade Commission's "Consumer Alert After a Disaster: Hiring a Contractor" available at (1998)

The GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency) offers news briefs and summaries of state actions and services. It also boasts some excellent links to sites that discuss characteristics of specific natural events and what may be done to prepare yourself for disaster survival. Of particular note is the website for Hurricanes and Natural Disaster Brochures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Hurricane Center/Tropical Prediction Center, administered by the Miami Regional Library. Use the table of contents for this exhaustive site that contains contains historical information as well as definitions and safety guidelines for hurricanes, tornados, floods and other natural disaster. The information contained here was produced by NOAA and the National Weather Service in Cooperation with the American Red Cross and FEMA. Another link of interest from the GEMA site was which offers everything you always wanted to know about tornados, even if you were reluctant to ask.

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Georgia Department of Archives and History
330 Capitol Ave. SE
Atlanta, GA 30334
Tel: (404) 656-2393

Updated: May 6, 1998

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