01 November 2012

Thankful Thursday - Happiness is a Dry Collection

I've said pretty much all I can on social media about how much empathy I have for the people who have been affected by Superstorm Sandy. Most of you know I've volunteered with Noah's Wish, which is how I gained the three beautiful kitties who enrich my life daily. I'm a staunch supporter of first responders, CERT members, the American Red Cross, health care workers, etc. I bow to their selfless sacrifices and the sacrifices of the ones who love them. The challenges of Sandy are just beginning. What truly makes this storm unprecedented is that it happened in a northern climate when winter is just around the corner. This not only will delay cleanup efforts, but also the rebuilding that must take place to house those who've lost their homes. It's not quite as simple as setting up trailers that don't require heat; a much more complex set of problems is being handed to a very large group of people. I hope we'll all keep these folks in our minds and hearts until they are resettled.

In the meantime, I've been seeing lots of information flying around about how to salvage and manage wet and damaged photographs and documents. 

Via Twitter: HeavenlyFire999: RT @WSJ An aerial shot of flood damage in Bethany
Beach, Delaware on Tuesday. The latest on #Sandy: http://t.co/DrJoU5fW

Here are a few items that seem to be missing from them all, in no particular order:

1. While it is best to get materials out of water within 48 hours, that's not always possible. This does not mean that the material will be unsalvageable, just that as each day passes, the likelihood diminishes.

2. CRITICAL: do NOT try to dry material directly out of flood water. This seems to be the one most important step missing from almost all the resources available on-line. Flood water is nearly always contaminated in one way or another, whether it is natural or chemical. So, it is recommended that, using protective gloves, materials be removed from flood water into plastic containers filled with clean, distilled water. Filtered water works in a pinch, and obviously, if the only water available is neither distilled nor filtered, plain clean water will work. The goal is to gently move the material from one container into another to remove as much of the contaminants as possible. 

3. If you're in an area that has electricity and have access to a freezer, wet documents (not photographs) can be frozen (in a clean state) and then thawed out in small batches. By freezing the documents, you essentially freeze the decomposition the water may cause; there are disaster recovery companies that specialize in freeze-drying materials from institutions when disaster strikes.

4. Do not put anything that could possibly still be damp in a sealed plastic bag. Even a minute amount of dampness can cause mold to grow in an enclosed environment. It's best to keep wet material submerged until such time as a drying location is available, keeping in mind the 48 hour rule.

I have, in my professional career, had incidents occur which required immediate action. One was a flood of an office in Nashville during a devastating flood there several years ago. Fortunately, only a couple of file drawers of material were affected and the on-site staff were able to recover the material using some of the techniques I mentioned. The other was the loss of a part of the ceiling in an Archives from water due to a broken seal and then subsequently a clogged pipe. Fortunately in that case, a great disaster recovery plan meant that an emergency didn't become a disaster; none of the material was directly affected by the water.

While I hope that no one reading this actually ever needs to use any of this advice, the reality of it is that it happens. I pray you're all safe and comfortable.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I would never have known about either #2 the "gentle clean-water rinse" method, or #3 the "freeze" method. I'll pass this on to my fellow academics . . . there has been a lot of flooding here within two miles of the coast. Thank you for caring!


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