Keeping Your Head Above Water - Part II
by Linda Nainis
Success in dealing with water disasters requires forethought, as explained in the last issue of The Cutting Edge
, "Keeping Your Head Above Water
," part one. To determine your recovery strategy, discussed in part one, you need to have thought things through in advance. Your decisions will be based upon the resources available, as well as the condition, value, and priority of the water damaged collections. You must decide whether to leave the books in place, whether to pack and remove them to freezers, whether to air dry them. Most likely, you will use a combination of methods.
The recovery steps that are described below call for preparation, specific techniques, and intense physical activity. Recovery steps should be practiced ahead of time. Through experience, many disaster teams have learned short cuts and tips, some of which are given below.
Beforehand: Have on hand a camera with a flash, or a video camera recorder and possibly an audio tape recorder. Be prepared to provide the documentation that will be needed for insurance purposes, and for the report that should be written after the disaster is over. Take numerous pictures of the library in its usual condition. In addition, collect floor plans showing the entire library and its collections.
After the disaster: Photograph the damage. Take pictures during the recovery process, and after. Mark floor plans to show where the damage occurred. Document the amount of damage, most importantly, how many boxes were sent off site. If the collection is bar coded, that may help to utilize the circulation system. Or use a tape recorder. Keep an inventory of box numbers. Indicate, not just box contents, but also whether the contents were wet, very wet, damp, etc. Key box numbers to the shelving map. Later, the library catalog can be adjusted, if necessary.
Keep track of who helped, so that a memo of thanks can go to them. Record each major decision, and also who advised it. That way, you can answer the question "who authorized that?" Afterwards, all of this information can be included in your report.
Contact Insurance Office
Beforehand: Put the name and phone number of the insurance office in your disaster plan. Find out time limits for submitting claims, and documentation. Know what items and types of damage are not covered.
Obtain advance appraisals of valuable or rare materials. As well, line up a conservation lab ahead of time.
After the disaster: Contact the insurance officer immediately. Fill out the forms. Don’t start repairs, however, until the insurance office has approved the cost.
Sort and Pack
Beforehand: Have on hand a quantity of boxes to pack up soaking wet items for freezing, deli wrap or cut wax paper sheets, sponges, aprons, gloves, paper towels, and garbage bags. The amount stored depends upon past or likely events in your library.
After the disaster: Set up tables for sorting books. Continue to sponge away excess water as you work. Use book carts to assist in moving books between locations. Cover the shelves with plastic sheeting. Move book trucks with care, because they are easily tipped when loaded with heavy, wet materials.
Sort material by treatment. Air drying is appropriate for non-coated paper that is only partially wet or damp. Freezing is appropriate for very wet materials and for items with water soluble inks.
Freezing books has several advantages over air drying. It is usually less labor-intensive than air drying. It "buys time" to make decisions about which materials to salvage at some future date. Sending wet materials out to freezers also will reduce the number of items to be dealt with when trying to restore the library facility to the proper humidity and condition.
It is easy to damage wet materials. Do not try to separate sheets. When packing in boxes, it is desirable to separate books with deli wrap or wax paper sheets to keep them from sticking together. Be careful not to stack boxes too high. They can topple and harm the contents or a person nearby.
Take health precautions. Teach everybody on the disaster site how to lift without back injury. Do not allow staff who are pregnant, who have asthma, or whose immune systems are impaired to work in a possibly moldy disaster site.
This is dirty, physically hard and stressful work. Give positive feedback, frequent breaks. Provide refreshments at regular intervals.
Transport Off Site
Beforehand: Have on hand heavy duty plastic tape for sealing boxes, pallets, shrink wrap, information about trucking companies, a supply of frozen Blue IceTM, or a source for dry ice.
After the disaster: You may find that transporting books off site is difficult, particularly if there is no electricity. Areas may be dark. The elevator may not be working. It may be necessary to create a human chain to move materials downstairs or upstairs.
When transporting to freezers, seal all boxes. Boxes are heavy and easily dropped when workers are tired. If possible, place boxes on a pallet, not directly on the floor. Stack neatly, no more than about chest high, for safety. Shrink wrap pallets.
If large flat items, like maps, must be transported, provide a support, such as a piece of cardboard or rigid plastic. A flat file drawer may work as a carrier. If you have to go through doorways you may have to create a sling to hold oversize flat items.
Wintertime may offer the benefit of "free freezing" while materials are in transit. Otherwise refrigerated trucks may be needed, depending upon the distance. If there is less than a full load, specific truckers must be called. If there are only a few items, it is possible to mail overnight. In warm weather, dry ice can be packed in the box. Take into account that most shippers require a hazardous materials label for dry ice. For that reason, "blue ice" may be preferable.
Assess and Address Damage
Beforehand: Be prepared for the fact that the effects of a disaster situation may be felt for an extended period of time afterwards. Many post-disaster chores will remain to be done after the initial shock has passed.
After the disaster: Rehabilitation of the physical area usually involves at least a thorough cleaning. Carpet may have to be suction-dried, pulled up and fan-dried from underneath, or removed entirely. If powerful disinfectants are used, a safety professional may be needed. In any case, aprons and gloves and disposable cloths should be used. Adequate ventilation is a must. Sometimes water trapped behind the dry wall becomes a problem.
Collection rehabilitation may be needed. Even after freeze drying or air drying, books may need to be put into a press to restore their shape. Spine labels may need replacement. Some books may need rebinding. Keep track of these costs too, for insurance purposes.
Materials that have been salvaged should, if at all possible, be segregated from other library materials for a period of time. Their condition can be monitored, including the moisture level using an instrument called a moisture probe. If books remain too damp they will be apt to mold. Or they may become overly dry through the freeze dry process. Generally, library books should have a moisture level of about 5 – 8 percent, depending upon the geographic area.
Conduct a post-disaster wrap up. Debrief the team to learn their views about what went well, what could be improved if there is a next time. The nature of the disaster may make it obvious that an upgrade or repair, such as to the HVAC system, can help prevent further disasters.
Last of all, utilize the photographs and documentation that has been gathered to prepare a report that includes: the location, the time, date, nature of problem, staff involved, actions taken, number of items damaged, recovery strategy, supplies used, clean up process, photos and floor plan.
Responding to a disaster means addressing multiple factors at the same time: the safety of people, the stabilization of the environment, and the survival of collections. Disaster recovery managers who are prepared can act quickly and decisively. Helpers who have been trained can effectively mitigate the damage. At each stage of recovery, appropriate information, adequate support, and advance planning can make the difference between a legacy and a total loss.
How to Survive:
Mold can start within 48-72 hours if conditions are right. With standing water and room temperatures, conditions will be right for mold.
- Remain calm. Panicking won't help
- Work methodically, but don’t waste time.
Plan ahead. But you will not be able to plan for any thing that could happen. Your plan must be iterative, constantly changing, constantly revised.
- Get help. Notify others, other staff members, physical plant staff who can help with clean up.
- Plan ahead -- and as you go along.
Minimal supplies to have on hand
- A list of emergency phone numbers
- Dust mask
- Plastic sheeting (cut ahead of time)
- Caution tape
- Mop and bucket
- Clipboards, pads and pencils
- Boxes to pack up soaking wet items for freezing
- Deli wrap or cut wax paper sheets
- Heavy duty plastic tape
- Paper towels
- Garbage bags
- Moisture probe