Water, Water Everywhere

It is no joke.  Berks County is flooded.  Rivers, streams and creeks exist where none existed in years.  As I was trying to zigzag my way home last night, trying to locate a road that was not closed, I started thinking about Disaster Recovery.  Not because I would have to undergo a recovery, but mostly because I kept thinking that, NO ONE ever thinks about Disaster Recovery until you are trying to scrap your family photo albums up off the basement floor into a garbage bag.  Being prepared and taking a few steps can help save your history.

First and foremost, important legal documents like your birth certificate, marriage certificate, family death certificates, passports, insurance policies, deeds, wills and probably a few other documents that are escaping me, should be stored in a Fireproof and Waterproof safe.  Many of these items, while some are replaceable and expensive to do so, are important enough to need following a crisis.  Keep them in a safe (no pun intended) location that is easily accessible.

If you have a basement, no matter how hard you try, items end up being stored down there.  If it floods, it is recommended that items be stored away from the walls in the middle of the room and raised up.  It is probably best to think of the last time your basement flooded, how far the water entered the room and how high up and start from there.  If items need to be stored on the floor, invest in Rubbermaid boxes with sealable lids.  Cardboards boxes are no match for water, but plastic will keep items dry and safe, and possibly float, which could be a bonus.  If your family photographs, life boxes or anything important is stored in the basement, plastic is the way to go.

Now, while the intricacies of a Recovery are to difficult to explain here, there are certain actions you can take to save items that were damaged:

MOST IMPORTANT: if your basement is now a swimming pool, keep in mind that there are electrical conduits around and probably breaker boxes.  If you cannot get your electricity shut off, DO NOT enter the water.  You will have to wait until the water recedes.

Documents, books, and photographs, are, believe it or not, in a semi-stable environment until the water starts drying.  For some items, there is nothing you will be able to do to recover them completely.  However, for the most part, these items sometime acclimate to their surroundings, until they change again.  The BIGGEST threat to all these items is not the water, but the mold that will ensue if you cannot cool and dehumidify your basement quickly and completely.  All the statistics on mold indicates that is forms and spreads within 24 hours.  I have seen it start forming and spread in less than 12.  Mold is the biggest destroyer of all items.  Combating that is a top priority because it is also a serious health issue!  Keep the air circulating for constant motion and drying purposes.

Documents and photographs can be recovered through air-drying.  Photographs need to be separated; the emulsion used in their manufacturing process, will turn sticky and once these items dry together, you will not be able to get them apart.  Once separated you can clothes pin them onto a line to air dry.  Documents, depending on weight of the paper when wet, can also be air-dried, or laid out on the floor.  Typically, in the library setting, we use blotting paper to assist in the “wicking” processes.  Paper towels should work.

However, Kitchen Paper Towels will not work.  This is important.  Manufacturers have designed them to lock moisture in and hold it in.  Paper towels, like the brown ones, that dry easily and do not have moisture lock are preferred and do work best.

Books tend to be a bit more difficult in the recovery process.  Improper handling of books can cause their spines to break and fall apart.  Books, like George M. Meiser IX, and Gloria Jean Meiser’s The Passing Scene, which are glossy coated, need to be treated carefully.  The pages of glossy covered books, needed to be interleafed with wax paper BEFORE the drying process starts, or the pages will stick together, and you will not get them apart.  For non-glossy format books, interleaving paper towels and standing them, wet side down will help gravity pull the water from the book.  Leave a portion of the paper towel around the edge of the book so when the water is wicked to the end, it can air dry and pull more moisture out.  When the bulk of the water is out, you might need to weight it down to finish the drying process, or you can end up with a book double its original size.

Wet items in frames need to be carefully removed from the frame so the item does not stick to the glass, rip apart and dries thoroughly.

These are just a few tips.  If you require more professional assistance, you can contact:

Berks Fire and Water Restorations, Inc. – http://bfwrestorations.com/

For professional archival assistance:

The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts – http://www.ccaha.org/

and I like to give a shout out and mention the following organizations who assisted me in a library recovery 4 years or so ago:

The Northeast Document Conservation Center – http://www.nedcc.org/home.php

Document Reprocessors – http://documentreprocessors.com/

If at any point you have questions, please call the Historical Society, I will do my best to help point you in the right direction.  Stay Safe and Dry Berks County!

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