Water

Clean Water

Safety
Be sure all electricity has been turned off before you enter the flood area. Do not enter any area that has not been declared safe. Use safe extension cords (the orange ones) if you absolutely must use electricity in any area with standing water. See Health Concerns for Disaster Recovery.

Speed
Action taken in the first 48 – 72 hours is critical in a disaster recovery. Mold begins to develop on damp or wet paper within that time period. You will have less time if the temperature is high and much longer if you are “lucky” enough to have freezing temperatures. Anything that isn’t stabilized (dried or frozen) by the end of the 48 hours is much less likely to be recovered. If you are dealing with a small amount of material, air drying is possible. See Drying Wet Books and Records and Peter Waters’ book. If it is more than you can handle, freezing is your best choice.

Remove any dry items from the area before they absorb any moisture. Leaving them exposed to a high humidity area means mold can grow on items that weren’t initially affected by the disaster, thereby increasing your losses.

Don’t worry about cleaning books and DON’T try to squeeze out water or reshape books. The first thing you need to do is simply get the books or papers into a big commercial freezer. You may need to leave things in the freezer for a long time so do consider how long you can count on good will or how quickly the fees are accumulating. It is enough to simply interweave freezer paper or wax paper between books (just to keep the covers from freezing to each other). They don’t need to be individually packaged. Place books spine down in boxes or crates so that they are tightly packed. Leather bindings should be tied across spine to fore edge with cloth tape to minimize warping. Don’t force the books, but try to fill each container since you don’t want stacks of boxes collapsing. Plastic crates with an open structure (milk or bakery racks) are ideal because they allow air to circulate and keep weight off the books. It’s nice to have them at hand but any uniformly sized box (such as beer or paper boxes) that is not too big to carry will work. Boxes loaded with wet books are heavy. The sooner things are frozen, the better. While you are packing wet books, you can use fans to bring the humidity down in the area. Opening windows (unless the outside air is more humid) will also help.

Books with coated stock are very difficult to salvage. Coated stock is the paper used in “coffee-table” books; it is shiny and very popular for quality art books. Many expensive art magazines also use coated stock. It air dries as a solid mass. These materials may be partially salvageable if immediately freeze dried. Unless you have expertise or the money to freeze dry these items, put your efforts into a different part of your collection.

Photographs and film should be kept wet until they can be treated. The Corning Glass Library was able to save much of its image collection by putting everything into a swimming pool until a recovery plan could be quickly created and implemented. Photographs and slides can be air dried with careful handling. Early color photo processes will not survive immersion. See Salvage Operations for Water Damaged Collections.

Planning
Once everything is stabilized, you have the time to think and plan. What does your insurance cover, can you hire experts or will this be a local effort? Waters’ book is invaluable for do-it-yourselvers. Cleaning your site is vital. Once a book has been dampened or wet, it is much more susceptible to mold. Any areas that harbor mold are simply going to make the problem worse. Never put any of your collection back into an area that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned. If you are not able to hire experts, the housekeeping staff of the local hospital may be able to tell you the best procedures to achieve the level of cleaning that must be done.

Dirty Water

Safety
Do not enter any area that has not been declared safe. A natural flood presents health problems that must be dealt with. Tetanus shots are vital to anyone exposed to the water. Sneakers should never be worn. Be sure all electricity has been turned off before you enter the flood area. Use industrial extension cords (the orange ones) if you absolutely must use electricity in any area with standing water. See Health Concerns for Disaster Recovery.

Speed
Once the water begins to go down, your window of recovery for damp or wet paper is usually 48 – 72 hours before mold develops. This is almost sure to be an impossible time limit in a natural flood, unless the water quickly drains away. This recovery window will be smaller if the temperature is high and much longer if you are “lucky” enough to have freezing temperatures. Anything that isn’t dried or frozen by the end of the 48 hours is much less likely to be recovered. Remember that as long as the books are still under water, they are not developing mold bloom. If you are dealing with a small amount of material, air drying is possible. If it is more than you can handle, freezing is your best choice.

Remove any dry items from the area before they absorb any moisture. Leaving them exposed to a high humidity area means mold can grow on items that hadn’t been initially affected by the disaster, thereby increasing your losses.

Don’t worry about cleaning books and DON’T try to squeeze out water or reshape books. Gently rinse any heavy amounts of mud or other accretions. The first thing you need to do is simply get the books or papers into a big commercial freezer. You may need to leave things in the freezer for a long time so do consider how long you can count on good will or how quickly the fees are accumulating. It is enough to simply interweave freezer paper or wax paper between books (just to keep the covers from freezing to each other). They don’t need to be individually packaged. Place books spine down in boxes or crates so that they are tightly packed. Leather bindings should be tied across spine to fore edge with cloth tape to minimize warping. Don’t force the books, but try to fill each container since you don’t want stacks of boxes collapsing. Plastic crates with an open structure (milk or bakery racks) are ideal because they allow air to circulate and keep weight off the books. It’s nice to have them at hand but any uniformly-sized box (such as beer or paper boxes) that is not too big to carry will work. Boxes loaded with wet books are heavy. The sooner things are frozen, the better. While you are packing wet books, you can use fans to bring the humidity down in the area. Opening windows (unless the outside air is more humid) will also help.

See Collection Evaluation for Disaster Planning, note however, some types of paper will either never recover or require much more effort. Books with coated stock are very difficult to salvage. Coated stock is the paper used in “coffee-table” books; it is shiny and very popular for quality art books. Many expensive art magazines also use coated stock. It air dries as a solid mass. These materials may be partially salvageable if immediately freeze dried. Unless you have expertise or the money to freeze dry these items, put your efforts into a different part of your collection.

Photographs and film should be kept wet until they can be treated. The Corning Glass Library was able to save much of its image collection by putting everything into a swimming pool until a recovery plan could be quickly created and implemented. Photographs and slides can be air dried with careful handling. Early color photo processes will not survive immersion. See Salvage Operations for Water Damaged Collections.

Planning
Once everything is stabilized, you have the time to think and plan. What does your insurance cover, can you hire experts or will this be a local effort? Waters’ book is invaluable for do-it-yourselves. Cleaning your site is vital. Once a book has been dampened or wet, it is much more susceptible to mold. Any areas that harbor mold are simply going to make the problem worse. Never put any of your collection back into an area that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned. If you are not able to hire experts, the housekeeping staff of the local hospital may be able to tell you the best procedures to achieve the level of cleaning that must be done.