When documents, books, records and other materials have sustained water damage, the magnitude of the recovery job may seem overwhelming. Having a working knowledge of the important things to do - and not to do - can help get things on the right track quickly.
Of course, getting a trained disaster recovery team on site as soon as possible is an important early step. According to the Preservation Policy and Services Division of the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, D.C., the team should have two major objectives. The first goal should be to stabilize the condition of the materials before removal by creating the environment necessary to prevent further damage. Then, the team should focus on recovering the maximum amount of materials from the damaged collections in such a manner as to minimize future restoration and costs.
The most generally accepted method of stabilizing water-damaged library and archival materials before they are dried is by freezing and storing at low temperatures. Freezing prevents further deterioration of the documents or records from water and mold. This process buys time for planning and organizing the steps to restoring the materials.
Freezing can also stabilize water-soluble materials such as inks, dyes and water stains which would otherwise spread by wicking action if they were dried using conventional methods. (Water-soluble compounds remain stable during a freeze-drying process, which involves the removal of water by sublimation.)
Of course, there are many more details involved in the proper recovery and restoration of water-damaged documents, books and records. Hopefully, these guidelines will give you a general idea of the initial steps that need to be taken and the importance of seeking expert advice.
Drying Methods Crash Course
How do you know what drying methods are best? The Preservation Policy and Services Division of the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, D.C., offers these general guidelines:
- Air Dry: Paintings (immediately freeze), jacketed microfilm (within 72 hours), photographs (face up, dry immediately)
- Freeze dry only: Coated papers, books and periodicals with coated papers (all within 48 hours; immediately pack)
- Air or freeze dry: Water colors and other soluble media (immediately), framed prints or drawings - once exposed (within 48 hours)
- Air, vacuum or freeze dry: Paper, books and pamphlets (all within 48 hours)
- Air or non-vacuum freeze dry: Leather and vellum binding (immediately freeze)
- Air dry, thaw and air dry or freeze dry: Prints, negatives or transparencies - do not vacuum dry (within 72 hours)
- Rewash and dry: Microfilm rolls (within 72 hours)
Keep in mind that there are particular precautionary steps and packing procedures that must be followed for each material - another reason why it is best to rely on an experienced disaster recovery vendor for advice after a water loss.
Does Your Vendor Know The Right Questions To Ask?
The cost of drying documents varies substantially according to the method used and how much needs to be salvaged. Before tackling a drying project, experienced restoration vendors will ask these pertinent questions to determine the appropriate steps:
- Is the information on the documents duplicated or "backed-up" in some manner?
- Is the value of the document in the information that is on the paper, or is the actual document itself what is valuable?
- Will a reproduced version be sufficient?
- Is a wrinkled, smeared version adequate?
- How long have the documents been wet?
- What type of water was involved (i.e., clean, river, black, etc.)?
These questions help the customer and the insurance carrier understand all the options. The value of the document will ultimately determine which restoration option is most appropriate.
Basically, these questions help ascertain whether documents have extrinsic or intrinsic value. Extrinsic value means that copies or other reproductions can be just as useful as the originals. Intrinsic value means that the value is inherent in the original document, as with financial, legal, insurance, or historical documents. Vital records are those documents and media that are especially significant because they contain information about legal and financial status and are necessary for the organization to stay in business.
Carefully assessing all the factors and classifying the documents before beginning a drying project ensures that correct, prudent steps are taken and unnecessary expense is avoided. "In document damage cases, it's very important to determine the level of service and recovery that the customer truly needs," says Brad Key, Director of ServiceMaster Recovery Management. "A restoration company with integrity will always try to find the most cost-effective and efficient ways of recovering and restoring documents, not the most expensive."