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Don’t Panic! : An Archivist’s Guide to Emergency Response – Lessons from the Smithsonian Institution to apply to your collections
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Don’t Panic! : An Archivist’s Guide to Emergency Response – Lessons from the Smithsonian Institution to apply to your collections


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Presentation delivered by Sarah Stauderman, Collections Care Manager for the Smithsonian Institution Archives, at the Smithsonian Archives Fair on October 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. …

Presentation delivered by Sarah Stauderman, Collections Care Manager for the Smithsonian Institution Archives, at the Smithsonian Archives Fair on October 14, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Provides a short overview of ways to prepare for an emergency, and how to recover books, paper, and photographs after they get wet.

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  • It could be as “small” as a broken water pipe (and often is) or as large as a hurricane (on the right is an image from the Gulfport Mississippi public library after Hurricane Katrina in 2005). The Smithsonian Institution is prepared to handle disasters and emergencies through risk assessments, disaster planning, adequate supplies, trained staff, and community partnerships . You can and should be too. I will talk about some prominent disasters and offer straightforward advice on emergency recovery that will help to minimize losses and damages to personal artifacts caused by emergencies. .
  • Birth of emergency management for cultural institutions is often traced back to the Florence Flood of 1966 when the River Arno overflowed its banks after intense rainfall. Neither emergency measures for life safety nor collections protection were in place.The water entered the Basilica of Santa Croce church bringing mud, pollution and heating oil. The damage to buildings and art treasures was severe, taking several decades to repair, and in fact there are still artifacts that await final recovery steps.Statistics after the flood:600,000 tons of debris in the cityMud, sewerage, oil, etc.Approximately 30 people died15,000 cars wrecked5,000 families homeless14,000 movable works of art damaged3 to 4 million books and manuscripts damaged
  • Response was massive.Volunteers covered in mud helped to move books and artwork out of flood damaged buildings, earning them the nickname “mud angels”. A lot of creative thinking went into the response, some of which are still used today. There were also some bad moves on the part of responders, such as stacking wet books. So much more could have been saved if Florence had done a little disaster preparedness.
  • Smithsonian has not been without its own share of disasters, the most famous being the 1865 Castle building fire. Though Secretary Joseph Henry had attempted to mitigate the chances of a fire in the building, by prohibiting smoking, starting a night watch, and placing buckets of water in various locations; on a very cold winter’s day when all the buckets were frozen over, a construction accident began a fire that destroyed papers, reports, paintings, scientific instruments, and James Smithson’s personal effects.
  • Since then, numerous emergencies have affected collections at the Smithsonian. Ranging from the very bizarre ( a man who attacked a snake) to the very predictable (old buildings leaking over and over in the same places).
  • On August 23, 2011 a 5.8 magnitude Earthquake shook all of the DC Metro Region, including the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center in Suitland Maryland. Secretary Wayne Clough stands next to – fortunately empty – specimen cabinets that were knocked over.
  • On the left are recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and on the right are the ten basic steps for cultural heritage institutions’ planning guides. (from Julie Page of the California Preservation Program). How do the two checklists match up?1 Have a plan that is coordinated with the larger institution’s plan. Keep it up to date. Include procedures for handling the most likely emergencies2 Conduct an internal and external survey of your building for potential problems and threats. Highlight past problems. Note actions that can be taken to minimize the threats. Include security, geographical concerns (flood plain, tornado alley, earthquakes?) Make friends with facilities people. 3 Phone trees and contact lists are one of the most helpful tools in an emergency. Know who to contact, when, and in what situation. Make sure OPS has a list of people they should contact in your unit. And keep it up to date. Also what to do if phones are out. Email, cell phone alerts, walkie talkies?4 . Simple fact sheets with step by step instruction. The PReP template can be useful. 5 If someone is hurt, who should you call? Keep a list handy in case of an evacuation. Life safety first
  • 6. What are your vital records? Most important and valuable collections and what type of salvage treatment might they need.7. Have supplies on hand, marked on a map, and where people can get to. Maintain a list of local suppliers and vendors for large scale needs. See your supplementary material for a list of supplies you may need. 8. Do you need documentation for insurance? How are you going to get emergency funds? Do you have vendor contracts w/ money set aside already in place?9. Do walk through with emergency responders. Talk to colleagues about their disaster experiences. 10. Train!The area that emergency preparation does not usually deal with is recovery after the fact. The rest of my slides will deal with that.
  • Air drying is most appropriate for books that are only damp or slightly wet. Books that are wet — and especially books that are saturated — should be frozen to minimize cockling of the pages and distortion of the text block and binding. Books containing coated paper should be frozen while still wet, and that books with running or blurred inks or colorant must be frozen immediately to preserve the contents.Identify a clean, dry, secure space where the temperature and humidity can be controlled. Reduce the relative humidity as low as you can to prevent mold and improve drying capabilities.Keep the air moving at all times using fans in the drying area. This will accelerate the drying process and discourage mold growth. Aim fans to direct the airflow parallel to the drying volumes. Do not point the fans directly at the books!If the book is damp or the edges of the book are only slightly wet, the book may be stood on end and fanned open slightly in a space with good air circulation, but again, do not aim fans directly at the books. To minimize distortion of the edges of the text block, place volumes in a press or press under a board with a weight just before drying is complete. Paper- or cloth-covered bricks work well for weights.  
  • If the book is slightly wet, interleave approximately every 16 pages, starting from the back of the book, turning pages carefully. For interleaving, use paper towels or clean, unprinted newsprint. Do not interleave too much or the spine will become concave and the volume distorted. A good rule of thumb is to insert no more than one-third of the number of text pages. Complete the interleaving by placing clean blotter paper inside the front and back covers. Close the book gently and place it flat on several sheets of absorbent paper. Change the interleaving and absorbent paper frequently. Turn the book from front to back each time it is interleaved. When the book is damp, proceed as in step 3.Alternately, place e-flute corrugated board for support inside the front and back covers. Place books upright between book ends or on a book cart – has the added benefit of being mobile). Separate books with blotter paper. You can also wedge the book open with newsprint and set it to dry on the edge of a table. Dries quickly, but risk cover deformation.
  • Freeze wet books to buy time and if you are limited in drying space. Freeze books with coated paper before the item begins to dry. Separate with freezer paper, pack spine down in milk crates, cardboard boxes lined with plastic, or rescube. Pack boxes ¾ full. Boxes may then be sent to a vendor for vacuum freeze-drying. Alternately, boxes may be placed in a self defrosting freezer and left for a long period of time. Water will eventually sublimate.
  • Air drying is most suitable for small numbers of records that are damp or slightly wet. If there are hundreds of single pages, or if the records are wet, professional dehumidification, freezing, or vacuum freeze-drying will be cost effective and result in a better end product. As explained above, stacks of documents on coated, or shiny, paper must be frozen immediately. If they cannot be frozen, separate the sheets immediately to prevent adhesion. Again, care must be taken with water-soluble inks as well. Records with running or blurred inks should be frozen immediately to prevent further loss. After the items are frozen, contact a conservator for advice and assistance. If air drying is selected as the preferred salvage method, use the following steps. Note that wet paper is extremely fragile and easily torn or damaged, so handle these materials gently. Identify a clean, dry, secure space where the temperature and humidity can be controlled. Reduce the relative humidity as low as you can to prevent mold and improve drying capabilities.Keep the air moving at all times using fans in the drying area. This will accelerate the drying process and discourage mold growth. Aim fans to direct the airflow parallel to the drying records. DO NOT point the fans directly at the records!Single leaves can be laid out on tables, floors, and other flat surfaces protected by paper towels or clean, unprinted newsprint. Or air dry records between book ends with corrugated board or blotter for support. Maintain order of folder, and label where each folder beings and ends.A press may be used to dry records that are wetter. Interleave records with non-woven polyester and folder board, blotter, or Zorbix. Place in press. Aim a fan at the press to increase air flow.
  • Interleave every few inches with wax paper or freezer wraps. If archival boxes are wet or damp, remove contents and repack into new boxes or milk crates. Record box identification, contents, and location. Rinse dirty books and records if time, staff, and resources allow. Otherwise, items may be cleaned after drying or freezing. Never scrub at or rub away mud or dirt.
  • If personnel, space, and time are available, photographs can be air dried.  Separate photographs from their enclosures, frames, and from each other. If they are stuck together or adhered to glass, set them aside for freezing and consultation with a conservator.  Allow excess water to drain off the photographs.  Spread the photographs out to dry, face up, laying them flat on an absorbent material such as blotters, unprinted newsprint, paper towels, or a clean cloth. Photographs can also be dried on a line.Keep the air around the drying materials moving at all times. Fans will speed up the drying process and minimize the risk of mold growth. If immediate air drying of photographs is not possible or if photographs are stuck together, freeze them. Wrap or interleave photographs with waxed paper before freezing. Interleave or wrap individual photographs or groups of photographs before freezing with a non-woven polyester material or waxed paper. This will make them easier to separate when they are eventually treated. Wet collodion glass plates must never be freeze dried; they will not survive. This is also true for all similar collodion processes such as ambrotypes, collodion lantern slides, and tintypes. Double check with a conservator if in doubt.
  • See “salvage at a glance” in supplementary materials go over briefly
  • The American Institute for Conservation maintains a list of conservators available for consultation and hire at
  • Transcript

    • 1. DON’T PANIC! : ANARCHIVIST’S GUIDE TOEMERGENCY RESPONSELessons from the Smithsonian Institution toapply to your collections
    • 2. Small or large… First floor interior, Gulfport-Harrison County Public Library, Gulfport Mississippi: 27 September 2005 ©AASLH Mississippi Team 1
    • 3. Florence Flood of 1966 Photographs by David Lees
    • 4. Florence Flood of 1966
    • 5. Smithsonian Disasters Photograph by Alexander Gardner y/imagedb/mah-37082.jpg
    • 6. Smithsonian Disasters Numerous other emergencies have affected collections including:  Fire  Flood  Theft  Vandalism  Building issues  Storms
    • 7. EarthquakesMuseum Support Center, post August 23, 2011
    • 8. Smithsonian Libraries
    • 9. What you do to prepare is thesame as the SmithsonianInstitutionPreparedness At Home (FEMA Preparedness Elements of anEmergency Preparedness Checklist Institutional Emergency Plan an emergency plan Prepare a disaster/emergency plan that covers people and collectionsCall Your Emergency Perform a risk assessment with keyManagement Office institutional groupsor American Red CrossChapter; Do a Home Hazard HuntTelephone numbers of local authorities; Have a communication planRadio for listening to emergencyannouncementsEvacuation Plan Prepare a first response action list that includes your emergency response teamTelephone numbers of friends, family Organize emergency contact informationmembers and other important contacts; for all staff (including volunteers andAddresses locally and out of town interns)
    • 10. * Recovery issues * Establish salvage priorities Prepare a Disaster Create collections disaster supply kits Supplies Kit; Prepare an Emergency Car Kit * Understand your insurance coverage and funding options * Establish collaborative relationships * Train staff in response and recovery
    • 11. Know what’s most important Always have a salvage priorities list prior to an emergency THEN  Any material threatened with imminent damage or destruction  Wet material lying on floor or on the top shelves  Wet or damp material on lower shelves  Wet or damp material on upper shelves
    • 12. Salvage Techniques for Books:Air DryWheaton College Fine Arts Library
    • 13. Salvage Techniques for Books:Air DryPhotographs courtesyJessicaLapinsky
    • 14. Salvage Techniques for Books:Freeze
    • 15. Salvage Techniques for Books:What to ExpectBooks will be heavy and will swell; mold growth is possible;cockling bleeding and staining will occur.The Flood at Colorado State University
    • 16. Salvage Techniques for Paper:Air Drying
    • 17. Salvage Techniques for Paper:FreezingWalk-In Freezer for emergencies, pest management, andcollections storage, April 2011, Photo courtesy NoraLockshin.
    • 18. Salvage Techniques for Paper: What to Expect Old mends may release Cockling, bleeding, staining Wet paper will be fragile – use supports
    • 19. Salvage Techniques forPhotographs: Freeze and/or AirDry
    • 20. Salvage Techniques for Audio and VideoTapes, Magnetic Media, and Computer Discs Rinse and Air Dry Send to specialists in media recovery Keep a back up of materials
    • 21. Salvage Tips to Remember Be Safe If you can,freeze to buy time Ask for help –have a contactlist of conservators Objects will neverlook the same Vacuum Freeze Dried folders and photographs, April 2011.
    • 22. Disaster plan and recoveryresources American Institute for Conservation – Water Salvage tips and checklists American Library Association’s Disaster Response – An extensive bibliography with information on all areas of disaster response, from vandalism to earthquakes. Federal Emergency Management Agency Emergency Checklist - A straightforward planning guide for families and communities Heritage Preservation’s Resources for Emergency Planning and Preparedness– Tools to help any institution plan and prepare for all types of emergencies. Heritage Preservation’s Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel and Field Guide– A more comprehensive tool that complements the “Salvage at a Glance”poster Mid-Atlantic Resource Guide for Disaster Preparedness– A comprehensive guide of vendors and resources for disasters in the mid-Atlantic, as well as useful information and links to regional centers for conservation nationwide. The Western Association for Art Conservation’s “Salvage at a Glance” poster– A simple print guide providing handling, packing, and drying methods for different materials, by type.
    • 23. Smithsonian Archives The Bigger Picture blog
    • 24. Thank You!  SIA’s emergency response team  Jessica Lapinsky, summer fellow in emergency preparedness  Sarah Stauderman, Smithsonian Institution Archives