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When Disaster Strikes

May 13, 2019

Mayday. Mayday.

You never want to hear that international distress signal. But when you do, you want to have a plan already in place and have experience putting the plan into action.

Meme that says Yeah....So...You Do Have a Disaster Recover Plan, Right?

This morning, our Archives and Library staff took part in the MAYDAY initiative begun by the Society of American Archivists and Heritage Preservation and held a training day that simulated the steps of salvaging wet materials.

Our conservation department mimicked a water disaster using – and this is the point our Archives and Library VP really wants to stress – FAKE collections materials. Our collections are mostly paper-based, so that is what this mayday practice was all about – printed photos, film and slide negatives, books, etc. Archives and Collections staff got a chance to practice handling the wet, fragile materials and begin the recovery process.

Group around tub of water with paper.

Our collections staff practiced with and without gloves during the simulation. The gloves are mainly for the person’s protection if the water is dirty. However, it’s easier to tell if the paper is torn or about to tear without them.

Woman holds up paper stuck to Mylar.

Using the Mylar to pick up a piece of paper out of the water means that the paper is stabilized on the way to the drying area, reducing the chance of tearing.

Woman pulls Mylar sleeve from paper.

Our collections materials are protected in Mylar sleeves. The Mylar can help lift submerged materials from the water by stabilizing the paper, but it must be removed for the drying process since the water could be trapped between the paper and the sleeve.

Woman leans over paper and is separating pages in pamphlet.

For books and pamphlets that have been submerged in water, we sometimes have to use tools to separate pages without tearing.

Our conservators, historians, archivists and librarians have long had a comprehensive disaster plan with first response teams and well-stocked disaster supply kits that anyone can access at each end of collections storage spaces. “Our disaster plan covers natural and manmade disaster scenarios. Likely the greatest risk to our collections would be from a water leak due to severe weather or mechanical failure or water from our sprinkler system in case of a fire,” says Kathy Lechuga, book conservator.

Woman opening book.

Casings protect our collections items. These boxes mean that the books inside are less likely to be soaked in case of disaster. They still need to be removed. If there is extensive damage to multiple items in the collection, those items would be placed in freezers rather than dried individually. Time is of the essence in these situations, and freezing can be done quickly so that items don’t remain wet for too long.

One of the disaster supply kits located in collections storage areas.

We really hope we never have to use our disaster plan, especially on a large scale, but we want you to know that we take protecting the materials in our care seriously.

Chelsea Sutton Blogger Headshot

Chelsea Sutton is communications coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society. She started drinking coffee at age 3 with her dad and always stays up too late reading.

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