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Thinking inside the box

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Tips on dealing with water damaged records

As yet more rain completes a pretty wet start to the year; we thought we would return to the problem of water damage and how it affects those important documents.

What constitutes a water emergency? Leaking pipes or roofs, flooded basements, and open windows are the most common, and most easily contained of various water predicaments.

If you do keep your documents in a basement, or somewhere that is susceptible to water damage, is there anything you can do to retrieve and repair damaged records?

The recovery of books and records after exposure to water can be successful and cost-effective if staff and management are prepared ahead of time and react in a timely fashion. If recovery actions and decisions are delayed more than a few hours, deterioration of materials accelerates, recovery becomes a major undertaking, funds for recovery must be diverted from other projects, service is interrupted, and public relations suffer.

Response to and recovery from a water disaster is most successful if collections and facilities are stabilised as soon as possible. Remove standing water, reduce and stabilise temperature and humidity, and isolate and protect dry collections. If environmental conditions are not addressed after water damage, mould will begin to develop in as little as 72 hours, spreading rapidly thereafter. Once established, mould can be difficult to control and eradicate and may cause problems for months or even years after the recovery effort is finished.

Before beginning any recovery efforts find out where the water has come from. Water is rarely clean and free of debris. Is the contamination due to pipe corrosion, mud and debris from a flood, salt water, or is sewage involved? If the water is sewage-contaminated, call in a professional recovery service immediately; do not deal with the salvage in-house. If the water is only contaminated by rust, mud, or salt water, quickly rinsing wet books and records can help by removing debris that could be difficult to clean off after drying.

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.

1. 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 mould and improve drying capabilities.

2. Keep the air moving at all times using fans in the drying area. This will accelerate the drying process and discourage mould growth. Aim fans to direct the airflow parallel to the drying records. DO NOT point the fans directly at the records!

3. Single leaves can be laid out on tables, floors, and other flat surfaces protected by paper towels or clean, unprinted newsprint.

4. If records are printed on coated paper, they must be separated from one another to prevent them from sticking. This is a tedious process that requires skill and patience. Place a piece of polyester film on the stack of records. Rub it down gently on the top sheet and slowly lift the film while peeling off the top sheet at a low angle. Hang the polyester film up to dry on a clothesline. As the document dries, it will separate from the surface of the film, so it must be monitored carefully. Before it falls, remove it and allow it to finish drying on a flat surface as described in step 3.

5. Once dry, records may be rehoused in clean folders and boxes, or they may be photocopied or reformatted in other ways. Dried records will always occupy more space than ones that have never been water damaged.

Of course all of the above can be avoided by using a professional document storage and management service – Filofile offers climate controlled secure facilities linked to Police and Fire services in a discreet rural location monitored 24/7. Remember, we care about the climate for your records so you don’t have to!

Please give us a call on 0845 6027006 or send us a message to see how we can help your business.

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