COLLECTIBLES — Column #670 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 1999
Water Damage with Special Emphasis on Flood Damage – Part I
I was heartbroken as I watched the television coverage of the aftermath of the water damage from Hurricane Floyd. Station after station showed pictures of furniture and personal items stacked along the curb or roadside awaiting disposal. Many of these piles contained family heirlooms and photographs.
The commonly held assumption appeared to be that once water-damaged, these objects were not salvageable. I could not believe this. I knew better. If prompt measures were taken, many of these objects could be saved.
Rachel Sundquist of Trenton, New Jersey, a former resident of Aneta, North Dakota, who listened to Whatcha Got (my weekly Saturday morning antiques and collectibles radio call-in show) on KFGO in Fargo, recalled that I had talked about saving family heirlooms and photographs following the 1997 flooding of the Red River. She e-mailed me and asked if I would send her information to pass along to friends whose family photographs were water-damaged.
I called John Krill, paper conservator at the Henry Francis duPont Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Delaware. John put me in touch with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (1717 K Street, Northwest, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20006). They in turn referred me to Heritage Preservation, a Washington, DC, group that deals primarily with institutions and archives. Heritage Preservation has an Internet website, www.heritagepreservation.org, that contains a wealth of basic information about preserving water-damaged valuables. When the site’s home page appears, click on “National Task Force on Emergency Response.” You can access this directly via www.heritagepreservation.org/ PROGRAMS/taskfer.htm.
Click immediately on “Tips for Handling Water-Damaged Valuables” which provides ten tips for homeowners on the care of water-damaged family heirlooms and other valuables. Besides this basic information, you will find four additional information sites, each of which is well worth visiting: (1) FEMA Flood Tips: Saving Water-Damaged Books; (2) Saving Photographs After the Flood; (3) Preventing Damage from Mold: Tips for Homeowners; and (4) Salvaging Water-Damaged Textiles.
The first forty-eight hours are critical. The steps recommended are quick and easy. They stress using supplies that are readily available.
The Heritage Preservation website also contains information on ordering “The Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel.” Side One (Action Steps) outlines critical stages of disaster response, such as stabilizing the environment and assessing damage. Side Two (Salvage Steps) provides practical tips for nine types of collections: books and documents, photographs, electronic records, paintings, textiles, framed artwork, natural history specimens, organic materials, furniture, and ceramic, stone, and metal.
Every collector should own one or more copies of “The Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel.” It costs $11.95 (two dollars of which is postage) and can be ordered from Heritage Preservation, 1730 K Street, NW, Suite 566, Washington, D.C. 20006. If you order ten or more the price drops to $8.45 each. If ordered by a nonprofit or government organization, the cost drops to $7.95 each or $6.95 each for ten or more.
I will use this and the next two or three Rinker on Collectibles text columns to summarize the information from the website and “The Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel.” “Be Prepared,” the Boy Scout motto, applies to collectors as well. Water damage from a leaking roof or broken water pipe is as potentially devastating as that from a flood. The key is to prepare for disaster before it happens, not after it occurs.
Begin with a detailed examination of your home or office. Determine what areas are most likely to be affected by water damage, flood, or hurricane. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are safe because you are on high ground. Heavy wind can blow out windows and drive ample amounts of rain into a building to do extensive water damage.
If your collection and documentation is stored in your basement, use a display and storage system that allows the material to be quickly boxed for removal. Keep a supply of archival file boxes on hand. Fill half of them with bubble wrap or other packing material. Precut the bubble wrap into manageable packing pieces.
Cut plywood boards to fit into your window areas. Also have a supply of heavy plastic wrap and waterproof tape. Shelves, cabinets, and other storage units can be wrapped in plastic and sealed with tape. It is not an ideal solution, but is a viable absolute emergency option.
I taped two segments with Martha Stewart to be aired later on Martha Stewart Living during Hurricane Floyd. In moving the objects I brought for show and tell from my car to the studio, Martha’s employees placed them in large, heavy plastic bags they kept on hand for just such a situation. It took only seconds to put my material into the bags and seal them. I plan to ask Martha’s staff where they purchased them, buy several dozen, and have them available for emergency use at my office.
Most individuals who develop emergency plans concentrate their efforts on the basement and first floor. Do not forget the attic. The attic is not a safe storage place, especially if the potential disaster is a hurricane. Roofs are one of the first things to be destroyed.
Select an area at your home or office that you feel will provide the most protection during a weather crisis, usually an inside bathroom or closet area. Use this to store the most valuable parts of your collection and records.
Thanks to modern weather forecasting, there is generally ample warning before severe weather strikes. Take the warnings seriously.
Decide now what portions of your collections and records you will take should you have to abandon your home or office. Make certain to leave room in your vehicle for family and pets, albeit I know some collectors who might think twice about which is more valuable to them.
If water damage does occur, three important pieces of equipment you will need are large fans, a sump pump, and an electrical generator. Buy them now. If you wait to buy them until after the disaster, chances are they will be impossible to find or you will be forced to pay prices far in excess of their recommended retail value. Even if you never have to use them, you are likely to have friends or neighbors who will.
In your advance planning, check on the local availability of generator (assuming you do not own one), freezer, and refrigerator truck rental and drying or freeze-drying services. Water-damaged material that cannot be treated immediately is often frozen until time and resources are available to work with it.
During the Emergency
Whether you ride out the storm in your home or office or are forced to leave, stay calm. Use the time to develop a plan that you will implement once the initial emergency is past.
Resolve to cooperate with the authorities. Expect confusion and some disorder. Accept the fact that their priorities are likely to differ, often significantly, from yours.
If you were forced to leave your home or office, do not return until it is declared safe by security or emergency management officials.
My next Rinker on Collectibles text column explores the steps required to clean up a site and the preparations necessary to begin the process of recovering water-damaged property.