Disaster Gypsies

???????????????????????????????Just before Thanksgiving 2014, the Historic Jamestown Society’s Mendenhall Plantation sustained a disaster. Arsonists used bricks and stones to break through windows of the 1817 Lindsay House, squirted lighter fluid on the floor, and set fire. Fortunately for this historic landmark, damage was minimal. The fire burned out floorboards in two places and left sooty residue and smoky odors. Despite the contained area of damage, the mostly volunteer staff had to struggle with a recovery challenge they never expected—disaster gypsies.  The director, the only paid staff member of the site, was out of town when the arson occurred and a long-time volunteer board member had to respond to the situation. Disaster response contractors quickly descended upon her and, panicked and disoriented on a cold night, she had trouble keeping them at bay.

Disaster gypsies are irresponsible contractors who show up immediately after a disaster, while emergency responders are often still on site, and promise quick fixes to panicky staff (or inhabitants). They may assure you that if you pay up front, your insurance will reimburse you. Don’t let soothing tones and comforting phrases fool you—these are salespeople out to prey on misfortune. They may promise rapid solutions such as quick drying after floods or chemical washes after fires that will ultimately damage historic structures more than the initial disaster event.  Don’t let these ready-at-hand “advisors” rush you. The emergency responders will stabilize the situation and you will have time to sort repair bids out to your institution’s best advantage.

In addition to being forewarned about disaster gypsies remember these tips for dealing with disaster recovery contractors:

  • Always call your insurance agent–before agreeing to any recovery service–to find out coverage specifics.
  • Be sure the company is IICRC credentialed (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoring Certification).
  • Check Better Business Bureau reports on the local franchise owner.
  • Take time to gather and compare multiple bids—3 is a good benchmark number.

???????????????????????????????The Mendenhall Plantation’s staff’s instincts to hesitate on decision-making served their site well and, for the most part, they avoided signing up with the wrong companies for questionable services. Good restoration companies with knowledgeable contractors do exist. If you can identify them in advance, you’ll be able to take a giant leap toward preparedness.

Mendenhall’s director and 3 board members shared tales of their recent trials and tribulations at a January gathering of cultural heritage practitioners in the Triad region. [Read more about that meeting here.] Above left, Director Shawn Rogers gave meeting participants a tour of the damaged building. (Note the broken and boarded window behind him.) In addition to the group learning an important preparedness lesson from the Mendenhall experience, the arson event catalyzed interest in forming a regional response network. Twenty folks have agreed to participate so far and the group looks forward to future expansion.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on February 10, 2015, in disaster preparedness, disaster recovery, fire, historic houses and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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