Category Archives: disaster preparedness
This week our C2C staff is in Louisville Kentucky for the AASLH conference. We’ll be discussing one of the big pushes of the CREST grant project—producing fire recovery workshops across the state. We hope to encourage those involved in coordinating professional development workshops in other states to consider whether hands-on fire recovery workshops would be useful to the groups they serve. This type of workshop is fairly unique in that we have partnered with a different fire station or training center to stage a controlled burn of a mock museum that we set up for each one. We’ve done 6 of these and covered the state fairly well geographically. They have all been different in terms of levels of damage to materials and the firefighting staff and procedures involved in each controlled burn. We’ve learned many lessons about working with the first responders, as well as the way materials react to fire, and recovery methods. We want to guide others from around the country to R&D—rip off and duplicate—what we’ve accomplished here in NC.
We’ll be sharing with those who join us the handouts we’ve developed for our participants as well as a supply list for the workshop and pointers for setting up the controlled burn. We’ve also identified some pros and cons for producing this type of workshop to help generate discussion for each attendee (and our blog readers) about whether this would be a viable training in their own areas.
- Pro: Fire recovery workshops have been a useful hook into increasing disaster preparedness. The off-site, hands-on element is a more exciting topic than disaster planning and appeals to a wider range of participants. These workshops have also functioned as recruiting tools for both regional and statewide response teams here in NC.
- Con: They’re a lot of work! Controlled burns require regular rounds of accumulating and storing “expendifacts.” We don’t just stockpile junk but rather try to amass a range of materials (and proportions of them) found in typical historical museum collections. Multiples of the same thing are especially useful to test the protective qualities of various storage materials. Tagging and creating storage mounts, as well as taking photos of each object for an inventory, are labor intensive processes. In the final stages of preparation, the heavy lifting kicks in with loading, unloading, and reloading the cargo van.
- Pro: The workshops have built bridges to emergency responders. By meeting the firefighter in charge of the controlled burn during the workshop, each participant has a contact in their regions. The firefighters we worked with first taught us about pre-plans and we’ve been able to spread the word about this key preparedness step as we travel around the state. Additionally, the triage tags we use for artifact recovery are modeled after FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team triage tags for human victims. By using a similar system, we’ve allowed the firefighters to gain a quick understanding of our goals.
- Con: Preparations for these workshops requires a great deal of staff time. You need months (and quite a bit of storage space) to accumulate the stuff you’ll burn. If an inventory is part of the workshop (and it has been for ours), the documentation takes roughly a week of full-time work. Another week is necessary for creating storage mounts, packing boxes, loading, and set-up.
- Pro: These workshops have been a useful deaccessioning outlet for institutions around the state (and even beyond, in one case). 7 museums/ libraries have given us items to burn that could not be sold at auction.
- Con: The controlled burns require regular buying and wasting of supplies. In addition to buying expendifacts from thrift stores and yard sales, storage supplies get used up regularly. Metal shelving has been the toughest supply to replenish cheaply. Tyvek and muslin garment covers and padded hangers need to be re-created before each burn.
- Pro: Ultimately, these workshops have been effective as active learning events. Participants have worked with key concepts such as the Incident Command System, practiced triage and fire recovery steps for a variety of materials, and witnessed the reactions of various storage materials to fire.
Do you think it would be worth trying one of these workshops in your own area? Please get in touch, if you’d like more information. We’re happy to share!
We’ve written about the importance of Knox-Boxes on this blog before and stressed the simplicity and effectiveness of this disaster preparedness step. Contact your local fire department to order and install a Knox-Box. A Knox-Box is a small, wall-mounted safe that holds building keys for fire departments and emergency medical services (and sometimes police) to retrieve in emergency situations. Local fire departments hold master keys to all boxes in their response area so that they can enter a building quickly, without having to force entry. Important information for cultural heritage institutions to stash in their Knox-Boxes include:
- emergency contact list
- floor plans showing utility cut-offs
- list of 5-10 priority artifacts with locations
Several participants in our C2C programs have made progress recently with their Knox-Box implementations. Their news can help motivate other cultural heritage institutions to schedule those regular check-ups with fire fighters. At last month’s Triad Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network (ACREN) meeting, Dale Pennington, Director of Korner’s Folly in Kernersville reported that a regular fire inspection of her institution prompted her to order a Knox-Box for the site and it cost about $250. Firefighters decided that, rather than drill into the historic structure for installation, it would be better to insert the site’s Knox-Box into a metal pole coming out of the ground. This allows them easy access to crucial, site-specific information without compromising the fabric of the unique building.
The High Point Museum already had a Knox-Box before their MayDay preparations motivated them to schedule a pre-plan with their fire department. During the tour of their institution, staff discussed the importance of the museum’s artifact collection and walked firefighters through the storage areas. This collaboration helped firefighters revise the emergency plan for the building and they decided to install a 2nd Knox-Box at the back of the building for quicker access to collections storage. At the end of the pre-plan process, staff members Marian Inabinett and Corinne Midgett enjoyed posing for a group shot with their local firefighters (at right).
Does your institution have a Knox-Box? If not, consider doing contacting your local fire department to begin the ordering process. This small step could be a giant leap for your site’s disaster preparedness.
This week and into May, cultural heritage institutions of all types will be actively promoting preservation. Even though our C2C team is always preaching preservation, we try to make an extra push at this time of year. The American Library Association has decreed the last week in April Preservation Week. We are recognizing the campaign by meeting with the Mountain Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network at NCDCR’s Western Office in Asheville on Monday. MACREN formed 15+ years ago after the Wolfe Memorial fire and has been a model for us as we’ve tried to help establish regional mutual-aid networks for disaster recovery across the state. We’re excited to have the opportunity to help reinvigorate this group and tell them about CREST’s recent deployments in the mountain region.
This year MayDay synergistically falls on Friday, the end of ALA’s Preservation Week. Organizations that promote disaster preparedness for cultural heritage collections urge staff to “Do one thing” on May 1st to improve your institution’s disaster preparedness. It doesn’t have to be huge or involve much advance planning; you can still accomplish a worthwhile MayDay task. A few simple ideas with lasting benefits are:
- Update your institution’s emergency contacts on MayDay each year.
- Tune into the Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation’s FREE webinar this Friday, from 2:00 – 3:30 on disaster preparedness. http://www.connectingtocollections.org/after-disasters/
- Contact local firefighters to schedule a pre-plan for your institution, if you have not already been through this process.
- Order a Knox Box through your local fire station.
For groups involved with building preservation, May is Preservation Month. Old Salem and Historic Forsyth are offering a multitude of free preservation programs this month. Our state historic preservation office has organized a window workshop later in May in Black Mountain. The NC Museum of History has planned a Preservation Day for Saturday, May 9. The event will correspond with the museum’s quarterly Conservation Assistance Day and will include displays by representatives from preservation organizations from across the state (including Edgecombe CC’s Historic Preservation Technology Program) as well as special exhibits on the topic.
Does your institution have any special preservation-related activities this week or in May? How can you engage your community with this topic for next year? Take advantage of some of the programs other groups are offering now and use these ideas as a launching pad to plan next year’s preservation promotions!
Last week C2C conducted our 6th and final fire recovery workshop at the Fayetteville Fire Training Center. Overall, the process of setting up and burning the mock museum replicated that of earlier workshops. Our “artifacts” experienced a range of damage from a level of charring that would lead to deaccession to a light level of soot and ash to the absorption of smoky odors. The scenario gave our staff and participants a rare opportunity to witness the protective powers of various storage materials and the effectiveness of simple recovery treatments.
This event offered reminders of 3 preservation techniques we’ve discussed before, both in workshops and in this blog.
- Textile interleaving helps protect artifacts. The vast majority of disasters involve water. Even fires usually end with the activation of sprinkler systems or water hoses. Although a fire’s intense heat often evaporates any water involved very quickly, bleeding dyes and sooty tide lines can remain. Participants in our “Collections Care Basics” workshops get to practice rolling textiles for storage. They are careful to interleave the object with acid-free tissue during each revolution and cover the rolled fabric with muslin, Tyvek, reemay, or tissue. In this case (shown above) the muslin cover appeared to protect the rolled textile inside but once opened, water damage became apparent. Dyes bled onto the muslin and interleaving tissue, which mitigated the damage from one layer of the textile to the next.
Plastic storage boxes are a protective option—even in a fire. We previously postulated the melting fate of plastic boxes in fires as disadvantage of that storage option. However, in this fire, the plastic box protected its contents similarly to the board box. We had placed a like array of materials (8 objects) in each of 4 boxes—2 plastic, 2 board. One plastic and one board box survived well on a lower shelf. Both the plastic and the board box on a top shelf experienced destructive heat. The fire melted the plastic and caused the board to char and collapse. In both boxes most materials suffered damage but could be recovered. Once cooled, melted plastic could be pried off the surviving objects fairly easily and board dividers and tissue inside the box protected much of the contents.
Deodorization chambers are effective as a recovery technique. Paper, textile, and wooden objects absorb smoky odors easily. The deodorization chamber we have recommended previously worked really well for the textile items involved in this fire. We placed two infant clothing items in the chamber overnight and all traces of odor disappeared. The Gonzo product needed recharging in the sun before the next session but then resumed absorbing effectively and deodorized two dresses that had been on the garment rack during the blaze.
Although every disaster is different, we learn lessons after each that help us mitigate risks and be better prepared. What lessons have disasters taught you?
With February’s onslaught of winter weather, another of our cultural heritage institutions needed help from CREST. A pipe burst in the Lees-McCrae College Library in Banner Elk on Friday night, February 20th. A member of the facilities staff called the library director Saturday upon discovery and reported the leak and damaged ceiling tiles. When librarians arrived Sunday (2/22), they found that the entire archives, containing “all the College’s history” along with additional materials of regional significance, had been soaking for 48 +- hours. CREST members Jeff Futch, Supervisor of NCDCR’s Western Office, and Heather South, Western Regional Archivist, responded to the CREST activation the following day and braved snow-covered roads to spend the next two days assisting with recovery.
Initial delays in beginning the air-drying process and inside temperatures well over 70 degrees brought difficult challenges to the recovery effort. Air drying requires a great deal of space so that materials can be spread out and benefit from as much air flow as possible. By the time Futch, South, and library staff had secured a work area, photographs had already begun to stick together or to the envelopes and plastic sleeves that housed them.
As with any disaster, there are always lessons to be learned and the burst pipe at Lees-McRae proved to be an unplanned test of the effectiveness of archival storage. One recovery advantage was that most archival materials had been well housed in boxes. These absorbed most of the moisture from the leak, leaving the artifacts inside mostly just damp and not sopping wet. Many of the boxes were the DuraCoat variety. DuraCoat is a thin layer of acrylic applied to the outside of archival boxes for moisture resistance. In the Lees-McRae case, wet conditions persisted over several days and the coating could not repel the volume of water. South noted that the coated boxes stayed wetter than the non-coated containers. Water was still able to seep into the boxes, and then the acrylic layer inhibited evaporation, keeping the paperboard and the boxes’ contents more moist. This disaster instance suggests that at nearly $2 more per box, DuraCoat is not a cost- effective product for more than a small leak.
In cases where photographs called for simple air drying, Futch and South were able to string a drying line and pin photographs to it—a measure that economizes on surface space and maximizes air flow to each piece. They set aside boxes with photos that had become more problematic and were able to bring them back to NCDCR’s Western Office for treatment. Somewhat counter-intuitively, wet recovery of damaged photographs often involves re-submersion in water. Because the photographic production process involves water, submersion in clean water for up to 48 hours is generally safe, when followed by thorough air drying. (Note that this is not appropriate for more recent digital prints.) Careful wet treatment allowed Futch and South to remove deteriorated plastic negative casings from the image film. By the end of the week Western Office staff and volunteers had completed the photo recovery tasks.
Although the bridges in North Carolina have been pretty icy and slippery in the past few weeks, the bridges that we are building through the C2C program and CREST are stronger than ever. This will only make our artifacts safer for future generations. I cannot stress how seriously important it is that your program – no matter how small or how big, is “on the radar” when a large scale catastrophic disaster hits our state. NCDCR now has a seat at the table of North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) during preparations before a large weather related event. We will be able to have access to better information for both response and recovery from the coast to the mountains. The very same thing is true if it is a local event and maybe just your site that is affected. For Example: Yancey County Public Library, Mendenhall Plantation, Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, and others have learned that preparations before an event will make a terrible situation more bearable. The overarching disaster management team (NCEM) must know of the distinct needs of cultural institutions. They need to know simply which institutions are in which counties and they need to know that, in partnership with Red Cross and other private disaster response groups, NCDCR will organize experts to help historic sites, museums and libraries recover and salvage artifacts.
Over the last eighteen months the CREST project has built important bridges in numerous areas. Not only are many of our museums, libraries and historic sites better informed about mitigation and planning before disasters, but they are also better informed about what will happen after a disaster. CREST has proven over and over to be a necessary and viable program across the state. Besides the dollar value of books, documents, photos and artifacts that have been stabilized and kept from further deterioration, there is also the preservation of our local history for future generations of Tar Heels. The C2C team has been able to educate audiences about the importance of artifacts and their need for special attention before and after a disaster. This awareness has extended to community leaders, board members who support and develop our smaller institutions, and civic groups that volunteer to be of assistance. Moreover, we have encouraged larger cultural heritage institutions to re-examine their outdated plans and contact lists. This frequently leads to a re-thinking of critical needs and response sequences.
Another important bridge of connections has been with North Carolina firefighters. They have learned about our work by collaborating on C2C’s 6 regional fire recovery workshops, and we have spread the word about their pre-planning process to our NC cultural heritage community. Across the state, museum and library professionals are connecting with their local emergency managers and fire & rescue personnel. This is very encouraging for NC Emergency Management professionals, as they are dedicated to the concept that disasters start local and end local. It is, in reality, the community that will respond to help in recovery and rebuilding. The better linked that we all are to local and state recovery officials, the more efficient recovery will be.
So, stay off of those “icy bridges” that lead to a disaster. Contact us about how we can help you create an easy disaster plan and who your local connections are and how they can help you be better prepared when a disaster occurs.
—Lyn Triplet, Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
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.
We want to take today’s post to brag on our Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team members and assure you of their availability to provide NC sites with tangible assistance. CREST consists of experienced professionals who are dedicated to serving the cultural heritage cause across the state and are willing to take a leadership role in their own regions. In addition to the 3 of us on our C2C team, there are currently 14 CREST members across the state. Each has agreed to help out with artifact recovery in the event that any NC cultural heritage collection suffers from a disaster. Further, each works for an institution that supports his or her time away from the office for this purpose. This willingness to assist other institutions fits into the NC Department of Cultural Resources’ mandate for statewide outreach, and consequently, the majority of CREST members work for state-run institutions. Two of our members work for the National Park Service on opposite ends of the state, one in the mountain region, and the other on the Outer Banks. Notably, 4 of our members work for private organizations: Old Salem, the Asheville Art Museum, Wrightsville Beach Museum, and the NC Preservation Consortium. Our admiration and gratitude especially go to these institutions, which—without any governmental mandates—allow their expert personnel to respond to statewide calls for post-disaster artifact recovery.
In addition to all the artifact preservation experience the members have gained as librarians, curators, registrars, archivists, and administrators, each is required to complete 3 Federal Emergency Management Agency courses successfully:
- Introduction to the Incident Command System
- National Incident Management System
- Community Emergency Response Training.
These credentials serve 2 purposes: First, emergency managers and first responders take our group more seriously, knowing that a part of CREST training overlaps their own. Secondly, team members are able to interact with these leaders more effectively. With the training, CREST members understand chains of command and their own place within them, should their deployment be necessary. Members become familiar with emergency leaders’ processes, priorities, and terminology.
CREST members also commit to help our C2C team out with fire recovery workshops. They serve as team leaders, or in other administrative roles, during the workshop. Consequently, each gains hands-on practice in a disaster scenario as a leader, and some of the training concepts, such as Incident Command System, come to life. Moreover, the fire workshops have borrowed from Community Emergency Response Training in developing an artifact triage system. This interplay of knowledge between preservation expertise and emergency management procedures makes CREST members uniquely qualified to lead post-disaster artifact salvage efforts.
Always remember to call on CREST if your NC collection suffers disaster damage.
With more winter weather on its way, we want to remind readers of localized disasters last winter that involved CREST’s collections recovery efforts. The Yancey County Public Library had a burst pipe (left) during early January’s polar vortex and the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum experienced a roof leak during March’s ice storm. Please review ReadyNC.org for advice and be prepared!
Thanks to Laura J. Leonard, Community Outreach Coordinator for the N.C. Department of Emergency Management for this guest post.
North Carolina encounters unpredictable weather during the winter months. In early 2014 there were four winter storms within weeks of each other that dumped inches of snow, sleet, freezing rain or ice, causing an unprecedented number of accidents and school cancellations. Single digit temperatures were also reported in many areas of the state.
North Carolina can experience a variety of winter weather patterns that provide a mixed bag of precipitation because of its proximity to the Appalachian Mountains, Atlantic Ocean, Gulf Stream and Gulf of Mexico.
“Winter storms are known as deceptive killers because they cause power outages, downed trees, traffic jams and accidents that leave lasting impacts on the state,” said North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “Most deaths are not directly related to the storm, but result from traffic accidents on icy roads or hypothermia from lengthy exposure to cold. Three easy steps will help anyone get ready for an emergency: create a plan, make a kit and stay informed. Following these simple actions will help you be ready before an emergency occurs and help keep you safe.”
3 Simple Steps
- Write a plan, which should be a thought-out list of whom to call, where to meet and any special considerations that may need to be addressed.
- Build an emergency supplies kit. Besides artifact recovery materials and important institutional records – you should also include rock salt, sand, snow shovels for winter-weather-related disasters. Ensure a flash light, battery operated radio, extra batteries, and a first-aid kit are on hand.
- Pay attention to the weather forecast and stay informed about potential storms. The free ReadyNC mobile app also provides real-time information about opened shelters and riverine flood levels. A list of phone numbers for North Carolina power companies provides a quick reference so you can report outages. The app also provides basic instructions on how to develop an emergency preparedness plan. It is available for both iPhone and Droid devices.
During the cold winter months, be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning that can occur from improper heating. The colorless, odorless carbon monoxide gas can be deadly and is produced from fuel-burning appliances, generators and heaters. Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide fumes can accumulate causing headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.
To prepare your building for winter weather, add insulation to walls and attics. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows and insulate water pipes to keep them from freezing. Remember to keep generators away from the building and have a trained professional ensure proper wiring. Never run a generator in an enclosed area.
Enjoy the festivities of the winter season along with the peace of mind that your institution is prepared!
Last week C2C held our 5th Fire Recovery Workshop. We’ve coordinated these across the state—2 on the coast, one in the mountains, one in the Triangle, and this recent one in Greensboro. Past participants and long-time followers of this blog will recall that within days before these workshops our C2C team works with firefighters to conduct a controlled burn. Our staff brings shelves and a variety of objects, including metals, ceramics, wood, books, textiles, papers, and photographs. We stage some in containers and others loose on shelves or in an “exhibit” area so that participants can gauge the effectiveness of various storage materials.
Firefighters burn the mock “museum” in a fire training facility. Most of these are masonry structures with special tiles designed to absorb the heat of the fire. Consequently, after our first 3 controlled burns we were somewhat disappointed that many of the objects survived un-charred with a film of soot and a smoke odor. (We had hoped for a better range of damage for the recovery learning opportunity.) Our 4th training center was different. It was a large corrugated iron building and the objects experienced a range of damage, with those on top shelves faring much worse than those stored at lower levels.
Working with a masonry building once again in Greensboro, we stressed to the firefighters that we wanted objects damaged…and they delivered. They selected the basement level of their training facility for the most intense fire. Indeed, lower ceilings kept the fire near the objects’ levels. When we first entered the burn building it looked as if there would be little for our participants to recover at all. However, some containers, though destroyed, protected enough of the objects that our participants could still practice triage and treatment techniques.
Surprises and lessons from our 5th controlled burn:
Acrylic hoods can melt, though the artifacts inside may be okay.
- Fire moves up, but it also moves toward any vent; consequently our table setting was not charred.
- Even in the most destructive fires, metals and ceramics are likely to retain their forms and may be worth conserving.
If you’ve missed the last 5 of these unique workshops and want to join in the fun, our next (and probably last) fire recovery workshop will be in Fayetteville, April 13, 2015. You can register by following this link.