Category Archives: CREST

Pros & Cons of Fire Recovery Workshops

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.
  • poolNoodleMount2Con: 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.
  • TextilesPostburnCon: 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!


Promoting Preservation

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:

  1. Update your institution’s emergency contacts on MayDay each year.
  2. Tune into the Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation’s FREE webinar this Friday, from 2:00 – 3:30 on disaster preparedness.
  3. Contact local firefighters to schedule a pre-plan for your institution, if you have not already been through this process.
  4. Order a Knox Box through your local fire station.

credit: Edgecombe Community College Historic Preservation Technology Program

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!

Wet Recovery–Photographs

Lees-McRae3With 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.

Lees-McRae2As 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.

DryingPhotosDryingRackDryingTraysIn 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.

JeffWorking2Thanks to these skilled and devoted CREST members for another CREST mission accomplished!

For more information on wet recovery, click here for the National Park Service’s guidelines for photographs, books, and papers and here for Heritage Preservation’s video on wet salvage techniques.

Bridges and Improvement

February 2015, courtesy Ocracoke Island Realty

February 2015, courtesy Ocracoke Island Realty

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

CREST Training

CREST_logo_edited-1We 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:

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.

Fire Recovery: Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment

For disaster recovery workshops, we’re following the lead of emergency responders by promoting START: simple triage and rapid treatment. However, while those professionals are focusing on human victims, our participants deal only with the much less urgent and less significant needs of artifacts.

Triagetag2Upon relocating the artifacts to a safe work area (using as limited and safe handling procedures as possible), the next step in recovering artifacts from a fire is triage. For our last workshop, we modified emergency responders’ START tags for artifacts.

  • Green: Undamaged artifacts have usually been housed securely enough to protect them from soot. After careful inspection, these can be rehoused in clean containers for a return to storage with no treatment necessary.
  • Yellow: these objects require simple treatment techniques before they can be packed up for long-term storage.

Conservators recommend a strict progressive cleaning procedure that begins with vacuuming and moves to soot sponging and then to wet-cleaning, if necessary and safe for the material. These techniques enacted quickly after the fire will guarantee the highest degree of soot removal for most objects.

  1. Air dry if necessary. Find a shady place if outside or use electric fans to promote air flow inside.
  2. Vacuum: conservators recommend vacuuming in place before relocating the object, but after a fire it is more likely that the contents of a burned structure will be removed before artifact recovery can begin. Brushes should not be used in the soot vacuuming process. If a nylon screen or old panty hose is available, it can be used to cover the nozzle only and should not be pressed against the object. If not, place a thumb on the edge of the nozzle as a bumper to space it a short distance from the object.
  3. Soot sponge: remember to use a dabbing motion, rather than rubbing, which will may grind the tiny soot particles into the object.
  4. Wet cleaning:
  • Ethanol wipe/ dab for metals, also useful on glass and high-fired ceramics
  • Squirt bottle rinse with weak detergent solution (select one with low levels of dyes and perfumes such as Palmolive free and clear.)
  • Blot with damp cotton swabs or rags
  • Avoid immersion but this may be necessary as a last resort

In addition to Heritage Preservation’s brief video, click here for the best professional guidelines we’ve found so far that are specific to soot and ash.

  • Red: objects may be packed for relocation to a conservation studio right away, or they may go through the simple treatment techniques outlined above before going into this category.
  • Black: objects that seem too damaged to recover or not enough of an institutional priority to warrant conservation costs go into the “morgue”—a holding area to await the formal deaccession process before disposal.

We’re working though this START system for artifacts in workshops and so far it’s been a useful approach. We plan to train our Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team (CREST) in its use for future actual disaster recoveries and will practice it again at our next fire recovery workshop in Greensboro.


Melting Plastic

courtesy, Frankie Hayden

shelving unit, post-burn: courtesy, Frankie Hayden

PlasticComparisonLast week our C2C team conducted our 4th fire recovery workshop. The Western Carteret Fire & EMS station executed a controlled burn of the mock museum we had previously installed in their training building. Although plastic (polypropylene) storage boxes have made it through previous controlled burns just fine, this time one completely melted. In one of our earlier burn tests, plastic boxes protected the contents as well as microchamber boxes and better than regular archival boxes. However, we have always placed them at the low or mid level of shelving areas. This time we were more deliberate about a control and test for plastic placement. We staged 4 similarly sized boxes (2 cardboard and 2 plastic) with nearly identical contents. Each contained a book, a shell, a small crocheted textile, a wooden figurine, a copper vessel, a brass vessel, a slate writing board, and a record disk. BoardBoxfromTopThe fire chief on duty estimated that the fire reached a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, somewhat hotter than past controlled burns, which were recorded at 700 degrees. The fire destroyed both the cardboard and the plastic boxes on the top shelf, although the charred cardboard retained much of its form (see right). The plastic box melted and wound up as a glob with shimmery strings dangling down. The same box on the lower shelf came through the burn intact, with a layer of soot on the outside. [See above right for a direct comparison of the two boxes that were identical before the fire.]





What about the objects the boxes contained? Most–including wood, metal, and textiles–were covered in soot and ash but could still be salvaged with much conservation work. The plastic items inside the boxes (a record disk and a frame for a small print), however,also melted. Globs of melted plastic adhered to some of the materials, but in most cases, could be pried loose. Objects in both the cardboard and the plastic boxes were not well protected from the fire on the top shelf. In contrast, the same boxes 3 shelves below protected their contents just fine from the film of soot and ash that covered all surfaces. PlasticMelt2Are plastic boxes a bad choice for disaster mitigation? No. They do offer protection from leaks and pests and on lower levels of shelving, present little additional fire risk. On upper shelves they are more likely to melt and pose a greater risk to artifacts. However, at a heat intense enough to cause melting, all artifacts will be severely damaged, regardless of container type. Melted globs of plastic will add to a salvaged object’s conservation needs. These globs may come from other objects as well as from melted polyethylene foam that is a standard shelf liner in most museum storage areas. Above is a view of the foam liner residue, which melts into a brown lacy layer, and the melted remainder of the lid and sides of the plastic box. Upcoming posts will address additional aspects of this workshop including the Incident Command System, the simple triage system we used, and rapid treatment techniques we practiced.

Mulch and Pest Management

Thanks to Martha Battle Jackson, Chief Curator of N.C. Historic Sites, CREST member, and C2C instructor extraordinaire, for this guest post.

Spring has definitely sprung, and with it comes a variety of insects.  (I have just been bitten by a mosquito while sitting at my desk!)

Earlier this month I met with Dr. Mike Waldvogel and Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice (NCSU entomologists) to examine some of the buildings at Duke Homestead.  Site Manager Jennifer Farley thought one of the buildings had termite issues.  While Dr. Waldvogel poked around the buildings, Dr. Rice had a fun time knocking over logs and examining ants.  She found several varieties—rather gleefully, I might add.  In fact, she likes ants so much, she’s written a book that is free—for now.  It will be published soon, and then it won’t be available, so go ahead and download it for your files.  If you have an I-phone or Mac, it’s interactive; otherwise, it’s in a pdf. (For one of her briefer discussions of ants, click here.)

BTW: In the book link, there are some other rather intriguing projects listed on the right side, including “Belly Button Biodiversity” and “Armpit Life”.  Can’t say these folks don’t have a sense of humor!

Although ants aren’t typically “heritage eaters,” termites are and can damage collections along with the buildings that house them. Someone recently asked if it was okay to put mulch around a building.  I didn’t think so as I’ve heard it attracts termites, so I asked Dr. Waldvogel.  Here is his response:

Cedar mulch – years ago, I did a project with Eleanor’s major professor where we found that ants did not like to set up nests when the area was covered with cedar mulch.  However, as those volatile cedar-smelling chemicals are depleted, the ants will move into the area.   As for termites, [they] will inevitably get into any wood mulch and reduce it to organic waste.   The big thing is that I would not let it touch the building.  We recommend keep mulch 6-12″ away for several reasons (including mice).  In the bigger picture, you’re better off with gravel closest to the building, although that gets very expensive.

The good news for Duke Homestead was that Waldvogel did not find evidence of termites in the building. There were some in a log about 10 ft. away, and staff has since removed it.

If your NC institution has questionable pest activity, contact the NCSU entymology department, as Martha and Jennifer did. The experts there can identify pests and offer advice if you provide them with good images.

CREST Reactivated!

Remnants of ice surround one of several felled cedar trees on the groungs of the CHB Museum.

Remnants of ice surround one of several felled cedar trees on the grounds of the CHB Museum.

Remember last week’s blog post announcing Severe Weather Preparedness Week? Well, this year the recognition and warning happened to coincide with actual severe weather. An estimated 3 inches of snow and ice fell in Guilford County on Friday, March 7. The combination of an icy coating and high winds caused many trees to split, or even fall, resulting in widespread power outages. The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum in Sedalia suffered a small-scale disaster when melting ice leaked into the roof of its collections storage building.

Aside from tilting trees, the building's exterior did not hint and the damaged interior.

Aside from tilting trees, the building’s exterior did not hint at the damaged interior.

Saturday morning, knowing that power was out at the site, staff members arrived and to begin inspecting each of the site’s several buildings. Frachele Scott and Kara Deadmon, the site manager and assistant manager, quickly noticed water leaking in several places  in the structure that housed collections. They contacted Martha Battle Jackson, Chief Curator for NC State Historic Sites and a CREST member, who quickly called us. Since the site is fairly close to Raleigh (over 1 hour’s driving time), and since we believed the scope of recovery was manageable for a small group, we limited the CREST activation to those 4 Raleigh-based members, loaded up with our cache of recovery supplies, and headed west.

A nylon window screen made a useful surface to air dry a dampened pennant and ledger book.

By the time we arrived in the early afternoon, Deadmon had made great progress sorting collections and had already moved boxes that she knew had been affected by water out into the Visitor Center building that was dry and naturally well-lit. Once there, some CREST members prepared a recovery space on a large, screened-in side porch and began the air-drying process for dampened artifacts and books. Beginning to dry items that day was crucial, since mold begins to grow within 48 hours of damp conditions, and we knew that leaks may have started as much as 24 hours previously. (Above: a nylon window screen made a useful surface for air-drying a dampened felt pennant ad a ledger book.) Meanwhile, other CREST members continued the process of loading vans with collection storage boxes and relocating them to the Visitor Center. 

CREST members and site staff discuss loose ends before bringing artifacts inside and calling it a day. (L - R: Adrienne Berney, Frachele Scott, Kara Deadmon, Lyn Triplett, Martha Battle Jackson)

CREST members and site staff discuss loose ends before bringing artifacts inside and calling it a day. (L – R: Adrienne Berney, Frachele Scott, Kara Deadmon, Lyn Triplett, Martha Battle Jackson)

By the end of the afternoon, damp items had been drying for several hours and nearly all the stored collections had been relocated. We moved the air-drying-area from the screened porch into the building for the night and left, confident in the collections’ safety. Such an incident, at a museum with a small staff, highlights the importance of CREST as a resource for helping hands, useful supplies, artifact recovery knowledge, and moral support in the wake of a disaster.