Category Archives: disaster recovery

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!

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Reminders from Recovery

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.

  1. ???????????????????????????????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.
  2. board box after fire

    board box after fire

    plastic box after fire

    plastic box after fire

    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.

  1. Gonzo is visible in the trashcan beneath the object tray.

    Gonzo is visible in the trashcan beneath the object tray.

    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?

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

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.

Polk Kitchen Fire

This weekend the James K. Polk State Historic Site will celebrate the reopening of its visitor center as well as the 11th President’s birthday. The building’s exterior and interior have been fixed up, along with updated exhibits about Polk, who was born on November 2nd 1795 in Pineville, an NC backcounty town not far from Charlotte.

Further renovations will be necessary to the Site’s kitchen building as a result of a disaster at the site last month. On October 9th fire broke out in the roof. According to Site Manager, Scott Warren, the building dates to circa 1800, but had been moved to the site in the 1960s. Staff had outfitted the interior with period artifacts to use in kitchen demonstrations. Unfortunately, after putting out the hearth fire once the demonstration ended, a sparking ember got caught within the chimney and the old wood continued to burn inside, until a fire broke out at the attic level after staff had left the site. Firefighters responded quickly and were able to salvage the building’s lower floor. This fire, however, presented a new artifact recovery challenge–fire fighters put out the fire with suppression foam. Foam is a relatively new product/ technique in firefighting and may require an altered process for artifact recovey. In the Polk instance, however, firefighters removed all artifacts from the kitchen and attic before applying foam.

PolkFireIn this screen shot from the local news coverage, the fire suppression foam is visible coating the floor of the kitchen, after firefighters had evacuated the artifacts from the building.

But what if the foam had contact with artifacts? In addition to soot and ash damage, those involved in recovery would have to consider the effects of foam residue. It turns out that conservator-recommended recovery procedures are similar, with vacuuming first and then wet cleaning with water and a mild detergent. Soot sponging is the recommended 2nd step after vacuuming, but may not be as applicable with foam residues. When foam is involved, rinsing may be a necessary step for most artifacts, rather than a last resort, as conservators recommend in other cases.

Experts from the Bureau of Land Management offer the following advice:

Foams may hasten rusting on metal surfaces by removing protective coatings and may cause wood to flake due to swelling and contracting…[the] retardant should be washed off important structures as soon as possible. Pre-soaking, then hand-brushing with water and a mild detergent may work for sandstone or painted wood. Metals and glass may be wiped with water and a mild detergent.

Fire suppression foams are proprietary and their chemical compositions may differ. Historic Sites Curator Martha Battle Jackson was concerned about chemical residues the foam may have left behind and ways it could react with cleaning solutions staff would use in the building after the fire. Firefighters provided her with the manufacturers’ safety data sheet (MSDS) for the product they used, ThunderStorm® FC-601A 1% or 3% AR-AFFF concentrate. (download available here)

Suppression foams work by creating a film or membrane to act as a barrier, preventing the release of fuel vapor. Regardless of the fuel type, the foam cover excludes oxygen and drains the liquid composition of the membrane. Additionally, the water content of the foam produces a cooling effect. The ThunderStorm® product promises to be biodegradable and low in toxicity–reassuring information for the Polk recovery efforts.

Our hats are off to Pineville firefighters and Historic Sites’ staff for their quick and effective artifact salvage, as well as introducing us to innovations in firefighting technology. Have you encountered fire suppression foams before? Do you have any advice to share about artifact recovery after its use?

Sea-sonal Harvest

The fall harvest is upon us in North Carolina. That means cotton and many food crops such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans. On the North Carolina coast, fall is also a time to harvest from the sea. The Day at the Docks festival in Hatteras will celebrate the seafood harvest later this week, September 18 – 20.

Although coastal fishermen have long been active through the fall season, the festival highlighting their efforts is relatively new. It began as a disaster recovery celebration in the wake of Hurricane Isabel in 2003. It now includes roundtable discussions, a blessing of the fleet ceremony, children’s activities, additional fun entertainment, and of course, seafood. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum has a presence there too, providing an activity for kids and information about volunteer needs.

Several coastal museums have active oral history programs, recording the fall rhythms of herring and mullet and their upriver spawning runs as well as the menhaden migrations southward to Carteret County and the impressive industry that developed around their harvest. The Federal Point History Center has collected a remarkable oral history on the late November mullet run. Read Howard Hewett’s lively account of fishing for mullet during the 1940s here. Hewett writes that mullet roe [eggs] was a delicacy and that salted mullet from one fall catch could feed a family (or several) throughout the winter. Shad [menhaden] roe has also been a regional delicacy, as folklorist and historian David Cecelski describes. Fall was the peak time for menhaden fishing and the Core Sound Museum has put together a wealth of oral history resources on the menhaden, or “pogy” way of life.  More images and information are also available in Our State magazine’s recent article, “The Fish that Built Beaufort.”

H.1952.93.75

H.1952.93.75

TP.2010.030.004

TP.2010.030.004

Herring is yet another species that was once a dietary staple, especially in Northeastern NC, and harvested commercially during their early fall spawning runs. At left is an image from the 1930s, marked “herring boat at plant of Perry-Belch Commercial Fisheries.” Fall fishing was so abundant that in September of 1861 Harpers’ Weekly printed a coastal scene to showcase these activities. The view of “The Fisheries of Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, North Carolina,” pictured both shad and herring boats. Like menhaden, herring fishing is no longer what it once was along the NC coast.

Kudos to NC’s cultural heritage collections and their community partners for preserving the stories and artifacts that relate to fishing traditions, which once defined the fall season for coastal communities.