Initial Damage Assessment

Initial Damage Assessment and Preliminary Actions Taken by Disaster Response Team

Enter the damage zone. Use extreme caution when entering the area where disaster has occurred. It may be necessary to wait until safety officials have determined that fire has been completely extinguished, the building is structurally sound, and there is no danger of electric shock in wet areas. If entry is delayed, use this time to begin contacting outside assistance such as a conservator, commercial disaster recovery service, etc. (see Supplies and Services )

Set up a command post. This will serve as the single location where decisions are made, information disseminated, and responsibilities assigned. The command post should be staffed at all times.

Make an initial assessment of damage to materials based on the questions below. Begin keeping a detailed visual record (photographs, video) of the damage and the recovery process.

  • What types of materials have been damaged? The procedures in section VI provide instructions for salvaging various types of materials, but a conservator should also be consulted for damage to any unusual book materials and all nonbook items.

  • What is the nature of the damage? Water and fire damage are the most common forms. Wet books require rapid action in order to be salvaged, while fire-damaged books that are not wet can be left alone until more urgent needs have been addressed.

  • How extensive and severe is the damage? While it is not appropriate to inspect every item at this point, select samples and examine them closely. Water-damaged books can range from damp around the edges to totally saturated, and treatment strategies will be determined by the degree of wetness. The greatest threat to water-damaged books is mold, which can appear as soon as 48 hours after the water damage first occurs. If treatment of all wet items cannot begin within 48 hours, some or all materials should be frozen until treatment can proceed.

Based on the initial damage assessment, decide whether to withdraw, withdraw and replace, or attempt salvage of damaged materials. Severe fire damage is generally irreversible; salvage is not possible. Water-damaged materials can usually be salvaged, but the process is expensive, labor-intensive, and time-consuming. Replacement is most appropriate for readily available items such as current newspapers and journals, recent monographs, and commercially produced microforms. Replacement of older materials can be as difficult as salvage and is often not even possible.

Materials that are to be withdrawn should be set aside rather than discarded immediately. This will allow efforts to be concentrated on materials that can be saved and permit a second evaluation when time allows.

If salvage of water-damaged materials is to be undertaken, decide what method(s) to use and begin making appropriate outside contacts.

  • Air-drying is the simplest and least expensive option, and it can be conducted entirely in- house if sufficient space and staff can be made available. Treatment of all items must begin within 48 hours in order for air-drying to succeed. Designate a work area with plenty of space and work tables and arrange for staff to be contacted and trained.

  • Freezing is not primarily a treatment method in itself, but a way of arresting damage until treatment can proceed. Freezing halts mold growth, prevents inks from running and pages from sticking together, reduces smoke odor, and initiates the drying process. Books may be frozen indefinitely with no further damage, and all further treatment options still remain possible. See section VII for information on freezing other formats.

  • Vacuum-freeze-drying is a commercially available service in which frozen materials are placed in a vacuum chamber so that ice crystals vaporize without melting. This process is especially appropriate for large numbers of very wet books as well as for coated paper.

  • Other commercial drying processes: although vacuum-freeze-drying is the best-known method, alternatives such as dehumidification and thermal-vacuum-drying do exist. Consult vendor(s) for more information (see Supplies and Services ).

If water damage is present, take immediate action to lower the temperature and humidity in order to inhibit mold growth. Target temperature should be 65 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity 45%. Turn down the thermostat, turn on the heat or air-conditioning, and set up dehumidifiers and fans. Begin to remove standing water with wet-dry vacuums if this can be done without further damage to materials.

Decide whether the building or any part of it should be closed and whether hours and services should be curtailed. While it is important to maintain services if possible, the success of any salvage effort will depend on the availability of adequate numbers of staff and their ability to work without distraction. Cordon off the damage area and discourage disaster sightseers. Even volunteers eager to help can hinder the recovery process if they are allowed into the damage area before a work plan can be developed.

Check frequently to make sure that measures taken to stabilize the emergency are still working. For example, is water accumulating on or dripping around the edges of plastic sheeting covering the shelves? Are ceiling tiles collecting water that will cause them to collapse onto shelves below?