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The 3 Fs Endangering Your History: Flood

This is the second in a three-part series focused on the most severe dangers to history (what HistoryIT calls the 3Fs – Fire, Flood, and Forgetting).

Floods have caused trouble for centuries, but now we have tools that can help mitigate their destructive powers. And no, I don’t mean a good pair of waders, although those certainly come in handy.

When people hear the term “flood damage” or “flood insurance,” they tend to think of events such as Hurricane Katrina or the Indian Ocean tsunami. You don’t have to live near water to suffer flood damage, though. Flood damage can also result from heavy rains, broken windows, clogged gutters and/or drains, broken pipes, leaking roofs, sprinkler systems, firefighting equipment, or even that upstairs neighbor who forgets to turn off the bathtub faucet.

While water itself can cause serious damage, mold poses a far greater threat to any collection of historical assets because MOLD SPREADS. Once mold sets in, you have very few options. Unfortunately, mold starts to form 48-72 hours after items become wet, so fast action matters. Click here to receive a free guide about detecting and handling mold in an archive.

If you experience flood damage, what should you do?

  1. Safety first. Don’t wade through water if electrocution is a possibility, or if the water might contain snakes (a real problem after hurricanes).
  2. Once it is safe to enter, make the environment cool and dry to slow the growth of mold. Use a dehumidifier and aim for under 50% humidity and no greater than 70 degrees.
  3. Use fans to dry waterlogged items, but don’t aim the fans directly at the asset.
  4. Carefully blot excess moisture with clean towels or sponges, never newspaper. Do not blot handwritten documents.
  5. Do not attempt to separate wet documents, and never shred wet documents unless unjamming shredders is your jam.
  6. Get rid of cardboard boxes. Even once they have dried out, they will no longer be durable.
  7. Remove paper clips and metal fasteners to prevent rust. By the way, we recommend adopting this best practice regardless of potential water damage!

While you can do the above yourself, you will need the services of a professional document recovery and restoration company and/or a photograph restoration service provider if you wish to preserve the history you were able to save.

How can you minimize future flood damage?

  1. Elevate files and never store them in a basement. A single foot of elevation can make a big difference.
  2. Conduct periodic risk assessments; clear gutters and drains, check windows and roofing for leaks, and ensure that nobody has placed documents near a window.
  3. Obtain a pump for removing excess water.
  4. Research local document restoration companies so that you can act immediately in the event of flooding.
  5. Obtain flood insurance, even if you think you don’t need it. In the Louisiana Flood of 2016, when more than 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours, almost none of the 83,000 affected households were in a flood zone.

For those who are responsible for archival collections, apply our recommendations for dealing with water damage. Water is life sustaining, but it can be death to an archive. By digitally preserving your holdings you are preventing total loss and guaranteeing the most secure long-term strategy.

Water can damage your physical materials, but cannot eliminate your access to digitally preserved versions of them. While this is never the same, the greatest tragedy would be the loss of all of the knowledge and history connected to your archival collections.

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