What To Do About Water Damaged Records

Folks in Laredo and other areas in South Texas recently have had to deal with flooding and there’s a strong possibility of some of their records being damaged.  What do you do if this occurs to you?  

Well, is the water clean, salty, or potentially contaminated?  You first want to know the nature of the water.  Emergency authorities on-site will know of any safety or health hazards in the water and will likely be the ones to give the okay to enter the area and/or your building or facility.  You should wear a long-sleeve shirt, pants, waterproof gloves, boots, and safety glasses.  You may also consider wearing a hard hat, using a still or video camera, and having a phone, pens, paper, absorbent materials, a wet vacuum, dehumidifier, sump pump, and fans.  Remember to take care in handling wet paper as it easily tears!

Keep in mind that you may need help from a contractor with some or all of the following actions.  If you are going to attempt it yourself, here are several tips to help you properly recover and salvage any records damaged by water or flooding:

Salty or contaminated water poses more issues.  Don’t open books– just rinse the cover.  Gently rinse photos on a piece of Plexiglas, putting them at an angle and rinse one side and then the other with a hose. 

 Dry or freeze within 48 hours.  Sort by degree of wetness, separating items into damp and wet.  Time and air circulation are crucial.  Fan open books to facilitate drying.  Don’t direct a fan at objects as it may further damage them. 

Clip photos to string line with clothes pins or dry flat with image side up.   Employ interleaving for books and manuscripts—use newsprint or paper towels, inserting between every 25-30 pages.  Avoid direct sunlight as that may further damage items.  Use a freezer or freezer trunk if freezing items.  This buys time preventing mold from growing (which opens a whole new set of challenges and issues).  

Use sturdy, waterproof materials and wax paper when packing.  Pack in single layer.  When packing, place books spine-side down in the box or crate wrapped in butcher paper.  Sometimes for coated paper such as magazines it’s best to store them in clean cool water for up to 24 hours.

 {For more tips and information, contact the Association for Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA) at www.arma.org or the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at www.archives.gov}