RECOVERING FROM FLOOD DAMAGE
By Pat Moore
The very recent horrific flooding situations throughout the United States and the rest of the world exemplify how disastrous extreme water damage can be. Along with the tragic loss of life came almost irreparable physical property damage.
Until the water recedes, a proper and thorough site/damage assessment cannot be performed. Water and silt, associated with floods, can carry contaminants such as bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs and hydrocarbons. In some cases, metals, including lead, chrome, cadmium, barium and mercury, along with maintenance chemicals, oils from mechanical rooms, waste oil storage or fuel oil tanks, paints, solvents, and house-keeping chemicals may also be present. When these and other unknown chemicals are found, specific procedures such as taking a complete physical inventory of each container and product segregation should be performed by certified, trained, hazardous material technicians. The water and silt must be tested and analyzed so that the proper health and cleaning protocols can be employed.
The affect of the water and silt upon the facility and its contents can be extremely detrimental. Mr. Ian R. Chin, SE, AIA an external consultant to BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association), states that, "Many buildings affected by water infiltration can be exposed to loading conditions that they have never seen before, and possibly were not designed to withstand. After the water is pumped out, all structural walls, beams, and columns should be investigated to determine if water-related forces have adversely affected their structural capacity and serviceability. When existing conditions have been evaluated, the structural engineer should design repairs to provide immediate stabilization as needed, and to provide long-term measures to address distress conditions. Structural intervention must be coordinated with measures to address architectural, mechanical, electrical and environmental concerns in areas affected by water."
For example, the water’s ionic content, acidity, suspended solids and organic content should always be analyzed. Inorganic salts from building materials and atmospheric particulate matter can be deposited on exposed circuit boards. It is also important not to let the sediments in water settle on the equipment and then dry. When addressing water damage in a facility and to the contents of that facility, you need to review all the water variables which could exist, including total alkalinity (pH), total dissolved solids (TDS), suspended material, dissolved gases, pathogens, organic material, microorganisms, electrolytes, oil and chemicals.
ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT RECOVERY
In most cases, de-energizing electronic equipment before exposure to water allows for successful restoration. Electronics, as well as finished products, should always be carefully examined and, if necessary, be tested by experienced technicians to make sure they still meet the manufacturer’s original operating and performance specifications, as well as general cosmetic appearance. If this equipment remains in a moist, humid environment, severe corrosion can occur within 48 – 72 hours. Emergency restoration procedures, such as removal of standing water, facility dehumidification, and corrosion control are crucial loss recovery factors in reducing damage to critical components of the facility.
It is possible to remove hundreds of gallons of water from thousands of square feet in a facility over a 24-hour period by dehumidifying moist air through the use of high efficiency refrigeration or desiccation techniques. Restoration specialists use dehumidification equipment in conjunction with overhead fire sprinklers and fire detection sensors to provide the maximum protection for expensive telephone switches or electronic data processing environment.
SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
In addition, where you have had standing water or moist, humid conditions in a facility for more than 24 – 48 hours, you must be concerned about the development and growth of mold and mildew spores. This affects not only the structure, HVAC systems and critical contents such as documents and magnetic media, but can produce sick building syndrome as well.
A proper and thorough damage assessment, performed by a certified industrial hygienist and decontamination of the HVAC systems is critical to insure the building will be returned to the proper criteria of clean for re-occupancy.
VITAL RECORDS RECOVERY
In addition to understanding and mitigating what water damage can do to a facility and electronic equipment, it is equally important to understand and mitigate not only what it can do to vital records, but the health hazards it might pose while attempting vital records recovery. During flooding, for example, sewage backup normally occurs. The typhoid bacteria can be present in sewage and therefore, in order to protect your resources that are assisting in the retrieval and restoration of the records, you will need to institute the proper health and safety procedures.
In the event of water damage, vital records can become a total loss very quickly. For example, chilled-water systems often contain glycol, which can adversely affect certain types of paper and magnetic media. Different types of documents, photographs and vellum items, as well as magnetic media, need immediate and extra-special care. Every effort should be made to reduce high temperatures and vent the areas as soon as the water has receded or been pumped out. Water-soaked materials must be kept as cool as possible by good air circulation until they can be stabilized.
Freezing and storing documents can buy you time to finalize arrangements for proper recovery. Although freezing itself is not a drying method - and does not kill mold - it definitely controls its growth if done properly.
Using proper hygiene methods, washing away accumulated mud, sewage and dirt must be completed prior to freezing to avoid additional damage. Do not attempt to pull documents apart while wet. Remove all documents in blocks, if possible, so you do not increase deterioration. Leave a space about the size of your fist in the packing box for proper air circulation. Once the documents are frozen and/or in cold storage, choose the proper drying method of either freeze-drying through sublimation or descicant drying. (It is important to point out that, depending upon the degree of water damage and volume of documents, both processes can require substantial time (generally a minimum of 7 - 10 days, and quite a bit longer in a regional disaster). In addition, check with your insurance company to ensure that your policy adequately covers the costs involved in restoring vital records. Typically, freeze-drying costs are priced per cubic foot of records. Determine whether your present coverage addresses the retrieval of data from the damaged medium. In addition to valuable papers’ coverage, you should research whether or not your business interruption insurance responds to a loss of vital records containing integral operational information.
MAGNETIC MEDIA RECOVERY
Due to the sensitivity of magnetic media, its successful recovery will require mitigation procedures of immediate and proper damage assessment, climate control, and proper handling and cleaning, generally within 72 – 96 hours of damage.
Improper handling of wet microfilm, such as allowing it to dry on its spool, can result in data loss as well. Keep silver or emulsion films wet in clean cold water and immediately contact your microfilm service bureau or film-processing lab to mobilize recovery operations. It can be assumed that the archival quality of microfilm has been compromised once it has been restored, and therefore you will always want to duplicate these records, and store the originals off-site.
Documents exposed to hazardous contamination cannot be moved or handled, except by trained and certified hazardous materials decontamination specialists. Clearance testing, performed on the records, will also be necessary before they can be released.
FINE ARTS RECOVERY
You must also consider the protection of any type of fine art that is housed in your facility. For example, the value of paintings in your Chairman’s offices or on loan for a special exhibit in your facility, can far exceed the sum total of the physical premises, its contents and inventory. Gordon Lewis, a fine arts restoration specialist with the Fine Arts Conservancy, West Palm Beach, Florida states that " in twelve to forty-eight hours, water will migrate to the interior of art on paper, damaging the sheet and image and creating the opportunity for overwhelming mold outbreak. Paintings and furniture can develop serious mold damage in the same time frame. Paintings, when exposed to water or saturating humidity, can flake away from their canvas upon drying (six plus hours). Rare books absorb saturating humidity, expanding and warping with irreversible damage to spines and bindings within twenty-four hours. Today there are sealed systems or microclimates which are suitable both for paintings and works of art on paper and can totally encapsulate the object without the system itself being visually seen". Lewis also cautions us on understanding the importance of art conservators directing a fine art pack out of a damaged building, and that in most cases, improper handling of fine art can cause more substantial damage than the damage event itself.
Through preparedness, training and mitigation, we can greatly reduce the billions of dollars being spent today on trying to salvage flood damaged homes and businesses.