Museum Handbook: Primer on Disaster Preparedness
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Where water damage has resulted from fire-fighting measures, cooperation with the fire marshal, and health and safety offi cials is vital for a realistic appraisal of the feasibility of a safe salvage effort. Fire officers and safety personnel will decide when a damaged building is safe to enter. In some cases, areas involved in a fire may require a week or longer before they are cool and safe enough to enter. Other areas may be under investigation when arson is suspected. There may be parts of a collection that can be identified early in the salvage planning effort as being especially vulnerable to destruction unless they receive attention within a few hours after the fire has abated. If the fire marshal appreciates such needs, he may be able to provide means of special access to these areas even when other parts of the building remain hazardous.

Perhaps the most important and difficult decision to make after an assessment of damage has been made, is whether to remove the wettest materials first or to concentrate on those that are only partially wet or damp. If the majority are in the latter catego ry the best course may be to recover these first since they may develop mold if they are left in dank and humid conditions while the wettest material is removed. A balance must be struck between the reduction of moisture content in the affected areas and the time involved for the safe removal of the majority of the collections in the best condition. To remove the wettest materi al first will obviously lower the moisture content, but it is often the case that this can be difficult and time consuming owing to the fact that shelves become jammed with swollen wet books and boxes that may require special equipment to free them. The aim is always to recover the majority of the collection in the best condition to avoid additional harm and costs brought about by post-disaster environmental damage.

Once all entrances and aisles have been cleared, in addition to the above considerations, the most important collections, includ ing rare materials and those of permanent research value, should be given priority unless other material would be more severely damaged by prolonged exposure to water. Examples of the latter are books printed on paper of types widely produced between 1880 and 1946, now brittle or semi-brittle. However, materials in this category which can be replaced should be left until last.