COLLECTIBLES Column #672 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 1999
Water Damage with Special Emphasis on Flood Damage Part II
This column is the second of a four-part series on dealing with water damage with special emphasis on flood damage. The first column presented information about Heritage Preservation (www.heritagepreservation.org), The Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel, planning ahead, and weathering the immediate emergency. This column focuses on the actions required to clean up a site and the initial steps in recovering water-damaged property.
Family and Friends
When disaster strikes, offers from family and friends to help in the recovery abound. Do not turn them down, especially if they are available during the first forty-eight hours following your return. Decide on how many individuals should be on site at one time. Too many people stumbling over one another or standing around without something productive to do is a second disaster worth avoiding.
First Things First
If you are forced to leave your building either because of potential danger or severe weather damage, use the time in an emergency shelter, motel, or other temporary residence to plan ahead. Make a checklist of things you want to accomplish when you are allowed to return. Prioritize them. Once you return, your actions in the next forty-eight hours will largely determine what items you will or will not save.
Arrange for a tetanus shot or booster, whether you need one or not. Better safe than sorry.
You are not going to be allowed to return until your home or office is declared safe by emergency management officials. Try to remember that you are not the only person affected by the disaster. Assuming you planned ahead by following the suggestions in the first column, you already have a jump on more than ninety-five percent of the population.
Upon returning to your home or office, first check the utilities. Look for signs of electrical damage, e.g., broken wires or the smell of burning insulation. The minute you spot a problem, turn off the electricity at the main switch. Some individuals prefer doing this prior to leaving. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing, open a window, and immediately leave the house. Do not try to turn off the main gas valve unless you have been trained. Call the gas company. Finally, shut off your water and keep it off until local officials clear its use. Since water plays a vital role in the cleanup and preservation process, this often is a hard rule to follow.
If your property has experienced serious damage, the first thing you need to be concerned with is potential structural damage. Repair of these hazards is a first priority. Brace shelves. Remove debris.
Return wearing heavy-duty work clothes. If not in your wardrobe, use the time away from your home or office to acquire them. Assume you will be changing clothes two to three times a day for several days. Since it is highly unlikely you will be able to wash your clothes every day (a great project for a friend who wants to help), have enough clean clothes to cover a three- to four-day period. You also might want to acquire protective gloves, a hard hat, and NIOSH-approved respiratory masks. While you are shopping for these materials, buy several disposal cameras for use in documenting the condition of your home or office and your objects upon returning and during the recovery process. A Polaroid-type camera or video camera (again, something a friend might lend you) also will serve.
Reducing the temperature and relative humidity are your first goals upon returning to your home or office. This prevents the outbreak of mold. If the weather is warm and you are fortunate enough to have electricity, seal the house, e.g., cover broken windows with plastic sheets, and turn the air conditioner up as high as possible. If the weather is cool and humidity low, open windows and use circulating fans to move the air around. Do not turn on the heat or run a kerosene heater unless absolutely necessary. If you see mold, turn off all devices, e.g., fans that circulate air
Remove standing water as quickly as possible. Next remove water-soaked carpeting. Unless of historic value, assume the carpeting will be scrapped.
Once this has been accomplished, it is time to focus on objects. The immediate goal is to move the objects to a location where wet objects can be kept wet, damp objects damp, and dry objects dry. If everything is wet, wrap the objects you plan to save in loose plastic sheeting. This will buy time to create an adequate recovery area.
The Recovery Process
Decide on an area that will be used for recovery purposes. If running water is available on site, a driveway or portion of a sidewalk is a possibility. The second solution is take advantage of an offer from a friend living just outside the disaster area to use his garage. This provides a higher level of security than an open or tented area on your property and permits setting up a disaster processing area in advance of returning to your property. If luck is on your side, you will be able to use your garage.
Space is a key consideration in establishing a recovery area. Allow ample space for movement. You will need four to eight, six- or eight- foot tables, plastic sheeting, metal shelving, and lumber. Use the lumber to build a large storage box. Cover the four walls, top, and bottom with plastic sheeting. This is the area where you place material after a preliminary cleaning. The enclosed environment allows you to control the level of humidity and drying rate.
Take fifteen minutes to assess what objects have been damaged and to what extent. Fight the temptation to try to save everything immediately. If damage is extensive, you are not going to be able to save everything.
The recovery rate will be the highest for the first objects moved to the recovery area. Time for some tough decisions. You need to prioritize the recovery process.
While you are doing this, assign the help the task of removing all undamaged objects. Hopefully, these will far outnumber the damaged objects. Make certain they are stored in an area with low humidity. Have them checked twice a day for mold. If mold appears, immediately remove the object and send it to the recovery area.
In removing any object, keep an eye open for broken parts. Put them in plastic bags and label them. If objects are disassembled to ease moving, make certain that each carton in which they are packed or each part is properly labeled.
As the owner of your home or office and objects, you are the person responsible for dealing with local, state, and federal officials and the insurance company. This requires time, yet another reason why family and friends are so vital to any clean-up operation.
Hopefully, you are knowledgeable concerning the water damage provisions of your household and office insurance as a result of your annual insurance review with your local agent. Chances are you do not have flood insurance, either because you felt it was too expensive or it was unavailable.
I will end this column with a tip. The insurance program of the National Association of Collectors (PO Box 2963, Huntersville, NC 28070 / 1-800-287-7127) provides coverage for damage from flooding.
My next text column will focus specifically on water damage recovery techniques relating to paper, everything from books to family photographs. The final column in the series will cover ceramics, furniture, glass, metals, and textiles.