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June 18, 2012

Small scale disaster recovery, or: the KSL Disaster Plan Works Again!

The Preservation Department of Kelvin Smith Library’s Scholarly Research and Special Collections team received the phone call on Wednesday, June 13th, a perfectly normal day. Workmen on the roof were performing maintenance on an air-conditioning unit when suddenly a water pipe burst, sending water cascading through the ceiling and onto a portion of the first 7 compact-shelf ranges of the library’s circulating collection on the third floor. The water also soaked a nearby women’s rest room and one of the library’s two elevators, but our concern in Preservation in such a situation was to quickly assess and recover the affected books. Time is extremely critical in a wet book/paper situation as mold can develop after only 24 hours.

Luckily for us we have an excellent up-to-date Disaster Plan in place that covers exactly this type of situation, including step by step instructions so there is no panic and everyone knows exactly how to proceed.

Assuring the safety of people always comes first in any disaster situation!
• Before entering the affected area, it was determined by Plant Services staff that there was not any shock hazard from wet electrical components.
• Before any staff entered the area, Plant Services removed wet ceiling tiles that were crumbling and falling so that no one could suffer injury from the falling debris, which can be quite heavy especially when wet.
• The water was not originating from a waste pipe, but was “grey water”, regular water that has passed through a ceiling and a roof, so it is still not really clean. Staff was reminded repeatedly to wash their hands after they were done handling the wet materials.
• Yellow caution tape was applied to the affected areas on both sides of the stacks and the movable shelving in that area was locked, preventing patron access.

After human safety issues were adequately addressed, the book salvage began in earnest! Plastic sheeting (kept on site in KSL and also from our offsite disaster supply cache) was brought from its designated locations and was draped over the nearby still-dry shelving areas to prevent them from becoming wet, as well as over the wet shelving units after the books were removed.


Over 1,000 books were removed from the shelves and placed on carts. They were then brought to a staging area on the second floor where student workers and volunteer staff were mobilized to sort the books according to degrees of wetness; the soaked books were packed in plastic milk crates (also brought from our disaster supply cache) and taken to a local freeze dry facility (already identified in our Disaster Plan)


The damp books were surface-wiped/dried with rags and then stood up and fanned-out on 13 tables with fans on each end. Because so many people volunteered, this took only 2-3 hours.

1000 books.JPG

Meanwhile, Library Administration staff contacted the University’s insurance and one special account was set up to charge all expenses related to the incident. The leak was repaired by Plant Services staff and the shelving area cleaned up. Fans were left running on each side of the affected stacks to dry them out, keep the air moving and to reduce humidity in the area. Administration dealt with the elevator and the rest room damage.

The following day, staff and students carefully checked each book and if thoroughly dry, placed them on book carts. Almost all of the damp books were dry after 18 hours. Preservation staff checked random books with a moisture meter to confirm that they were dry and had acceptable moisture content for books and paper. (The moisture meter was a joint disaster supply purchase of the Kelvin Smith Library and the MSASS Harris Library.) The few books that were still damp were consolidated and continued to be dried on one table. Books that were dry but were water-stained, needed repairs or had cockled paper needing to be flattened were identified and placed on another cart to go to Preservation for treatment. The dry undamaged books were taken to the sorting room to be re-shelved. The tables used to dry the books were cleaned and disinfected as were the formerly wet shelves in the stacks. Fans and empty book carts were returned to their original locations. Preservation staff took temperature and humidity readings in the wet stack area and set up a recording hygrothermograph (an instrument that records and measures temperature and relative humidity over a week’s time) to make sure the humidity does not get too high. If it does become too high, dehumidifiers are available with the disaster supplies located in a different building.

The Disaster Plan works very well. Because we had the necessary recovery supplies stored nearby, and had clear direction, there were no books lost- and over 1000 books were dried returned to circulation within a 24 hour period. The much appreciated staff and student help was a very critical factor in the quick recovery time. Everyone really pulled together in the face of an emergency for the common good. As far as disasters go, it doesn’t get much better than this!

For more information on library disaster recovery or emergency planning, please see our website or contact the Preservation Department, sxg7@case.edu.

Posted by sxg7 at June 18, 2012 09:35 PM

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