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Water Damage Document Recovery

In the aftermath of water damage or flooding in a business, many owners and office managers are focused on the damage to equipment and furnishings. They overlook one of the most devastating consequences—the potentially irreparable damage to documents. Any delay in the decision to dry the materials can result in permanent loss. Inks can break down, making the text illegible in documents such as medical, financial or legal records. Dirt and grime can penetrate the paper and pages can adhere to each other. Mold and mildew will grow quickly on water-soaked books, papers, file folders and electronic media. That’s why the key to a successful recovery of these materials is rapid response time. An experienced document restoration specialist will rapidly identify the best recovery method for a particular material based on the value of the documents and the level of damage. Consider partnering with a provider like, Dan Dan the Carper Man that can assist in the clean-up of the disaster area and stabilize the indoor environment to reduce the moisture load to prevent the spoiling of unaffected documents.

The Water Damage Document Recovery Process:

Freezing:

To halt deterioration, documents must be frozen as soon as possible, usually in freezer-equipped truck trailers or freezer warehouses. The frozen materials can be stored until the professional drying procedure begins.

Inventory and Sorting:

While the documents are frozen, decisions can be made about which to dry and clean and which to discard. Work can begin to prune unwanted materials. Loose documents and files stored in cabinets are packed into boxes and labeled to identify contents.

The second phase of document restoration is the drying of the materials. Different treatments may be recommended depending upon the materials and the type and extent of damage. Two primary methods are used to dry documents—vacuum freeze-drying and desiccant drying.

Vacuum Freeze-Drying:

A freeze-drying process is the most efficient and effective method for the drying of wet papers and other documents. Accelerated vacuum freeze-dry systems can reduce the processing time of water-damaged materials by 20 to 30 percent compared to similar systems. During this process, the materials are placed in an airtight chamber into which negative vacuum pressure is induced. As a function of physics, moisture in the documents turns into a gaseous state. The gas is expelled from the chamber using a vacuum pump and is dispersed into the atmosphere as simple water vapor. As a result, the documents go from the frozen state to being dry without ever becoming re-liquefied. This method is especially beneficial when documents may warp or distort. After drying, materials will have a smoother appearance than is generally achieved via slower, less efficient freeze-drying methods.

Desiccant Drying:

In this process, frozen documents are removed from the packing cases and placed on racks and shelves in a large, vault-like room. Applying desiccant dehumidification, the room atmosphere is maintained at about 68 degrees F and 12 percent humidity. Desiccant dehumidifiers use the changing vapor pressures to dry air continuously in a repeating cycle. In so doing, the continually moving dry air created in the drying room removes the moisture from the documents. Depending on the amount of moisture and the documents being dried, the process can take from one to seven days to complete.

Cleaning After drying, the documents are cleaned to remove any dirt, grime or, more importantly, fungi spores. Trained staff should clean each document using materials such as sponges and scrub pads, while avoiding the application of liquid solutions that would reactivate the moisture in the materials. In cases involving mold spores, individuals should wear personal protection equipment (PPE) and follow standard procedures for spore removal, including the use of High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum systems. Non-paper materials that are not first dried, such as film, microfiche, X-rays, and audio and video tape, also are cleaned. All of the items are then placed into new boxes, relabeled according to the inventory and returned to the owner. All of this work needs to be done by properly trained cleaning and restoration technicians and management staff to oversee the recovery project. Some providers will use temporary labor. Others utilize seasoned professionals who typically have five to 10 years of experience. The appropriate technology also is important. A qualified document center should offer:

• blast-freezing, which freezes quickly and kills bacteria;

• stabilization, or capacity to freeze documents to mitigate damage;

• cleaning;

• desiccant air drying;

• vacuum freeze-drying; and

• secure document storage.

On-Site Drying In some cases, documents need to be dried at the site. In these cases, standing water is removed and damaged documents are packed and placed in a nearby freezer warehouse or refrigerated trailers. The goal is to use the fastest methods to make critical documents usable and to save as many others as possible. A provider may establish a processing center in a building near the freezer warehouse. This space must be sealed from air leaks. A climate-controlled environment is created via portable industrial desiccant dehumidifiers. A processing center should include a thawing room, where frozen documents are identified, categorized, labeled and logged into a computerized inventory control system. It also should include an area for a drying chamber to remove moisture from the documents. Non-paper items, including X-rays and computer disks, which are not suitable for the freeze-drying process, will be salvaged through desiccant drying.

The best insurance against loss of vital documents is to be prepared long before a disaster occurs. Without advance planning, critical recovery time can be lost simply trying to assess the damage, much less in formulating the appropriate response.  Call Dan Dan the carpet man and we can help you with all your document recovery needs.

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