MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF SOGGY AND DAMP: THE NEW YEAR'S EVE DISASTER AT THE VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
STACY RUSCH, & HOLLY HERRO
2 2. INITIAL RESPONSE
The head of building operations contacted the director, Charles F. Bryan Jr., who is assigned total responsibility for the operations of the Virginia Historical Society by the board of trustees. The associate director, Robert F. Strohm, and the chief of conservation, Stacy Rusch, were also called immediately. Ms. Rusch quickly asked Holly Herro, associate conservator, to meet her at the society. At this point, the phone tree for the staff was implemented. The staff members started arriving by noon. Because of the two-day holiday, some could not be located or were out of town. The director established a command post on the second floor in his office suite. The insurance companies, Chubb and DeJarnette and Paul, were called. The head of building operations tried to remove the water on the second floor with a shop vac, but it was ineffective. Servpro, a fire and water damage restoration company recommended by the insurance company, was called in to remove the water and stabilize the building environment. Servpro arrived by 1:00 p.m. Documentation of the disaster, using a camcorder and a camera, was initiated. The security staff was contacted and stationed throughout the building to provide 24-hour protection for the collections.
The director and the insurance company coordinated the salvage of the building. A plan of action was established based on the damage to the various collections. Strategies were laid out and responsibilities assigned. In the confusion of the moment, clearance to enter the building was not established, and all the hazards were not eliminated. In the reading room, for example, the electrical power was not turned off, even though there were electrical outlets throughout the floor under 4 in. of water. Fortunately, the circuit breakers worked effectively, and no injuries occurred. In the reading room, even though ceiling tiles were collapsing under the weight of the cascading water, no one thought to don hard hats.
In our initial conservation assessment, we recognized that a multitude of materials had been affected. We needed professional assistance with salvaging the furniture, paintings, and objects that had sustained water damage. We called the Virginia Conservation Association (VCA), a regional and multidisciplined group of conservators. Response from the VCA was overwhelming, and 11 dedicated professionals from all over the state abandoned their New Year's Eve plans to assist. The University of Richmond was the only library in the city that was open. It sent the entire available staff to aid in the salvage effort.
Mobile disaster recovery supplies, such as plastic sheeting, paper towels, and packing materials, were available for initial response, but there were not enough supplies to complete the task. Both the insurance company and the director arranged to purchase additional supplies from a large local hardware store.
The disaster plan was a work-in-progress. It did not include phone numbers for disaster recovery services and supplies. The insurance company provided much-needed assistance in locating available space for freezing the wet books. Finally, a local food distributor, Carmine Foods, agreed to provide the necessary space. It also made available free of charge a tractor trailer for transportation of the boxed materials.