Points to Ponder: MSU Library’s Flood

Michael Boer posted a second article about the water damage at the Montana State University’s Library (see the Comment below the “Water Damage…” post). Here are some points to ponder that we can glean from the article and hopefully use as “lessons learned” in our own disaster planning.

  • this is the second burst pipe incident in a week, and library staff have already spent a week trying to clean up and salvage the rare materials that were damaged a week ago. Lesson: we all need help sometimes. Two incidents in a row, with the second being worse than the first, is beyond what most of us plan for or are equipped to deal with.
  • Library Dean, Tamara Miller said that they began recovery immediately, and that “getting organized was my first thought.” Lesson: get organized before you start the process–have a plan in place, have supplies on hand, know who to call for help with salvaging and clean up.
  • MSU’s library kept their essential services up and running–their online resources were still available, including class resources for faculty and students, the classes that would have been taught in the library were re-located to other buildings, and they continued to provide Reference services. Lesson: a good example for all of us who are working on service continuity plans!
  • two commercial salvage/recovery companies are already involved; a local company helping with clean-up, and a Texas-based company sending a freezer truck to remove items to be freeze-dried. Lesson: if possible, develop a relationship with a commercial recovery company (see links here on the Toolkit) as part of your planning process.
  • the fire sprinkler system was installed only eight years ago, with safeguards in place for potential pipe leaks, but this is the third incident of a frozen pipe that burst and flooded in the library. Lesson: even relatively new systems can fail, and often the source is inside the building rather than on the roof or flooding only on the ground floor.
  • extreme weather caused the failure of the sprinkler system in areas where the damage was not anticipated, so a combination of unforeseen factors contributed to the failure. Lesson: sometimes our best efforts aren’t enough to prevent a disaster.
  • water came into the library for 20 minutes, at about 120 gallons per minute (2,400 gallons). An alarm had sounded, but even so, it took 20 minutes to get the water turned off. Lesson: water is the most likely cause of damage to library collections and facilities, and it seems to often get in when the library is closed. This 20 minute turnaround was fast, considering that staff were probably not in the library at the time, but 20 minutes is a long time when water is pouring in at 120 gallons per minute.

The quote from Tamara Miller says it all: “It’s really hard to look at. And still, I know it will be fine.” Great job, Renne Library, and best wishes for a speedy recovery!

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