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Disaster Planning 101: Working with Remediation Vendors

An Interview with Chris Chylack, District Manager at Polygon US

Tonia Grafakos, Marie A Quinlan Director of Preservation, Northwestern University

Most common disasters which occur in libraries are small. In most instances, a leaky pipe may get a few books wet. Under those circumstances, you may decide to replace the books or dry them in-house. However, there are situations where due to the nature or extent of a disaster, it is necessary to solicit help from a remediation company. Many institutions have a pre-screened list of remediation vendors.  Ideally you will have personally pre-screened a vendor or had it done by your institution prior to a disaster taking place. Tonia Grafakos, Director of Preservation, asks Chris Chylack, District Manager at Polygon US questions that can help institutions engage a remediation vendor.

Interview with Chris Chylack, District Manager at Polygon US:

What should libraries consider when choosing a remediation vendor?

When choosing a remediation vendor, libraries should consider the experience and references of the vendor, to be assured they specialize in the type of remediation that is required. Oftentimes general restoration contractors may market that they specialize in certain areas, however their experience may be in other types of general restoration, and they may not possess the experience and special knowledge of book and paper remediation best-practices, or other specialties. For books and papers that suffer water-damage, the best practice is to utilize true vacuum-freeze drying via sublimation, utilizing a vacuum-freeze drying chamber. For pest issues on books and paper, utilizing a blast freezer that can maintain -20 to-30 degrees for specified cycles is ideal for the eradication process.

Is it common for a remediation company to charge a fee or retainer to have a contract in place?

Yes and no - generally speaking, companies may charge a retainer for a contract that provides priority emergency response services, that may also include discounted rates should the need for services take place. In exchange for the fee or retainer, the customer should receive priority service and/or discounted rates and periodic consultation. Oftentimes, remediation companies will also offer basic contracts, that typically consist of exchanging relevant information and establishing pricing ahead of time. If the need for services arises, the process will move along more smoothly, as information has been exchanged in advance and the vendor can respond more efficiently and effectively. These types of basic agreements can be established free of charge.

Do some vendors specialize in a particular type of disaster (water, fire, mold, pests)?

Typically, vendors specialize in service offerings and industries, as opposed to types of disasters. You may see companies that specialize in commercial building restoration, or residential water/fire damage losses, to companies who specialize in certain sub-sectors such as contents restoration, textiles restoration, electronics restoration, artwork restoration or document/book restoration specialty restoration services.

How soon should a library contact you after a disaster?

Disasters are often unpredictable and can tend to strike on weekends or holidays, or other times when individuals may not actively know the damage has taken place right away. When it comes to water, fire and other types of disasters, the sooner somebody reaches out, the more quickly the response can take place. In line with that, a quicker response can lead to more efficient, cost-effective solutions, and often times a more salvageable product overall. Depending on various factors, mold/microbial presence can begin growing as soon as 48 hours after the water damage, so if materials can be stabilized prior to then, it can help prevent additional natural damage from occurring. However, materials can still be processed and recovered, even after mold/microbial damage takes place, though it typically then requires a more extensive service process.

What information is helpful for you to have during that initial conversation?

During the initial conversation, the following information can be very helpful, if available - When did the loss occur? What potentially caused the loss? Was it clean water or dirty/contaminated water? What type of materials were affected? Any information regarding roughly how much linear footage of material was damaged or estimated volume of boxes/housing? If there are high priority items, can these be labeled or designated in a certain way? Is the location of the damage accessible? How is the egress setup - are there functioning elevators, is it all stairs, ground level or what floor, access to exit of building, loading dock available? Will this be going through an insurance claim, if so, is the contact information available? Who will be the main point of contact onsite for communication, when is the building accessible (certain hours)?

What should library staff expect when a vendor is on site?

Once onsite, the vendor will work to address the problem at hand and determine the best way to safely and efficiently begin to inventory and remove the damaged materials, so they can be transported and stabilized. The supervisor from the vendor will communicate with the main point of contact from the library staff, to gather information and engage in discussions, so that certain decisions can be made to best support and expedite the packout/stabilization process. Communication is key during this process, as there can be a lot of moving parts involved. The vendor will work to gather the necessary info, so they can best begin the process of having their team work to remove the damaged materials offsite for treatment.

What preparation advice would you give to libraries?

The best way to prepare for the unknown is to work to gather and organize as much information as possible, so it is readily available and organized should something unexpected occur. Having a plan for who will be the main point of contact for communication is key, as well as discussing with other departments or entitles who may also be involved (Operations/Facilities, Finance/Procurement, Health/Safety), helps to move things along should an unexpected event occur. Gathering information on the volume/size of collections, the type of materials in the collection, identifying high priority or special collections, and listing the parties that need to be notified in the event something occurs are all ways to be proactive and prepared. Gathering all insurance coverage information, and identifying specific procurement contracts, terms and conditions or vendor requirements ahead of time are helpful to ensure a quicker response. In addition, having an emergency response vendor established and a line of communication setup prior to an emergency is key to preparing for and efficiently handling the unknown.

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