UH rescues history
Experts express surprise at
how much damage was prevented
by quick containment work
Though flood damage at the University of Hawaii's Hamilton Library is estimated at $10 million, it could have been much worse, the university's top librarian said yesterday.
Conservation experts here this week to help the library begin restoring damaged historic maps and photographs have praised UH staff for freezing the items within days of the Oct. 30 flood that inundated the library basement, said University Librarian Diane Perushek.
The experts, who came from several mainland and New Zealand universities and libraries, were surprised this week that there weren't greater mold problems, Perushek said.
"It could have been much worse. Mold could have formed in the entire library from floor one to five."
But the disaster management company hired by the university, BMS Catastrophe, "got dehumidifiers into those floors and those (book) stacks are drier now than with our normal air-conditioning system."
Among the 230,000 maps and historical photos and thousands of books damaged by the flood, those deemed salvageable were stored within days in freezer containers, Perushek said. "That stabilizes them, so they (conservators) only have to deal with mud and water, not mold.... Mold can be very expensive."
The disaster recovery company Belfor USA has been hired to restore about half of those items at its Fort Worth, Texas, office and to assist UH staff with restoration of items that are being kept here -- mostly unique Hawaii and Pacific maps and photos, said Lynn Davis, head of Hamilton Library's preservation department. Belfor began its work this week and expects to be finished by fall. The UH-based restoration process is expected to take years. Items remain frozen until they are worked on.
"They did a tremendous job of prioritizing items as to what could be saved, and very quickly saved those materials -- about 15 to 20 percent of the collection," Belfor worker Kirk Lively said yesterday at a workshop for disaster planning for Hawaii museums and libraries.
About 50 Hawaii library and museum staffers attended the workshop, which offered disaster preparation tips from the experts who are in town helping with the restoration work. They included: Lively, Pamela Najar-Simpson of the National Library of New Zealand, Julie Page of the University of Southern California-San Diego and Randy Silverman of the University of Utah Marriott Library. Other consultants will speak at a second workshop next week.
The visiting experts yesterday advised having appropriate insurance policies, prequalifying disaster assistance contractors and generally taking disaster planning very seriously.
Human health and safety always takes precedence, they noted, but protection of irreplaceable documents and artifacts should follow soon after.
The Hawaii attendees vowed afterward to work together more closely to prepare for disasters such as the one that hit the Hamilton Library.
"Oh my God, we haven't done enough. Even if we think we have, we haven't done enough," Bishop Museum archivist Desoto Brown said after the event.
"We need a local network for disaster planning," Brown said as he sought commitments from fellow professionals to hold additional meetings soon.
With disaster plans for each institution, others who want to help will have something constructive to do instead of "just milling around," he said.
In addition to volunteer help from other local institutions, mainland colleges including USC-San Diego and Brigham Young University have offered staffers' services to UH at no charge, Perushek noted.
About $300,000 has been donated to UH to help with the Hamilton Library cleanup so far, Perushek said.
Power could be restored to parts of the library that remain dark this month using generators if technical factors allow it, Perushek said. But the building's entire electric system will have to rebuilt for a permanent fix, she said.