This week, students in my Disaster Planning and Response course kicked off our fire unit with a visit to the Austin Fire Department training facility. Arson investigator Nick Ganci and firefighters set up a burn cell modeled after a small apartment, complete with drywall and furniture. Students then placed deaccessioned library books in various locations around the room. The fire began with a candle placed too close to a curtain. As the fire grew, we learned about the ways heat, air flow, construction techniques, and materials impacted its course. Once the fire was extinguished and the site was safe, we collected the books to bring back to the lab.
During our visit, Ganci introduced us to the fundamentals of firefighter training. He also discussed how his team uses physical evidence to evaluate likely scenarios about a fire’s origin and progression. This was a great opportunity for students to learn about communicating with first-responders and protecting cultural heritage collections.
Next week, the students will practice removing soot and ash from burned volumes by using a HEPA vacuum and soot sponges. With the context this hands-on experience provides, we’ll then practice making judgment calls about when to salvage and when to replace materials. This exercise underscores the importance of planning and prevention in managing fire risk.
Many thanks to Nick Ganci and the Austin Fire Department crew who so generously gave their time and good-naturedly answered our many questions! Also thanks to our book donors: Kate Slaten and Erin Tigelaar (who joined us for the event!) from the Brentwood Elementary School Library and Jeff Newberry from UT’s Collections Deposit Library.
I was pleased to participate this week in the Planet Texas 2050 Resilience Research Symposium. At this multi-disciplinary event, I shared our preservation students’ work in climate risk mapping for Texas archives. We revisit this project with a new climate focus each semester in my Disaster Planning and Response class.
At the event, an engaging array of scholars approached climate research from broadly varied perspectives. Focuses included community resilience planning; regional shifts in communicable diseases; and current and historical impacts on plant and animal life. Most attendees were new to the preservation of cultural collections, so this was a great opportunity to build new connections.
Many thanks to Jonathan Lowell, Heidi Schmalbach, and the Planet Texas team for organizing this event.
Mold remediation is a common preservation challenge, and students in my INF 385T Disaster Planning and Response class get to practice their mold response skills. Here’s a peek behind the scenes as we prepare for our Fall 2021 students. This mold chamber allows test samples of archival materials to grow mold in a high-relative-humidity environment. After several weeks, these materials will be dried in a silica gel enclosure to ensure the mold is inactive for use in class. Students will also practice working with the right PPE, or personal protective equipment, to do the job safely.
I look forward to welcoming our fall students soon!
In INF 385T, Disaster Planning and Response, we explore disaster preparedness and recovery for cultural heritage collections impacted by flood, fire, mold, and more. Here, we use a shake table to simulate two earthquake storage strategies for artworks of varying shapes. The artworks featured here are played by a set of Duplo blocks.
Read more about the earthquake storage strategies highlighted in this video:
Agbabian, M.S., Ginell, W.S., Masri. S.F. and Nigbor. R.L. “Evaluation of earthquake damage mitigation method for museum objects.” Studies in Conservation 36 (1991) 111-120.
As the fall semester draws to a close, I’m in the lab today packing supply kits for my upcoming spring classes: Introduction to Paper Conservation and Disaster Planning and Response. Here’s a peek behind the scenes of remote learning. Looking forward to seeing you all in January!