Everyday Disaster: What Happened at the Duke University Medical Center Archives When the Toilet Overflowed

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  • On the evening of Thursday, July 19, 2018, the toilet at the Duke University Medical Center Archives (DUMCA) overflowed. Approximately 200 gallons of water spilled out of the toilet and into the Archives’ supply room, stacks, hallway, and processing room before the situation was discovered the next morning. In the minutes, hours, days, and weeks that followed, the DUMCA worked with Duke University Libraries (DUL) Conservation Department to immediately assess the situation, selected a disaster vendor, and monitored the environmental conditions daily. Working together, the DUMCA quickly removed the water we could see, identified and contained the damage to areas where the water traveled, targeted those areas for drying and repair, and prevented the growth of mold. The DUMCA’s swift response to this everyday disaster proved successful because of our quick cleanup actions, DUL Conservation’s expertise, and clearly established roles and channels of communication, and while we never anticipated water damage from a toilet overflow, we learned several lessons on how to deal with any water damage we encounter in the future. Presentation given at the 2019 North Carolina Preservation Consortium (NCPC) Annual Meeting.
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