How Do Weather Events Affect Collections?

Just as we were preparing to leave work for the week on Friday, June 29th a storm with winds blowing up to 80 miles per hour blew through Columbus and central Ohio. Trees were uprooted and power lines taken down throughout the state. The Ohio History Center lost electrical power on Friday evening and it was not restored until very early Monday morning. In our archives stacks we have a freezer bank storing approximately 120 cubic feet of nitrate based film. The freezers are not connected to the back up generator.

When I left on Friday I crossed my fingers that the Center would not be out of power for long. The temperature of the freezers is normally 0 degrees. As with any freezer, the best way to maintain the interior temperature is to open the doors infrequently. On Saturday morning I checked in with our security and facilities staff. I asked them not to open the freezer doors, but to watch for dripping from the freezer units.

Interior of freezer where nitrate film is stored. After two days with the power off condensation was puddling on the packages, but the collections are wrapped in polyethelene bags and stayed dry.

On Monday morning the power was on and our first order of business was to check the freezers. We found that only four of the six freezers had restarted when the power was restored. The two freezers that were not running had water dripping from the units and condensation puddling on the packages inside. Temperatures inside these two freezers had reached 40 degrees.

Drying the outside of a package before it is removed from the freezer to its temporary location.

Collections in cold storage are in archival boxes and then double wrapped in polyethylene bags with as much air removed from the packages as possible and then secured with acid free packing tape. We hade to remove the collections from the freezers, dry the packages and move them into temporary storage in our microfilm vault. A few packages required rewrapping because there was moisture in the layers of plastic, but the collections inside all stayed dry.

Our facilities staff sprang into action and immediately got a repairman to fix the blowers on the two damaged freezers. With sufficient time to reach 0 degrees, collections packages were returned to the freezers. We are discussing the possibility of purchasing a generator for the freezers. If our power had been off longer, we would have moved the collections to a walk-in freezer on our campus.

Good communication between our collections and facilities staff and luck kept this situation under control. Over the weekend when staff were scattered due to power outages in our homes as well and telephone communication was spotty, we were able to use Facebook to update one another. The next time you are cleaning out your freezer after a power outage or mopping up after a leak, know that stafff at your local museums are probably working diligently to protect the collections in their care.

L. Wood, Curator for Visual Resources

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This entry was posted in collections, Conservation and Preservation, Photograph Collections. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Do Weather Events Affect Collections?

  1. Ken Lammers says:

    If you have important collections that need to remain frozen, you need a generator!

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