You can salvage family heirlooms, photos, and other keepsakes after a disaster

When tornado, flooding, or fire strikes your home, learn quick actions you can take to rescue cherished family items.

Summer is certainly a season that many look forward to with days having more hours of sunlight and warmer temperatures allowing families to enjoy many outdoor activities. However, summer can also be a time of severe weather including tornadoes, flooding, and wildfire. If your home is damaged or destroyed by one of these events, you may be able to salvage treasured keepsakes that were in your home at the time of the disaster.

Time is of the essence, especially if items have been in contact with water. Several national organizations have websites that provide guidance on how to handle and treat particular items during post-disaster recovery. One such organization is Heritage Preservation, who co-sponsor with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Heritage Emergency National Task Force. This task force is a coalition of 42 national organizations and federal agencies that offer guidelines for individuals as well as professional conservators attempting to rescue treasured items after a disaster. Useful links on their website focus on a variety of topics including Salvaging Wet Books and Save Your Treasures the Right Way.

They stress the importance of protecting yourself during the process of searching for and handling items suggesting long sleeves, sturdy shoes, gloves, goggles, and a face mask if mold is present. Since mold can form within 48 hours in wet conditions, they also recommend placing damp items temporarily into open, unsealed boxes or bags until you have time to deal with them. Air-drying helps but make sure you do not use hairdryers, irons, ovens, or expose items to prolonged sunlight. Instead, open windows, and turn on fans, dehumidifiers or air conditioners to increase air flow and reduce humidity. One suggestion is placing books, photographs, papers, and textiles in a freezer until time permits you to work on them.

It probably goes without saying to handle all objects carefully while cleaning them especially photographs and other items that are wet. You may want to call the 24/7 Disaster Assistance phone line for your area for additional advice. Check out the many links for other excellent resources Heritage Preservation offers for dealing with the aftermath of flooding and exposure to water that may occur following a tornado or as a result of firefighting efforts.

If your items are particularly valuable or the damage is extensive, you might prefer to find a knowledgeable professional to assist with salvaging your valuable keepsakes. You can visit the AIC (American Institute For Conservation Of Historic And Artistic Works) website to locate professional conservators in your area. Be sure to read their FAQs and other recommendations to consider when making your selection.

Even the National Archives, the keeper of all official documents of the federal government, offer resources for recovery of family treasures following by a natural disaster.

Their site presents a wealth of information for salvaging books, bound volumes, family papers, film and prints, magnetic media, audio and video. They offer detailed instructions on recovery as well as preparing in advance to protect your treasured items from future disasters.

Michigan State University Extension has staff located across the state who can offer additional resources to those who have experienced a natural disaster and need advice on safely cleaning up their homes and belongings afterwards. You can search their website for an article by topic, visit the MSU Extension online bookstore for other print materials, or submit your question online to either a MSU Extension expert or other Extension experts throughout the county.

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