Water is Bad for Books andBusiness: Part 1

By , April 12, 2010 6:02 pm

By Jill Allyn

The Event: May 18, 2009, (twenty-nine years to the day after St. Helens erupted), a pressurized sprinkler line erupted sometime around 3:30 AM in the ceiling over the Garvey Schubert Barer (GSB) library on floor 18. Water flowing in the pipe at an estimated 700 gallons per minute sprayed upwards, quickly soaking the ceiling tiles below the pipe. The ceiling tiles failed, and water spray carried foam insulation and bits of tile into the library.

Building personnel became aware of the break at about 5 am and called the fire department. The fire fighters turned off the water and quickly arrived on Floor 18. There were 4 1/2 inches of water in some attorney offices. Using their water hoses as giant squeegees, the firemen pushed large amounts of the standing water into the elevator banks. This shorted out all four elevators that serve floors 11-22. Water seeped down on the north side of the building, wetting carpet and walls, from floor 18 to floor 11. Water dripped onto scanners and copiers, seeped under walls and migrated around the firm via the carpet. The elevator shafts leaked water as far down as six levels, to the bottom of the parking garage. The fire department later estimated that had the water continued rising just 15 minutes more, it would have run down data ports and shorted out the firm’s servers that serve all 5 GSB offices.

The Damage: About ¼ of the GSB library collection was damaged. Damage was mainly confined to the rows close to the break, and the bottom and top rows of ranges. I estimated the cost for replaceable volumes at $93,000. Some user PC towers had been set on the floor, and many hard drives were ruined. Client files stacked on the floor in some attorney offices suffered water damage.

The Rest of Week One: By the time demolition started on Tuesday evening, the water had travelled around most of floor 18, although the west side of the firm remained dry. Demolition at this stage meant moving people and their office contents to dry locations and ripping up carpets. The carpet was sopping wet and began wicking immediately. Dry parts of the office became wet overnight. Mold can be a serious problem in a building once it is established, so our facilities manager ordered movers and a demolition team for Tuesday afternoon. Since the library shelving rests on the carpet, Vicki (my assistant) and I had less than 2 hours to take pictures on Tuesday and make decisions on what could be saved and moved, and what needed to be thrown away. I never travel without my digital camera, so we used it to document the collection by taking pictures of each range. We returned to those photos many times over the summer. I asked Vicki to set up a spreadsheet that would serve as a damage inventory and insurance report.

The firm’s lease requires building management to find and pay for office space should our offices become uninhabitable. Fortunately, the entire 11th floor had recently been vacated, and it was just the right size. Our facilities manager, Randy, began evacuating people to floor 11, beginning with my assistant Vicki and me. He gave us a great view office on the water side!

Our records manager, Anton, was in DC the week of the flood, I stepped in and ran the records department during this week. I was not as involved with moving the library and our workspaces as I would have liked to be, but in reality, client records are more important than law books.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 next week . . .

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