Water-damaged court documents showcase benefits of humidity monitoring
Thursday, Jul 25th 2013

Recent flooding in York County, S.C., damaged hundreds of court documents, including some dating back more than 100 years. Although the paperwork can be salvaged, the incident illustrates the benefit of humidity monitoring equipment and environmental monitoring.

Due to renovations happening at the York County Courthouse, area officials had to move hundreds of county legal documents to the basement of the McCelvey Center, a pre-Civil War structure in York. This proved to be a disastrous decision, as heavy rain on July 21 caused the storeroom to flood. On July 22, Debbie Norman, Deputy Clerk in the York County Register of Deeds office, arrived to work discovering hundreds of pieces of paperwork sitting in waterlogged boxes, ABC affiliate WSOC reported.

"They had fallen over and we had boxes of books, lying in water," Norman told WSOC. She added, "We're underground. It's not the best-case scenario for anything. It was devastating."

In this instance, York County officials lucked out in that no important information will be lost as a result of this incident. Not only do they have online backup copies of the paperwork, but they will be able to sufficiently dry out the damaged papers so that the court system can maintain original paper copies of its documentation, according to the TV station.

Flooding's worst-case scenario
York County was able to adequately protect court documents from flooding this time, but officials were not so lucky in 2007. In that year, a janitor left a sink on in the courthouse, and the water overflowed, WSOC reported. That faucet caused the room to flood, and courthouse officials had to get some paperwork freeze dried in order to preserve certain documents.

Flooding has damaged countless documents outside of York County as well. For instance, heavy rain in 2012 damaged books and walls at the Chilton-Clanton Public Library in Clanton, Ala. To pay for the repairs, the Chilton County Commission now has to spend $4,659, The Clanton Advertiser reported.

"It was just one of those days where the rain poured like a waterfall," library director Kelly Easterling said to The Clanton Advertiser. "The work that was being done helped a lot of the areas but there were parts of the pre-existing leak that didn't hold up and there was just more damage."

Furthermore, if current predictions hold true, even more organizations may soon be dealing with similar flooding situations. According to two peer-reviewed studies released last year, 3.7 million people living in 544 coastal U.S. cities are at greater risk of flooding due to rising sea levels, The Associated Press reported. In particular, residents of New York City, New Orleans and south Florida are especially at risk, as sea levels have gone up eight inches since 1880 with no signs that they will dip down anytime soon. Furthermore, the studies only looked at the flood risk in low-lying coastal cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., making no mention of the flood risk many municipalities located along major riverways and lakes face.

Fighting flood risk with humidity monitoring
For universities, libraries, courtrooms and other institutions storing important documentation, the rising flood risk must be taken seriously, with proactive measures put in place now to fight potential problems down the line. As in the case of York County, the loss of historic paperwork or irreplaceable research is devastating and often costly.

To avoid having to clean up flood damage, organizations may want to consider installing humidity monitoring equipment. With water sensors in place, facilities managers can know in real time if a storeroom is taking on too much moisture, allowing staff to quickly take proactive measures to contain and stop the water from causing damage. Officials may not be able to totally insulate their facilities from the risk presented by flooding, but humidity monitoring equipment can go a long way toward ensuring that paperwork does not become irreparably damaged.