The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 8
Dec 1988

BMS CAT Open House

by Gary Frost

Reprinted with permission from The New Library Scene, Oct. 1988, p. 14.

On October 14, Blackmon-Mooring-Steamatic Catastrophe, Inc. (BMS CAT) hosted an information exchange meeting on the subject of salvage of library and archival material following catastrophic damage. The meeting was held at the BMS CAT training center and freeze-drying facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The format of the meeting provided mini-presentations with questions from the participating group, which consisted of nine preservation librarians and conservators.

Blackmon-Mooring-Steamatic Catastrophe, a nationally and internationally established organization providing disaster recovery services, has been developing its capacity to provide specialized services for the library and archival field.

Am impressive BMS CAT achievement is the development, design and construction of a 750 cubic foot truck trailer vacuum freeze drying chamber. This project was undertaken by BMS CAT Chief Engineer Larry Wood, working to specifications provided by Consultant Dr. Robert McComb. This unit represents the state of the art in both components and cycle automation. Particularly notable are the built-in controls to manage the complex rate-related processes of ice sublimation from the materials. This involves continuous control of compartment vapor pressure differentials, vapor evacuation and vacuum levels to speed the overall cycle while preventing any "meltdown," or liquid water conditions, during the drying cycle. Controlled rehumidification of fully dried materials is also provided.

The BMS CAT vacuum freeze drying unit is arranged for loading of one-cubic-foot plastic milk crates. The trailer-mounted unit is transportable to the site of a major catastrophe. For smaller scale work it is installed in a BMS CAT facility in Fort Worth, Texas, where there is an adjoining workshop and holding freezer.

Other interesting BMS CAT initiatives include development of a linear conveyor blast freezer. This unit, using liquid nitrogen blast freezing, will be especially attractive for library and archival recovery. Presently the most deficient aspect of library and archive salvage is the time lag between the occurrence of water damage and the final freezing of materials. Even after packing into storage freezers, refrigerated trucks or frozen warehouse storage, the complete freezing of wet materials normally requires hours, and possibly days. This delay, following the inevitable delay from occurrence of the water damage to the packing and evacuation of material, is more than sufficient for the processes of water distortion, staining and adhesion to cause irreversible damage.

The on-site BMS CAT conveyor blast freezer, able to freeze items in seconds, will greatly diminish this damaging delay period. In addition, the conveyor format of the operation offers an opportunity for shaping wet books to assure their cover-to-text adhesion after drying. The linear belt configuration also offers hope for preservation of shelf order. Finally, the extremely small ice crystal size, produced by liquid nitrogen blast freezing, is associated with the most beneficial freezing and drying results.

Some other important BMS CAT capabilities include on-site management and supply of recovery work teams. BMS CAT is fully able to field a technical and management staff, and a labor force, to handle all aspects of recovery including building systems and office equipment salvage. BMS CAT is also flexible and can integrate its efforts with other task-specific teams working on a recovery effort. This is important in the library and archive situation where various teams including curatorial teams and conservator crews, may be at work. Finally, BMS CAT is also familiar with preventative services. Since they are involved with projects to remove hazardous materials, they have also developed techniques for contamination isolation. These services could be useful to protect library collections during construction or demolition projects.

This was an interesting and productive meeting with a complimentary Texas barbecue lunch. A brochure entitled "Restoration to Reduce Business Interruption and Property Loss" and a listing of "BMS CAT References," including libraries, is available from Larry Wood, Operations Manager and Chief Engineer, Blackmon-Mooring-Steamatic Catastrophe inc. (BMS CAT), international Headquarters, One Summit Ave., Suite 202, Fort Worth, TX 76102 (817/332-2770). Also available is a BMS CAT "Emergency Response Information Form." This form enables an institution to be registered with BMS CAT without charge or obligation. Phone queries and project quotes are also without charge or obligation.

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