Museum Water Emergency Overview


There are already large volumes of inkjet prints in museum and other cultural collections . Unfortunately, most all are more sensitive to water than traditional prints and photographs, and some may even harm adjacent materials during water emergencies. Existing research has shown that inkjet in water can be very prone to bleeding, cracking, delamination, blocking, etc. The damage, however, is highly dependent on the types of colorants used plus the chemical/physical nature of the papers. Despite the inherent weaknesses of many inkjet prints, there are strategies to prepare for, respond to, and recover from water emergencies and minimize loss of these important materials. These strategies are the subject of this section of the website. However, disaster response is, in general, a very broad and in-depth topic that cannot be considered in total here, so this resource will include only that which relates specifically to inkjet-printed fine art. In addition, this information will only address the stages of preparation, response, and recovery as defined below, and will not address questions of post-disaster restoration treatments such as print cleaning, flattening, and repair.

Types of Water Emergencies

While the most frightening water emergency scenario is a large-scale flood carrying salt, sediments, chemicals, etc. that will fully saturate and dramatically stain a print or even make it too hazardous to handle, there are many lesser levels and variations of water events that should also be considered and prepared for. These include the above-mentioned large-scale flood caused by river overflows, hurricanes, and other storms, to plumbing failures, water spray during fire suppression, and to even small spills from ill-placed drinking glasses in reading rooms. These can result in total immersion of the print for extended periods or only localized areas of minor dampening that could dry on their own in a matter of minutes or hours. Water can be somewhat clean such as municipal water from internal plumbing, salty as from ocean water during storm surge, or dirty from sediments and other solubilized contaminants. All of these variations along with the variations in inkjet prints themselves, make a simple, generalized approach impossible. But all is not hopeless, as strategies can be invoked to improve outcomes from many water emergencies.

Water Emergency Stages: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

There are three stages for water emergency response that will be covered in this website: preparedness, response, and recovery. Each is defined below:

  • Preparedness – Pre-event activities to minimize or eliminate damage during a water emergency such as accurate cataloging, defensive storage, and staff training
  • Response – These include all activities performed within the water emergency environment to reduce or eliminate further object damage such as salvage prioritization, wet print handling, and rinsing
  • Recovery – Activities performed post-response to improve outcomes such as drying