Museum Water Emergency Overview


There are already large volumes of inkjet printed photographs and fine art in museum and other cultural collections. Unfortunately, most all are more sensitive to water than traditional prints, and some may even harm adjacent materials during water emergencies. Existing research has shown that inkjet in water can be very prone to bleed, 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 the materials, there are strategies to prepare for, respond to, and recover from water emergencies and reduce 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 and cannot be considered in total, so the focus of this information and tools will only be on inkjet, and specifically inkjet printed photographs and 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 to contemplate is the large-scale flood carrying salt, sediments, chemicals, etc. that will fully saturate and dramatically stain a print or even make it hazardous to handle, there are many levels and variations of water events that should be considered.

There are many potential causes of water emergencies from the above mentioned large-scale flood caused by river overflows, hurricanes, and other storms, to plumbing failures, water spray during fire suppression, to small spills of water 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 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, ubiquitously successful, generalized approach impossible. But all in not hopeless, as strategies can be invoked that can 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
  • Response – This includes all activities performed within the water emergency environment to reduce or eliminate further object damage
  • Recovery – Activities performed post-response to improve outcomes such as rinsing and drying

Each of the above stages has multiple tactics that can be taken to minimize loss and increase success.

The timeline for these stages is shown below:

Flood: Primary Stages Timeline