A loud hiss and a relentless noise.

Volunteers Nancy Tait, Lise Ouimet, and I were working in the archives vault separating incoming archives collections from incoming artefact collections.

Something didn’t feel right. We all heard it. Was the noise from the geothermal unit kicking in?

I ran out. There was water in the hall. I unlocked the mechanical room. Water was spraying everywhere. I couldn’t see where it was coming from. I couldn’t see the shut off.
Pandemonium broke loose. Pat Turner, cataloguing photos in the archives workroom, came out.

I yelled upstairs for help. “There’s a flood!”

Susan was in a meeting with Roxy Roth.

“Call Ted,” she yelled back.

Of course. Who else would you call in an emergency? The self proclaimed Keeper of the Park of course.

I was calling Ted when Susan came for a key. I threw mine at someone who passed it to Susan and continued with the call.

“I’ll be right there,” was Ted’s response.

Roxy followed Susan. She wanted to see what all the yelling was about. Things were far too exciting down on the main floor! It is where the heart of the museum beats: collecting, preserving, and documenting.

Nancy, Pat, and Lise got active. They opened exterior doors as the water swirled around their shoes. Pat and Nancy grabbed snow shovels and moved the water outside.
Roxy went back with me into the mechanical room. She was a farm girl. She is good with machinery and she doesn’t wear glasses. Spraying water doesn’t bother her. She recognized the shut off valve. She pulled on it to shut off the water, or so she thought.

At that precise moment the pipe and water pressure valve separated from the water source. The pipe shot water at 140 psi straight at one of the geothermal units.

We left the mechanical room and started to control potential damage.

By this time Susan had called 911, City Public Works, her husband Bruce Mackie, Bill Laird, Rick Semenzin, and anyone else she could think of who might help.

My group checked on the collection as the water depth increased. President Norma Harisch arrived. She’d heard from Susan that there was an emergency.

We moved the delicate wood artefacts further up the shelves.

We turned our attention to the workroom and its computers. The flood had reached the outer walls! With water swirling about, Lise picked up the power bars out of water. I lifted the computers. Lise was shocked once. We could have been electrocuted! We had inches of water at our feet. I hoped the power bars would do their trick and protect us.

Susan realized the same thing and made an executive call. We vacated the lower floor to higher ground hoping that leaving the exterior doors open would let enough water out.

The Public Works crew arrived. They located the building’s shut-off valve under ice and snow, in the roadway, turned off the water and left. Their job was done.

Susan arranged for the KR Restoration crew and scheduled meetings. The two insurers sent their adjusters. Excel Contractors got their plumber out of retirement. Everyone checked their policies.

The archives volunteers and Roxy left, cold and wet. Work was cancelled for more than a week. Trucks with water vacuums, dehumidifiers and fans arrived.

We congratulated each other. Everything we had moved from the old museum had been unpacked and shelved, in order, and organized to the Chenhall system of nomenclature. The collection was dry. No artefacts were lost. The elevated archives vault remained dry. The Salmon Arm Museum had survived both an earthquake and a flood in less than a week.

Thank you to all my helpers and of course, Roxy, the farm girl.

What we learned:

  • There is no time to check the disaster plan during the actual emergency. Disaster plans are for when the water is shut off.
  • Fire Warden Jake Jacobson estimates there 14,000 – 15,000 US gallons or 63,000 – 67,000 litres escaped in 1.5 hours based on the size of the pipe and the 140 psi.
  • We needed a water sensor in the mechanical room for when the building is not occupied. One was installed by RMC for $200.
  • No matter how heavy, power bars should be mounted on the sides of desks where they are used.
  • The filing cabinets in the artefact collections areas should be up on 4 inch platforms too, not just the archives filing cabinets. We need that extra four inches next time!
  • The archives vault is a safe place for archival material during a fire, earthquake or flood. The vault is still dry, dry, dry.

    After the flood, volunteer Kerry Orchard said, "it is a brave person that says that something will never happen again." Kerry is building platforms for the filing cabinets in the artefact collections area I am hopeful he will also build boxes for the computers to sit on.