Mitigation Vendors

Mitigation – Working with a Recovery Vendor

Choosing a Vendor

As with all types of businesses, recovery vendors vary in size, staff training and range of services.  A small, local company may be able to help initially with stabilizing your building but might not have the expertise on staff to properly handle wet artifacts or the capacity to remove your collections. Any recovery vendor could be brought into the discussion during the diaster planning phase, and would then be alerted to your specific needs.  Working with the vendor before an emergency will help them to understand the types of collections you have and what might result under different emergency scenarios. 

Small recovery companies often use temporary labor for basic “packout” operations. The packout is the act of placing the artifacts into boxes for removal from the site.  The recovery company will contact local temp agencies for short-term help, and these workers will be covered by the temp company’s blanket insurance.  (Remember volunteers are not covered by insurance!) Small recovery companies will contract for freezer space from a commercial freezer plant or even a larger recovery vendor.

Most large companies will have specialists who have an understanding of the needs of cultural property.  They will make sure that the help they hire has been trained and is properly protected from hazards present.   A larger company will be able to carry out all aspects of the job in-house, rather than contracting out certain aspects of the work such as freezing and freeze drying.

Working Out a Contract

When working with a recovery vendor, it is a good idea to develop a Standing Offer Agreement prior to an emergency.  This agreement is a contract to provide future services – for tips on what to include click here

There are two ways to price-out such a contract: 

  • Fixed price
  • T & M (time and materials)

If you have a fixed price contract and the project is more involved than anticipated, you may find that your contractor will have to cut corners to fit the budget outlined.  If the project takes less time, you may end up paying more to fulfill your contract.  Time and materials allows both parties to stop and reassess the progress of the salvage.  If you’re not happy with your contractor, you can stop the work and hire someone else. 

Costs are based upon price/cubic foot, as collections will be boxed and placed in freezer trucks or storage spaces.  This is often the easiest way to estimate and price a job.  It is important to note that the “per cube” fee generally only includes removal and freezing of collections.  Once your collections are frozen, you have bought time to make the appropriate decision about what to treat, what is replaceable, what can be discarded, and what treatment methods will be used.  Once frozen, the treatment, rehousing, copying, deodorizing, mold abatement, etc. are all services available for additional fees. 

The size and scope of your emergency, the financial set-up of your institution, and the extent of the collections damage may determine which way you wish to proceed.  The bottom line - it will cost you real money to get collections cleaned and rehoused.

How do I estimate cube fees?

To start envisioning the scope of a project the following approximate guidelines may be useful:

Banker’s box = 2 cubic feet

Vertical filing cabinet = 2.5 cubic feet

Horizontal filing cabinet = 3 cubic feet

Working with the Recovery Vendor

Your institution recovery team should be trained to work with your vendor. A successful project will start with a clear “chain of custody” and understanding of the scope of work.  Every item or group of items boxed and removed from the site should be listed on a comprehensive inventory.  Both the customer and the contractor should be required to sign off on the agreed transfer of the inventory. For more information on tracking and packing records click here.

Understanding your Recovery Results

A technician from the company can work with your conservator and/or collections manager to discuss protocols and outcomes for the different types of materials being dried.  If the choice is to freeze-dry some collections, the freeze-dry equipment is quite sophisticated, and subtle variations in temperature, vacuum, and duration can result in different results.  It is advised to have a sample box or a variety of collection types freeze-dried so that expectations are realistic for all those involved.  Air-drying and desiccant (dehumidification) drying are also potential methods to be employed (click here for more information on Salvage techniques).

One of the more important aspects of this process is to realize that your collections are not going to be returned to you in pre-loss condition.  You will have to accept a certain amount of “damage” associated with your emergency.  Documents may be cockled and creased, inks may have bled, and mold may be reduced but stains may still be visible.


A working relationship with a salvage/recovery vendor prior to an emergency can save you money and the vendor valuable time to stabilize your building and collections. Your insurance agent should also be a part of this discussion so that you can properly plan for the right amount of coverage, which will include the costs to be incurred from working with such a vendor.

Recovery Vendor Resources (N.B. the listings provided here are for informational purposes and do not imply endorsement)