Uncovering the Document Restoration Mystery on TV

By: Flora Richards-Gustafson

Technology unfolds before our eyes in the world of television every night. From computer hacking to 100 uses of a black light, the everyday consumer is becoming more knowledgeable in the variety of tech-tools available today to help crime-solvers. Areas of advancement also portrayed on TV include how wet and fire-damaged documents can be restored or salvaged enough to solve a crime.

Can everything seen on our favorite crime shows really happen or is TV working its magic to make us think the particular technologies really exist? A recap of a couple episodes of the CBS series, 'CSI' and 'CSI: Miami', will show how Hollywood recovers items compared to professional document recovery services.

How It Is Really Done:
To know if the document and photo recovery we see on TV is right or wrong, we first need to know how the professionals really do it.

Desiccant Dehumidification: This is a process that quickly removes moisture from the air in a safe and effective way. This process helps prevent mold growth on documents, which can cause further damage, by allowing the trapped water molecules to evaporate.
Vacuum Freeze Drying: Freeze drying is an effective way to restore bound documents like books or items in a binder. When items are freeze-dried, they are put into a special chamber that is very cold and helps dehumidify the products being restored. If this is not done correctly, paper items can be warped due to uneven distribution of pressure in the chamber. Vacuum freeze drying is considered to be the most effective and efficient form of document restoration today.

How TV Does It:
CSI: Miami: Simple Man (Season 1, Episode 17): In this episode, Horatio is supposed to testify against the husband of a city official who is accused of killing a Latina housekeeper. New evidence emerges that could prove the man's innocence when a second victim is found.

In searching a car found in a body of water, a purse was found during the investigation. A slip of paper from the purse was recovered, but the ink on the newsprint had been too degraded to read by the water.

Speedle takes the wet, fragile slip of paper and places it in a container and explains that freeze drying is the best way to remove the water from the paper without damaging it. He then places the container in the freeze dry system machine. In a split second, the paper is dry and ready to be examined under an infrared light.

While freeze drying is one of the best methods to use when recovering wet documents, it is a process that does not happen in the blink of an eye. It is a process that must be done slowly, at least slow enough to make sure the paper warps as little as possible. If a restoration specialist was dealing with just one small piece of paper, like Speedle, he or she may think it more efficient to use the desiccant dehumidification method to dry the paper.

CSI: Miami: Freaks and Tweaks (Season 1, Episode 23): While investigating an explosion in a barn, the team finds a man that was killed. A charred, fragile paper was found in the pocket of the dead man's pants, which they believe has important information written on it.

Eric and the lab assistant apply parylene with the use of special equipment to coat the piece of paper. The parylene was used to make the paper stable enough for analysis. In a matter of seconds, the paper is coated and ready to be examined. The paper, still looking the same, is placed under an infrared light. A phone number and name suddenly pop up on the computer screen thanks to the parylene coating and infrared light.

A parylene coating chamber is substantially bigger than the one used in this episode. It requires vacuums and pumps to administer the substance evenly. It also takes more than a few seconds to coat an item properly as there is more than one step to apply parylene.

On TV, things seem to happen instantly. However, when it comes to drying and restoring documents, patience and precision is vital. Document recovery services outside of TV Land offer results in a timely manner that will ensure your documents do not fall victim to mold and decomposition.

~Flora Richards-Gustafson, 2009

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The right document recovery service company knows much more than TV scientists about helping a business. Rapid Refile is ready to help with its vacuum freeze drying process for water damaged books and wet documents.

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