Guideline 7.3

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Guideline 7.3:
Additional specialized assessments of the exhibit location are performed when circumstances warrant.




What circumstances warrant further specialized assessments?

Specialized assessments provide a more in-depth evaluation of the specific conservation hazards objects will face while on exhibit. Such assessments include Risk Assessments, which attempt to quantify the level of threat posed by various hazards, and Fire or Security Assessments, which focus on those specific hazards. These assessments will provide the conservator with more complete information to use in developing the conservation requirements, which, in turn, will ensure that resources are directed to creating the most effective safeguards for exhibit objects.
For this reason, specialized assessments are particularly recommended for exhibits that are being installed long-term or for collections that are of high value and significance.
A specialized assessment is also warranted when an exhibit location is thought to be “high-risk” in a particular area. For example, a high crime neighborhood and an earthquake zone would, respectively, warrant a security assessment and an assessment by an engineer.


When should specialized assessments be scheduled?

To ensure that assessment findings will inform decision-making and can be used in developing the Conservation Requirements, assessments should be conducted as soon as possible after the exhibit’s location has been selected. Resources can be put to the best use and distributed most efficiently, when preservation risks are identified and prioritized at the planning stage of a new exhibit.
It is essential that such information is available before design plans are solidified.


What is the purpose of a Risk Assessment?

A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm. A risk is the chance, high or low, of that harm occurring. A risk assessment not only identifies the hazards present in the museum environment; it also attempts to determine the level of threat these hazards pose by evaluating the likelihood that they will occur and their severity. For example, a risk assessment would not only identify the possibility of a flood occurring near the exhibit site, but would also look at the frequency with which floods have occurred and how catastrophic they were. In this way it seeks to quantify the level of risk.
A Risk Assessment can therefore be a useful tool for identifying the most pressing threats to exhibit objects. Such information can be used by the conservator to develop the Conservation Requirements with greater precision and will indicate which type of safeguards are most needed to provide effective protections for exhibit objects. It thus helps to focus resources efficiently.
It should be noted that a systematic risk assessment is a time-consuming endeavor. It employs a team of people and can take three months to conduct.
The team sets out to answer a set of questions that includes the following:
• Which risks are present?
• What is their probability of occurrence?
• Is there past evidence of occurrence and previous damage?
• Which risk will cause major damage?
• Which risk will cause minor damage?
• What degree of certainty or uncertainty surrounds each particular risk?
• How large a component of the exhibit collection will each risk affect

Illustration: Diagram of Steps in Risk Assessment of Exhibit location (see below)

When is a Security Assessment warranted?

A separate security assessment is recommended for exhibits with highly valuable collections going onto display. The security assessment will evaluate the exhibit plan, the proposed exhibit objects, and the exhibit location to identify security threats and deficiencies. The assessment will provide a clearer idea of the most pressing security threats, the steps necessary to mitigate those threats, and the level of security needed in the exhibit space and building. Results may suggest that it would be advisable to reconsider exhibition of the most vulnerable objects.
A security assessment not only helps to refine exhibit planning and budgeting. It also allows the conservator to refine the conservation requirements for the objects going on exhibit. For example, it will indicate the level of security that should be built into individual exhibit enclosures, and also the security requirements, such as tamper-resistant screws, for the mounts of exhibit objects with high security vulnerability.


Who should perform a security risk assessment?
Museum security has evolved over the past decade into a specific area of expertise. A security risk analysis should be carried out by the security specialist on staff or by an expert firm with a well-established reputation in museum security.
Many museums now have a museum security coordinator, who should authorize and coordinate the risk analysis of museum security and establish the required level of security with curatorial input.


What should a security assessment encompass?
The security expert will perform a methodical risk assessment to identify the security threats present in an exhibit location and then rate them as negligible, low, medium, high or catastrophic. Acceptable risks are those with low frequency of occurrence and those that cannot cause major loss. (The level of acceptability is generally defined by the museum administrative staff.)
The security assessment should evaluate the three variables: exhibit site, exhibit objects and exhibit plan:
The exhibit site is thoroughly reviewed and deficiencies are prioritized, including:
• All building design features (doors, window, crawlspaces etc.)
• Monitoring and detection instruments
• Museum policies related to security
• History of vandalism and theft within the museum
The collection objects most at risk are identified and prioritized. Different risks are associated with different objects. For example:
• Objects with high monetary or collector value, such as firearms, jewelry, precious metals, coins, stamps, and small paintings, are often subject to theft.
• Statuary, artillery, and vehicles displayed in the open are likely targets of vandalism.
• Small, easily accessible objects, even when they have no real value, may be stolen.
• Historic documents or memorabilia associated with famous people or political events are highly vulnerable.
(See Standard *)
The exhibit plan is carefully considered and critiqued: The assessment factors in the level of risk associated with different aspects of the exhibit plan such as open vs. closed display, large vs. small attendance.


What is the purpose of a Fire Hazard Assessment?

A fire hazard assessment is a systematic investigation to identify all the fire hazards and the likelihood that they could cause harm to visitors, staff, and the collections on display at a particular exhibit location. Once the hazards have been identified, the appropriate exhibit team members and other museum personnel can then decide whether the risks are acceptably low or whether the exhibit project needs to take further precautions to reduce or control them.
The fire hazard assessment will assess the proposed exhibit site (location and building) for fire hazards, such as combustible construction materials and lighting, and will evaluate the museum’s fire response and emergency planning.
A comprehensive fire assessment should be conducted by a qualified fire prevention authority.
The fire assessment should review the relevant portion of the museum’s fire safety program including:
• Fire prevention
• Detection and suppression procedures
• The training of exhibit staff in prevention and suppression techniques
Once the exhibit design is finalized, the specialist should conduct a follow up visit to evaluate it for fire safety. Key concerns include:
• The exhibit’s use of fire resistant design, construction materials, and layout
• The use of fire barriers and separation panels
• The use of flammable/combustible objects and materials in open exhibits and dioramas e.g. leaf litter, paper, and plastic products.