Emergency Planning

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Emergency planning for collections can be divided into two steps: risk assessment and mitigation, and emergency response planning, also referred to as a disaster plan.

Risk Assessment[edit | edit source]

A risk assessment, whether detailed or broad, is a tool to aid in prioritizing resources for preserving the collection. Conducting a risk assessment of your facility and collections identifies areas of highest vulnerability and provides direction for mitigation efforts.

*What is the likelihood of a disaster occurring?

Risks as defined by CCI. Know your building - reference risks (i.e. fire alarms, camera/security system, etc)

*What do I have?

Completing a collections inventory is an important first step toward emergency preparedness. Maintaining a high-resolution photographic inventory can also be extremely useful in the salvage process, as it can help inform a conservator in directing treatment after an event.

*What are my risks? What is the most vulnerable?

Some materials are inherently more vulnerable than others. Organic materials such as paper and canvas paintings, wood and plant materials, leather/furs, and bone/ivory tend to be the most vulnerable to damage from physical forces, water and high relative humidity, and fire/soot events. Inorganic materials can still experience damage, but often not to the same extent as compared to organic materials.

*What is the most important to me?

Priority lists are a way to tackle creating a disaster plan for what might be hundreds if not thousands of objects in your collection. Priority is often based on value or significance, which can vary depending on your collection. Common types of value and significance include:
  • Monetary value
  • Research or Scientific value
  • Historic, Cultural, or Social value
  • Artistic or Aesthetic value
  • Importance to the institution's mission
  • Institutional Icons
  • Rarity or replacement possibilities (i.e. irreplaceable, replaceable at high cost, or easily replaceable)
  • Loan status (are objects on loan accorded priority?)
More information on defining collection significance can be found in Significance 2.0 - a document created by the Collections Council of Australia. http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/publications/significance2-0/
More information regarding priorities can be found in the salvage section.

Prioritize the priorities:

Within the priority list, have a selection of top priority objects, and perhaps a second tier and third tier.

Other factors that will determine decisions at the time of response to an emergency:

  • Vulnerability to the hazard (e.g. generally paper is more vulnerable to damage from most hazards than ceramics)
  • Condition of/damage to objects (e.g. rescue objects not yet damaged)
  • Practicalities: size, weight, proximity

Additional thoughts:

  • Who should have authority to decide on what objects are priorities? Each curator within his/her collections? Should the list be decided by consensus among all the curators?
  • The priority list should not be for general circulation. Who should have a copy? Who will update the list, and how often? How will that person know when objects have been moved, or what objects should be added to (or subtracted from) the list?
  • All objects, and in particular all objects on the priority list, should be inventoried with location information and should have up-to-date, well-documented insurance valuations.
  • What will is the most useful way to organize this list? By location? Curator or collection? Another method? Consider how to identify priority objects quickly. Remember that curators may not have access to the spaces – it may be firemen or other emergency response personnel. It may be better to have “priority locations” within each room.
  • Should priority items be better secured in storage (e.g. in locked cabinets)? This relates to the question above – if highly valued pieces are easy to identify, they may also need extra protection.

Mitigation[edit | edit source]

Mitigation is the next step after conducting a risk assessment. The assessment helps identify and prioritize your collection, as well as provide details on where the collection is located and what specific risks it is vulnerable. The mitigation phase involves taking pro-active steps to limit your collection's vulnerability to the risks you have identified. You can use your priority list to identify what actions should be taken first.-

Mitigation includes those actions that are performed prior to an emergency event and are used to enhance and support the response to a disaster. This is an essential component of your emergency preparedness effort. Such actions include carrying out mitigation procedures developed as a result of the risk assessment, establishing relationships with the first responder community and local salvage vendors, and training staff to perform the designated response roles outlined in the disaster plan before the disaster happens.

When a risk assessment has been completed, quite often there are risks that can be mitigated through a few simple and relatively inexpensive steps. They may include:

  • Relocating collections
If an area is known to have reoccurring leaks, or high priority collections are located in vulnerable areas (attic, basement, etc), relocation may be the simplest way to mitigate a potential damage.
  • Improve current storage areas
If it is not possible to relocate collections or large numbers of objects are at risk, some steps can be taken to improve the current storage environment
  • Draping open shelving with plastic can limit the effect of water leaks
  • Adding bumpers, straps, or ropes around open shelving may help limit damage due to seismic activity
  • Placing collections 4 inches off the floor will protect collections from water damage in most emergencies, especially small to moderately sized emergencies. Collections stored on the floor, even temporarily, are at a greater risk of damage and the damage will be more severe than collections stored off the ground.

Creating Strategic Partnerships[edit | edit source]

You may not be able to cope with responding to a large-scale disaster without some help. Contacting your local first responder community prior to an event - including the local fire marshal and police, Red Cross, local museum personnel and conservators - can help you develop a network of assistance in the event of a disaster. Seeing your facility will help familiarize responders with the particulars of your specific institution, as well as providing you with an opportunity to highlight important information, such as the location of high priority collections or hazardous materials.

Disaster Plans[edit | edit source]

Developing an Emergency Plan[edit | edit source]

Risk assessment and mitigation can help decrease the changes of a disaster affecting your collection, but unfortunately you can't control everything - be it a fire or a broken pipe or a storm that ends up being much stronger than predicted. A disaster plan will help you feel prepared in case you do need to respond to an emergency, and helps give you structured guidelines to follow.

An emergency plan provides the overall strategy for minimizing the impact of an emergency as well as describing the organization and responsibilities of a response to an emergency. A well-implemented emergency plan can prevent or minimize the effects of an emergency -the lack of a plan can lead to a small incident becoming a large disaster. Unfortunately, Heritage Preservation has found in their national survey that 80% of U.S. collecting institutions do not have a written emergency/disaster plan with staff trained to carry it out. Ideally the plan is both comprehensive and one that can be distilled into a short checklist. An emergency plan will only be effective if your staff understand the plan and have the resources to implement it.

The main components of an effective response plan include:

1. Contact List

A swift and appropriate initial response in an emergency requires that the appropriate decision-makers be reachable. Develop a contact list as well as procedures to ensure that it is regularly updated. Integrate this contact list with the emergency plan to ensure that authority to make decisions concerning collections and to spend money can be done during off-hours and holidays. An accompanying document outlining roles and defining responsibilities is also important - see Developing a Response Team below.

2. Inventory and List of Prioritized Collections

Knowing what is in your collection and where it is located is critical to an effective emergency response. Without this information, response efforts may not be focused where they are needed. In the unfortunate situation of having badly damaged or completely lost collections, an inventory can greatly assist in understanding the scope and severity of the event. Lastly, shelf lists, catalogues, and other registrarial records are critical to an emergency response. Access to them in an emergency is vital and in many cases response efforts focus on saving these records as well as the collections. Similarly, having established collection priorities before an emergency can greatly assist response efforts. Collection prioritization is never easy‚ even in non-emergency situations, but can be critical to the effective deployment of emergency resources.

3. List of Materials and Supplies

Emergencies supplies such as plastic sheeting, paper towels, and fans can effectively deployed in an emergency to prevent harm to collections and to stabilize them if they have been damaged. Staff should be trained in the deployment and use of these supplies.

4. Identification of Backup Storage and/or triage areas

In some cases the best way to protect collections is to remove them from potential harm. Relocating collections does have its own risks, but a relocation plan can minimize those risks by providing a protocol and procedure for such an event.

5. Identification of Potential Vendors

Trying to make decisions about what to save and who is going to do this work is not recommended while standing in six inches of water or watching as your building is consumed by smoke and fire. Create a list of potential vendors who suit the needs of your collection and institution.

6. Procedures

In accordance with safety and security staff at your institution, emergency procedures for evacuations as well as responding to different types of emergencies should be outlined. Operations for collections salvage procedures can also be outlined here (resources needed)

7. Training Schedule

Practice reduces panic! On a regular basis, train staff about collection emergency response and how to carry out your plan. Regularly scheduled training workshops will also help to ensure continuity of information in the case of staff changes.

Developing a Response Team[edit | edit source]

As part of your disaster planning and regular training, it is useful to develop a response team structure with clearly defined roles. With specific duties predetermined and practiced during training, staff can work more efficiently and avoid duplication of efforts.

Each team will have a leader, to which all other team members will report. This will help streamline information, making communication more efficient and effective. Familiarizing yourself with FEMA's Incident Command System will help you understand the importance of a well-structured response team: http://www.fema.gov/incident-command-system.

It is important to familiarize all of your response team members with ALL roles and their corresponding responsibilities, as any person may have to take on the Response Team Leader role, depending on who is available at the time of the disaster event.

Not every event will require all team roles, and you may assign multiple roles to a single individual in a smaller event, or several people to a single role in a catastrophic event. Some response team roles may include:

  • Response Team Leader
  • Health and Safety Coordinator
  • Security and Facilities Coordinator
  • Supplies and Equipment Coordinator
  • Assessment Coordinator
  • Documentation Coordinator
  • Salvage Coordinator

Continued practice and regular training will familiarize your team with the responsibilities of each role - this will help ensure your team works together smoothly. Role playing during training sessions may also allow you to match roles with skills - for example, the Security and Facilities Coordinator needs to be familiar with how your institution is designed, while the Supplies and Equipment Coordinator should have the power to make financial or purchasing decisions.