Emergency Preparedness & Response

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

This Wiki page represents a joint effort between the AIC Emergency Committee (EC) and Resources for Emergencies Affecting Cultural Heritage (REACH) Working Group. The goal of the collaboration between REACH and AIC-EC was to create a free online library of trusted, high quality resources for cultural heritage institutions. The resulting open access resource hub was created using the Zotero software platform, an online tool that helps collect, organize, cite and share research. 

An infographic representing the Emergency Management Cycle.
Emergency Management Cycle. Image courtesy of  Kyle Schwartz, 2018. CCØ 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

The AIC EC Wiki page has been updated to incorporate the new Zotero library and has been reorganized around the emergency management lifecycle (Image 1). Much of the original content (pre-2022 updates) of the AIC EC Wiki page has been summarized and paraphrased for the purposes of the current Wiki page.[1] Contributors to the pre-2022 Wiki page include Rachael Perkins Arenstein, M.J. Davis, Barbara Moore, Elizabeth Nunan, Chris Stavroudis, Claire Walker and Stephanie Watkins. Information was initially compiled from AIC's Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT), now known as the National Heritage Responders (NHR), as well as a 2012 workshop funded by FAIC and by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The information on this page is intended for educational and training purposes and should not be used in lieu of consulting with a conservator and other subject matter experts as all disasters involve different and unique circumstances. For AIC-specific resources, please visit the AIC website Disaster Response & Recovery page.

AIC/Emergency Committee (EC)[edit | edit source]

The Emergency Committee strives to promote awareness and increase knowledge of the AIC membership in the areas of emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for cultural heritage. It is composed of conservators and collections managers from across the country. We have experience with various levels of collections disaster training and response for our organizations, nationally and internationally.

The Emergency Committee is committed to supporting diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in our work and for the AIC community.

REACH (Resources for Emergencies Affecting Cultural Heritage)[edit | edit source]

A team of cultural heritage and industrial hygiene colleagues joined forces in 2020 to create a library of highly rated, professional-grade resources on the topic of health and safety in disaster response and recovery. The group was named REACH - Resources for Emergencies Affecting Cultural Heritage. REACH included volunteers from the Library of Congress, New York Public Libraries, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, American Industrial Hygiene Association, and the AIC EC, to name a few. The goal of this project - to create a one-stop-shop for reliable, relevant, and applicable materials - quickly grew to encompass resources on disaster mitigation, preparedness, salvage, and much more. REACH members spent a year gathering up resources. Some of these were developed by their home institutions, while others were materials they came across in their research. After another 9 months of peer review and resource management, the library is ready to be shared with the cultural heritage community.

Resource Library in Zotero[edit | edit source]

The resources gathered in the AIC-EC & REACH collaboration can be viewed on Zotero by clicking any of the links provided below. Access to the library is free and available to the public. Everything in the library is freely available, with the exception of a handful of materials that were thought to be of value, but must be purchased. Those have been filed separately under 8. Additional Resources > 8.1 Purchase.

Zotero maintains a list of useful tips and how-to’s that can help you get started. It’s simple and user-friendly! No technology expertise required.  The folder and subfolder structure is on the left of the Zotero Library page. Here are some things you can try:

  • Single-click on a folder to view the list of resources inside that folder
  • Single-click on the “play” arrow to the left of Folders 2-8 to access the subfolders
  • Double-click on each resource to navigate to the website or to view the PDF file
  • Single-click on each resource to view Information and Notes, which will appear on the far right of the Zotero Library page
  • Select a tag(s) on the bottom left to further refine your search

AIC Emergency Committee Library[edit | edit source]

A conservator wears a half-face respirator, lab coat, and gloves and cleans mold from a book using a small brush and a fine vacuum attachment.
Using appropriate PPE is an important part of staying healthy and safe. Cleaning active mold outdoors. Image courtesy of Anna Shepard 2014.

All Inclusive Resources[edit | edit source]

All Inclusive Resources in Zotero:

Here you will find a handful of resources that encompass all or many of the below emergency management topics.

Health and Safety[edit | edit source]

Health and Safety in Zotero:

Your safety is the most important consideration. No one should be allowed into an affected area until emergency service personnel have declared the space to be safe: nothing is worth the risk of injury.

When you can finally enter the affected area, it is important to continually conduct personal assessments, monitoring your mental and physical health. Assess your own ability to respond in terms of physical stamina, general health, and emotional strength. Identify emergency egress paths and exits in case you need to leave the area.

Even after the building is deemed safe to enter, you still have to consider hazards from the building, the collection, and new hazards presented by the incident. The resources in this folder will look closer at some health and safety concerns in collections emergency events.

NPS Health and Safety Conserv-O-Grams in Zotero

Planning[edit | edit source]

Planning in Zotero:

An emergency plan provides the overall strategy for minimizing the impact of 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, the IMLS found in their 2014 nation-wide Heritage Health Information Survey that fewer than half (42%) of U.S. collecting institutions had a written emergency/disaster plan, while just under one-in-four (24%) had both an emergency plan and 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 resources in the Planning folder and subfolders will help guide your institution in developing your own emergency plan.

Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning in Zotero:

A Continuity of Operations Plan or COOP is focused on business continuity. What steps need to be taken to maintain or restore the organization to normal operations?

Emergency Plan Development in Zotero:

An emergency plan is generally focused on the procedures and actions that need to be taken immediately after an incident occurs. Additional components of an emergency plan may include preventative measures such as response team development and plans for training programs.  

Risk Assessment in Zotero:

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 will identify areas of highest vulnerability and provide direction for mitigation efforts.

Preparedness[edit | edit source]

Preparedness in Zotero:

An image of a red bag with the American Red Cross logo and an array of emergency preparedness supplies spread in front of it.
A Red Cross “ready to go” pack. Image created by FEMA.gov, 2006

Emergency preparedness complements collection care by prioritizing resources to address the highest potential risks. You can reduce the risks to your collection through assessment, planning, and ongoing preventive efforts. Emergency preparedness and mitigation (See section 5. Mitigation) is a continual process of identifying risks and taking actions to reduce or eliminate them. This process involves many people across the institution working together: collections managers and conservators, facilities staff, and administrators. It is also important to make sure you and your colleagues are prepared to respond as well. This might involve identifying roles and responsibilities for staff and partners, creating emergency supply caches and training staff on how to respond.

Incident Command System (ICS) for Cultural Institutions in Zotero:

As part of your disaster preparedness 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.

Partnership Development and Advocacy (Internal and External Sources of Assistance and Support) in Zotero:

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.

Prioritizing Items for Relocation and Salvage in Zotero:

Priority lists help allocate resources and determine action steps in a salvage response.  It is best to establish them prior to an emergency, during normal operations. It can be difficult to make those tough calls in the best of times, let alone during an emergency that affects hundreds, if not thousands, of objects in 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
  • Most vulnerable materials

Mitigation[edit | edit source]

Mitigation in Zotero:

The planning and preparedness phases help identify and prioritize your collection, as well as provide details on where the collection is located and what specific risks it is vulnerable to. The mitigation phase is all about taking proactive steps to limit your collection's vulnerability to the risks you have identified. 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 management effort.

Emergency Purchasing, Insurance, and Contractor Agreements in Zotero:

Trying to make decisions about 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 that are appropriate for the needs of your collection and institution. You may be able to establish a contract for services with these vendors that will take effect in the event of an emergency.

Mitigation Action Plans in Zotero:

When a risk assessment has been completed, there are often risks that can be mitigated by following a few simple and relatively inexpensive steps. They may include some of the actions listed below. For the more complex actions, it may be necessary to create a mitigation action plan.

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

Response[edit | edit source]

Response in Zotero:

Response activities are those you perform as the emergency is happening. Generally, these activities are focused around human safety, such as taking shelter. In some cases, you may be notified of an impending emergency event and be able to take steps to protect collections, such as evacuation.

Emergency Response Steps in Zotero

Evacuation in Zotero

Salvage and Recovery[edit | edit source]

Salvage and Recovery in Zotero:

It is likely that you will have to wait for some time before you are allowed to assess the damage to your collection - this is a perfect time to revisit your emergency plan, assemble your response team, and begin plans for your salvage efforts. After facilities have been confirmed safe by the appropriate personnel, salvage and recovery can begin.

An image showing stacks of books and archival boxes spread out on a lawn in the shade. People are in the process of moving more books and boxes.
Collections salvage efforts after flooding at the Johnson County Historical Museum, Iowa. Response coordinated by ICPC (Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium). Image courtesy of Gary Frost, 2008.

Note: AIC's National Heritage Responders' members are available to provide 24/7 disaster assistance to museums, historical societies, libraries, archives, and the general public. The NHR Emergency Help Line number is (202) 661-8068. Leave a message for a call back. The line is monitored by volunteers. Under some circumstances, on-site assistance can be arranged. In addition, AIC can provide the names of experts in the conservation of paintings, paper, books, photographs, textiles, decorative arts, sculpture, and wooden artifacts as well as architectural, archaeological, natural science, and ethnographic materials. Local conservators can be found using AIC's Find A Professional search feature.

After-Action Review in Zotero:

After the salvage and response operation is complete, it is extremely important to do an after-action review. Think of this as a type of debrief. This could be a meeting or a written document. In either case, the purpose is to sum up what worked, what didn't, what factors led to the incident, etc. in order to identify areas for improvement. Each incident and response, large and small, is an opportunity to learn and improve.

Emergency Documentation in Zotero:

It is important to take the time to document an emergency from the beginning. Photographic and written accounts will help to capture information that may otherwise be forgotten in the rush to salvage your collection. Documentation will not only help you learn from the event, but also provide needed records for questions of liability and insurance.

  • The initial damage assessment phase takes place as soon as access to the site of the incident is granted. Damage assessments should capture the broad picture quickly, without getting caught up in details.
  • Incident reports will help chronicle the response and salvage efforts, in addition to outlining damages to the building and collection. An incident record can simply be notes on a legal pad, or it can be a form or a spreadsheet specific to your incident's needs.

Long-Term Recovery in Zotero:

A gloved hand holds a small brush and a fine vacuum attachment over a large patch of mold on an open book page.
Some preservation activities have to be undertaken long after the disaster event. Conservation treatment of the damaged items may take many months or even years. Mold mitigation treatment of Sanbourne Insurance Maps, LA County, from the collection of the Huntington Library. Image courtesy of Sonya Barron, 2014

Depending on the scale of the event, you may be able to handle the long-term recovery of collection items in house or you may need to contract outside vendors. Consider your organization’s capacity, available resources, salvage priorities, and existing partnerships/contracts. This part of the emergency response, the treatment of collection items, often takes the longest and can take weeks, months, and even years depending on the impact of the event.

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]

Additional Resources in Zotero

Resources for Purchase in Zotero

Some materials that are useful for emergency planning and preparedness must be purchased. They are listed in this section in Zotero. Primarily books, these resources can be purchased from the publisher (see link under Info) or other booksellers.

Contributing to the Resource Library[edit | edit source]

The Emergency Committee strives to keep this resource library up to date and welcomes feedback or suggestions for additions. To make a comment or suggest a resource, please email the committee at AIC.EC.Wiki@gmail.com. Please include an abstract or a short description of new resources for consideration.

Contributors[edit | edit source]

Brian Abrams, Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art; Tatiana Ausema, National Endowment for the Humanities; Joan Bacharach, National Parks Service, Museum Management Program; Sonya Barron, National Archives and Records Administration; Stacy Bowe, Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative; David Carmicheal, Pennsylvania State Archives; Maddie Cooper, Center for Conservation of Art and Historic Artifacts; William Donnelly, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library; Rebecca Fifield, The New York Public Library; Lori Foley, Federal Emergency Management Agency; Samantha Forsko, Art Institute of Chicago; Elaina Gregg, Foundation of Advancement in Conservation; Matthew Gross, ASP, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; Margret Haupt, Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario; Catharine Hawks, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; Holly Herro, National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health; David Hicks, CIH, CSP, CHMM, Architect of the Capitol - House Office Buildings; Kimberly Hoffman, Miami University Libraries; Ashley Jehle, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art; Jessica Johnson, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute; Rebecca Kennedy, Curae Collections Care, LLC; Julie Kowalsky, National Guard Bureau; Nora Lockshin, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives; Kathryn Makos, CIH, American Industrial Hygiene Association - Museum and Cultural Heritage Industry Working Group; Stephen Maloney, CEM, CSP, CHMM, Federal Reserve Board; Cali Martin, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian; Melissa Miller, PRICE Program Contractor, Smithsonian National Collections Program; Dana Murray, Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists; Lisa Palmer, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; Eric Pourchot, Foundation for Advancement in Conservation; Ed Primeau, CIH, Newport News Shipbuilding; Andrew Robb, Library of Congress; Janice Ruggles, CIH, Smithsonian Offices of Safety Health and Environmental Management; Dara Shore, National Park Service, Museum Management Program; Samantha Snell, Smithsonian National Collections Program; Joshua Stahlman, Pennsylvania State Archives; William Tompkins, Smithsonian National Collections Program; Katharine C. Wagner, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives; Joelle Wickens, University of Delaware, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.

  1. If you wish to view the original AIC Emergency Preparedness and Response Wiki page, see Pre-2022 Emergency Preparedness and Response Content.