Emergency Preparedness for Exhibits

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  • Develop fire protection and emergency response plans. The museum staff should have an emergency plan for each exhibit space. The plans should minimize threats to museum objects, protecting them during a disaster, during their evacuation, and after a disaster.
  • Perform a risk assessment and address potential problems. Anticipate the types of damage that may occur to display objects. For example, avoid placing objects, especially if they are water sensitive, in the path of fire sprinkler heads.


Approach emergency preparedness by identifying vulnerabilities, developing a plan, installing fire and water detection systems, and securing objects in well-designed cases.


Emergency Preparedness[edit | edit source]

Protection of exhibited objects from fire and natural disasters requires measures for the exhibit as well as the entire building. Increased security options which can be incorporated into exhibit design include:

  • a fire detection system, and
  • a water leak detection system.


Exhibit designs should facilitate:

  • daily inspections of all exhibits (for object inspection and to identify preservation needs)
  • regular preventive maintenance of the exhibit space (to forestall such problems as water leaks and HVAC system failures)


Fire Safety[edit | edit source]

It is important to ensure that all exhibit lighting, electrical fixtures, and wiring comply with the National Electrical Code for both personnel safety and fire prevention. Unless the museum has adopted a particular edition, the exhibition designer should follow the latest edition. For detailed guidance see the National Fire Protection Association publication NAPA 909, Recommended Practice for the Protection of Museums and Museum Collections. Other measures include the following:

  • Fire detector signals should be integrated into the building s fire alarm system.
  • Alarms should be monitored by a manned fire department for quickest response.
  • Display objects that are most sensitive to heat, smoke, or water inside well-sealed cases.
  • Tall cases and exhibit panels must not obstruct air flow around heat and smoke detectors, nor should they block proper sprinkler discharge patterns.
  • Where possible, the exhibition plan can specify the relocation of detectors and sprinkler heads to maintain optimum system effectiveness.
  • Provide additional hand-held fire extinguishers within the exhibit space; they can be installed inside wall cabinets or exhibit case bases or concealed behind
  • furniture in period rooms.


Natural Disasters[edit | edit source]

Optimum protection for exhibited museum objects includes considering the risk of damage from earthquakes, hurricanes, explosions, floods, and other disasters. Cases, platforms, display panels, and other exhibit furniture must provide the optimum protection by their strength, bulk, and placement. Mounts for securing objects onto pedestals, platforms, or panels must be sturdy enough to prevent the objects from falling; they must also be attached so that they do not damage the objects during violent motion.

Exhibit design must allow the removal of vulnerable objects from the exhibit safely and expeditiously when a disaster is imminent. The need for prompt authorized access should be balanced against the need to prevent unauthorized access. When rapid access may be necessary, use locks and internal case alarms rather than screws on access panels and glazing to minimize entry time.

Guidelines for Fire and Water Damage Prevention[edit | edit source]

Appropriate prevention measures must protect objects from the risk of fire and water damage
[Placeholder Introduction: Brief discussion of fire and water damage needed.]
The occurrence of both fire and water damage can be sudden and catastrophic. Fire can result in the outright loss of objects or damage from smoke. Water damage, similarly, can be irreversible. Although the threat of fire or flooding can come from outside the exhibit building, it more often results from system failures within the building itself, such as leaking pipes or faulty wiring. The risks of fire and water damage can be minimized by providing controls such as detection systems, alarms, and sprinklers, by carrying out adequate building maintenance, and by avoiding design elements that will exacerbate risk, such as placing objects in the path of sprinkler heads, creating displays close to the floor, or blocking smoke detectors. Policies such as an emergency plan and training staff in the use of fire extinguishers are also important preventative measures.

Best Practice: Hardware is used to protect objects from fire and water damage[edit | edit source]

What hardware is available to reduce the danger of fire and water damage?[edit | edit source]

Hardware and equipment that detect water leaks or detect and fight fire include:

  • A fire detection system: Fire detector signals should be integrated into the building’s fire alarm system.
  • Smoke-control systems: [Need further clarification.]
  • A sprinkler system with automatic shut-off and with protective cages around heads (preferably a pre-action system).
  • Portable fire extinguishers within the exhibit space: These can be installed inside wall cabinets or exhibit case bases or concealed behind furniture in period rooms.
  • A water leak detection system: [Needs further clarification.]



[Needs amplification e.g. More info on these hardware options; any additional hardware and controls; the relative costs and ease of installation & maintenance.]

Best Practice: Museum Policies are instituted to protect against fire and water damage[edit | edit source]

What policies can help protects object from fire and water damage?[edit | edit source]

  • No-smoking policies
  • prohibiting personal space heaters, etc. and ensuring compliance by addressing inadequate heating and cooling of workspaces.
  • Consulting with the local fire chief to ensure proper fire prevention plan is in place.
  • The museum has an emergency plan in place.
  • Staff must be trained in use of fire extinguishers.

What staff training can help protect objects from fire and water damage?[edit | edit source]

Best Practice: Exhibit design strategies are used to protect objects against fire and water damage[edit | edit source]

What design considerations help to protect objects from fire and water damage?[edit | edit source]

Ensure exhibit layout does not create fire hazards or allow water damage:

  • Block the spread of fire by leaving adequate space (1.5m) between walls and exhibit shelving.
  • Avoid creating architectural features that establish vertical airways. These can spread fire quickly and into new areas.
  • Leave heat and smoke detectors and sprinklers clear. Tall cases and exhibit panels must not obstruct airflow around detectors, nor should they block proper sprinkler discharge patterns.
  • Do not place objects in the paths of fire sprinkler heads, particularly if objects are water sensitive. Where possible, the exhibition plan can specify the relocation of detectors and sprinkler heads to maintain optimum system effectiveness.
  • Do not display objects less that 20 cm above ground floor level to minimize the potential from water damage due to flooding (from either natural cause or from broken pipes).



Do not use highly flammable materials. Materials used as props and in exhibit construction should not be fire hazards. Plastics, woods, fabrics and other materials used in exhibits must conform to National Fire and Protection Agency standards.

Ensure exhibit electrical wiring is up to code and does not create a fire hazard

Best Practice: The exhibit’s electrical wiring and fixtures do not compromise object safety[edit | edit source]

What precautions should be taken to ensure electrical fixtures, lighting, and wiring will not pose a fire hazard?[edit | edit source]

The museum must ensure that new wiring is installed correctly and consider reinstalling old wiring that might not be up to code. The following precautions must be taken:

  • All exhibit lighting, electrical fixtures, and wiring must comply with the National Electrical Code for both personnel safety and fire prevention. Unless the museum has adopted a particular edition, the exhibition designer should follow the latest edition. For detailed guidance see the National Fire Protection Association publication NAPA 909, Recommended Practice for the Protection of Museums and Museum Collections.


  • Avoid any unnecessary wiring in display areas. Keep electrical wiring to the minimum possible and do not run wiring through the exhibit area if it is not required for exhibit needs.


  • Avoid electrical services within shelves inside exhibit enclosures.


  • Utilize a qualified electrical inspector to assess the electrical installation. Follow safe electrical inspection procedures and safe use of voltmeters, multimeters, and similar electrical test equipment.