Exhibition Security

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Risk Assessment[edit | edit source]

Perform a risk assessment for each exhibit. Different risks are associated with different objects. Consider the following examples.

  • 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 often highly vulnerable.


In addition to reviewing the likelihood of vandalism or theft, a risk assessment surveys the exhibit space and museum building to identify vulnerabilities. Unalarmed emergency exits from the exhibition area, the lack of security guards, and small, easily pocketed objects displayed in the open are examples of situations that encourage theft and vandalism.

Additional security measures are required for an exhibit when the probability of the occurrence and the severity of the consequences together indicate a high risk. Common mitigation measures include security guards, motion detection, and alarms on doors, windows, skylights, cases, platforms, and even on individual large objects. At a minimum, alarms should be hard-wired to a monitoring company or the local police, with a power backup in case of power failure. Exhibit cases should be designed to allow them to be opened easily-during authorized entry-and closed safely by only one individual.

Security Options[edit | edit source]

Protection against theft, vandalism, and damage must, of course, begin with securing the museum building. The building and exhibit space should be secured by:

  • physically resistant construction;
  • electronic devices to detect and deter criminal activity; and
  • either constant human presence or a very rapid human response.


Displaying vulnerable objects in a case provides a certain level of protection. A wide range of security options can be designed into an exhibit case, including a dual case locking system, case alarms, and shatterproof or bullet-proof security glazing.

A case that provides a high level of security is necessary when displaying national treasures or objects of unusually high monetary value or political sensitivity. In addition, lenders may require certain security measures.

Since objects exhibited in the open are especially vulnerable to theft and vandalism as well as to environmental degradation, avoid open exhibits when possible. Open exhibits are the unavoidable norm in furnished historic structures. In such exhibits, securing small objects to larger ones or to architectural elements may be appropriate when it can be done without damage.

Provide security for an exhibit through a monitored security system, a human presence, well-designed cases, and security for individual objects.

Importance of Human Presence[edit | edit source]

Although an area may be protected by security monitors, the presence of a guard or other trained personnel is the best deterrent to theft and vandalism. Providing effective but unobtrusive daytime security for exhibit spaces is critical. A daily walk-through by trained staff should include checking for building security as well as for maintenance problems, such as water leaks and pest infestations.

Staff awareness is critical to good exhibit security, so the exhibit budget should include funds for training. Even when museum staff members already know how to provide the necessary level of protection, they may need additional training to operate special security hardware or electronics. They may also need to learn crowd control techniques if the new exhibit is expected to draw heavier than normal attendance.

Guideline: Effective security measures [design, controls and policies] must provide the appropriate level of security for objects[edit | edit source]

For even the most robust and stable objects, the possibility of theft remains a serious threat. The disappearance of an object is the ultimate failure in terms of object care. A stolen object is usually lost permanently; and even those that are recovered may have suffered damage from exposure to rough handling or harmful conditions. Failure to provide adequate security can thus result in the loss of a museum’s collections, damage to the institution’s reputation, and, in the case of loaned objects, legal difficulties. Providing appropriate security is therefore a primary concern for exhibits.

The Conservation Requirements for a particular exhibit will help to establish the risk of theft, vandalism, and incidental touching for that exhibit and will indicate the level of security that should be provided. A security risk assessment will help to identify security deficiencies within the exhibit space. Primary security strategies include security staffing and controlled access to the exhibit space; the use of alarms and monitoring devices; and exhibit design, specifically the use of enclosures, which are particularly important for institutions where extra staffing is impractical.

In general, security for an exhibit should be provided through the combination of a human presence, a monitored security system, and well-designed cases.

[The following subject headings and information are placeholders.]

Best Practice: Museum policies and procedures promote object security=[edit | edit source]

What institutional practices promote security?[edit | edit source]

  • Security staffing: The presence of a guard or other trained personnel is the best deterrent to theft and vandalism
  • Controlled access to the exhibit space
  • Inclusion of security training in the budget and scheduling
  • A daily walk-through by trained staff to check building security as well as maintenance and pest problems
  • A visitor sign-in book and identity badges
  • Limited access to keys

When should extra personnel be hired to provide security?[edit | edit source]

  • The security risk assessment may indicate that extra staffing is needed
  • The Conservation Requirements may indicate that extra staffing is needed for a particular exhibit

Best Practice: The appropriate security hardware is utilized[edit | edit source]

When should security hardware be utilized?[edit | edit source]

[Placeholder info]
While security staffing and controlled access to an exhibit are primary security strategies, mechanical deterrents and monitoring devices provide additional security. And since it can be impractical for some institutions to provide sufficient staffing, a well-designed exhibit incorporating security hardware will form the first line of defense.

The particular security features built into an exhibit should be tailored to the circumstances of the exhibit space, the nature of the exhibit objects, and the staffing available. More sophisticated protection measures will be required for exhibits with a higher risk of theft or vandalism. A security risk assessment will establish the level of risk for a particular exhibit. [For more information on security risk assessments, see Guideline*.]

Factors to consider:

  • A higher risk will be associated with exhibits containing objects of high monetary or cultural value.
  • At a minimum, alarms should be hard-wired to a monitoring company or the local police, with a power backup in case of power failure.
  • An open exhibit faces a higher risk of theft and incidental touching. These can be deterred by electronic monitoring devices. For example, proximity detectors can be used to warn visitors that they have crossed a threshold, i.e. they are now too close to a painting or have ventured too far into an historical room.
  • A lending institution may require specific security features and these specifications must be accommodated.

What different types of security hardware are available?[edit | edit source]

[Placeholder info]
Security hardware falls into two broad categories:

  • Mechanical deterrents that can be used on cases, such as security glazing, tamper resistant fasteners and locks. * [For more information on case security, see Standard *.]
  • Electronic monitoring devices that can be used on cases or in the open exhibit space to alert staff or police to a potential threat.

What types of electronic monitoring devices are available?[edit | edit source]

Sensors and alarms can be included on doors, windows, skylights, cases, platforms, and even on individual large objects. Sensors fall into two main categories: Sensors that detect movement of an object and sensors that detect a boundary has been crossed:

  • Magnetic Contact Sensors or Micro-switches: Electrical circuits installed underneath an object signal remotely or locally when the object is moved.
  • Vibration switches: A sound is produced when the object undergoes mechanical vibration. If the object is merely set off balance the sound will cease, but if removed the sound will continue.
  • Weight Sensors: These sensors are set underneath a shelf and are controlled by the combined weight of the object or objects on the shelf and respond to any reduction in that weight.
  • [Name?] Devices: The presence of magnetic or microwave fields that show a frequency shift if an object is moved. They can be unobtrusively positioned within a display case to fill the entire volume of the case.
  • Audio Sensors: These systems use microphones that work on the principle of changes in charge that take place when the distance between two capacitor plates changes due to mechanical vibration or changes in air pressure.
  • Magnetic Reed Switch: Consists of contacts, impervious to external influence, located in glass or plastic that are controlled by a prescribed external, magnetic field. [Clarification needed]
  • Photoelectric Eyes: These form a protective screen around displayed objects consisting of laser beams passing between transmitters and receivers. An alarm signal is generated when the beam is interrupted.
  • Motion Detectors: Any intrusion changes the resonant frequency of a reference electrical field, producing a signal.
  • Pressure sensors: A semi-conductor that stabilizes at a specific pressure implanted into a wall; the sensor is activated by an increase or decrease in the pressure of 5 grams or more. Weight sensors are useful for objects outside of a case like a painting.
  • Built-in Wires: Wire circuits that trigger an alarm when broken are useful for objects located outside a case like paintings and oversized objects.

Best Practice: Design strategies are used to enhance security[edit | edit source]

What are the security advantages of a well designed exhibit case?[edit | edit source]

A case affords the most effective form of protection while still allowing an object to remain on exhibit. Even when other security strategies, such as security staffing and sensors, are used, a case provides an extra layer of defense. The barrier of a case provides a high level of physical protection from handling and incidental touching. And opportunistic theft is almost eliminated by the use of cases. Furthermore, a wide range of security options can be designed into an exhibit case, including a dual locking system, tamper resistant fasteners, case alarms, and shatter-resistant or bullet-resistant security glazing.

[For more information on cases and mechanical deterrents, see Standard *.]

When must a case be utilized for security reasons?[edit | edit source]

A sturdy sealed case, securely bolted to the floor or wall, should be used to display high-risk objects, such as national treasures or objects of unusually high monetary value or political sensitivity. Unobtrusive protection can be provided by alarm and sensor units incorporated into the exhibit case design. A lender may require use of a case in the loan agreement.

When open exhibit is unavoidable, as in a furnished historic house, it may be possible to secure small objects to larger ones or to architectural elements, when this can be done without damage. And replicas can be used to replace small, easily-pocketed items.

[For more information on cases and security, see Standard *.]

What design strategies can aid security?[edit | edit source]

  • Allow clear pathways through the exhibit to ensure clear lines of sight to deter theft or tampering.
  • Use psychological barriers (such as raised platforms, ropes, and floor markings) to deter vandalism.
  • Secure all portable objects to prevent theft and accidental bumping:
Mount objects to panels or shelves
Attach mounts used to display small objects to panels or shelves
In open exhibits, secure small objects to larger ones or to architectural elements when it can be done without damage.


[For more information on mounts see XXXX.]

What architectural modifications can aid security?[edit | edit source]

  • Eliminate windows and add bars to remaining windows
  • Limit exits and entrances to the exhibit space and where necessary replace internal doors with security rated doors.
  • Upgrade locking systems and key differently from the rest of the facility to limit the number of staff authorized to enter the exhibit.