Blog – Disaster Preparedness

What All Museums Need to Include in a Disaster Preparation Plan

While you often can’t prevent disasters from occurring, there are steps that you can take to limit their damage. For museums, disaster preparation is essential to keeping collections safe and preventing the loss of priceless history forever. A comprehensive disaster preparedness plan will complement your disaster response efforts so document recovery can commence quickly.

Risk Assessment

One of the first steps in preparing for a disaster is determining the types of disasters—natural and manmade—that are most likely to occur so you can determine ways to minimize the associated risks. A museum on the West Coast, for example, is more vulnerable to earthquakes, while those in the Midwest may be more vulnerable to tornadoes. It’s also a good idea to outline the following for each type of hazard identified:

  • Who to contact; vendors and employees
  • How the museum will protect records and prevent damage to collections
  • Salvage techniques and timelines to follow
  • A list of emergency supplies and how often staff members inventory it
  • Security measures to prevent further losses
  • How to keep the people inside the institution safe

When preparing the museum’s disaster preparedness plan, keep in mind that while not all-natural disasters pose a threat, all museums are at risk for fire damage, water damage and mechanical failures.

Disaster Response: Before and After

In a disaster plan, it’s vital to know what to do before and after an incident. Steps to take regularly to promote disaster preparation include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Having a relocation site available for collections
  • Determining the vulnerability of new collections to the identified risks
  • Learning which parts of a collection require special protection in different emergencies or disasters
  • Training staff in how to carry out the disaster plan and their respective roles
  • Keeping a list of conservation specialists up to date
  • Conduct drills for various scenarios at least once a year with museum staff
  • Scheduling building inspections to ensure that the property is safe and that security measures function well

Before a disaster

Protect the items that are most vulnerable to damage using the steps outlined in the disaster plan
Talk to a document recovery specialist about having equipment readily available in the event that documents and other assets get wet or damaged
Communicate with staff and visitors about the situation and how to stay safe
Ensure emergency supplies are available
Secure collections to minimize damage

After a disaster

  • Inspect utility systems to identify areas of the potential risk to collections
  • Work with a property restoration company to salvage and restore documents, assets, and damaged parts of the building

Working with Emergency Responders

Depending on the disaster, emergency responders may be the first people on site. These individuals can offer important information about how to prepare in advance to make it simpler to salvage the museum’s collections. When you work with emergency responders, consider:

  • Conducting a walk-through with disaster recovery teams and emergency personnel to help them gain familiarity with the buildings
  • Providing maps, blueprints, aerial photos, and floor plans of the property that show the names of buildings, entrances, exits, elevators, utilities, collection locations, the locations of priority objects, and hazardous material
  • Providing a set of master keys or information about how to obtain them

Completing a disaster preparedness and response plan is essential to securing and preserving priceless items. Polygon is an international leader in property and document restoration with teams of area-based technicians. Getting Polygon involved with your museum’s plans now will promote the success of your preventive and salvaging efforts if the unthinkable should occur. Contact Polygon today to learn more about creating a disaster preparation plan or its direct response services.

[Photo from Rae Allen via CC License 2.0]

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