Keeping collections safe from flood, fire, and mold
March 15, 2011
Water mains break, electrical wires can malfunction, and climate control systems can fail--all of which can threaten the safety of a cultural institution's collections. How do organizations manage a disaster or emergency of this kind? As well as these type of emergencies, other major disasters can threaten collections: flooding, fire, earthquake, or vandalism. Many museums in the United States have experienced disasters of various types. From their experiences, the museum community learns how to cope.
In the summer of 2008, Iowa's Cedar Rapids Museum of Art was hit by severe flooding. It took the museum a full year to get back to normal operations. The collections storage and preparation areas in the basement were damaged. All staff took time away from their normal duties to help with reconstructing of storage spaces--one painting at a time.
After the earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco, California museums became models for disaster response and recovery. The Oakland Museum of California even prepared an exhibition about the topic.
Other museums, such as the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum, document disasters that they've coped with. In this case, in Canada, the museum suffered severe damage to its roof from a wind storm in 2003.
One recent example of a disaster at a museum was the damage done to some of the ancient treasures at the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo during the 2011 political protests of the Egyptian people against the regime of Hosni Mubarak. The museum is home to some of the world's most precious antiquities, an estimated 120,000 artifacts, including the treasures of King Tutankhamen. The damage done to Egyptian artifacts is major and curators must now assess the extent of the damage and begin conservation or restoration of the pieces.
As part of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library's Preservation initiatives, we are creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan. During 2011 we will be using and online tool called dPlan which was written, designed, and is maintained by Northeast Document Conservation Center. NEDCC is a premier center for disseminating information about preservation and conservation.
The Northeast Document Conservation Center and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners share dPlan, a free online program to help institutions write comprehensive disaster plans. The program provides templates for museums of all sizes to develop a customized plan with checklists; salvage priorities; preventive maintenance schedules; contact information for personnel, insurance, and IT help; and a list of emergency supplies and services are included.
Flooding entrance to Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, http://www.crma.org/Content/About/Flood-Recovery-Update.aspx
Antiquities Damaged at Egyptian National Museum,http://hyperallergic.com/17815/egyptian-museum-damage/