What Is Museum SOS

David A. Tremain
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Developing an Emergency Response Plan
for Natural History Collections

David A. Tremain
Preventive Conservation Services
Canadian Conservation Institute


Developing an Emergency Response Plan is not rocket science, so why is it that many people find it so onerous? What is disturbing is a certain reluctance, or resistance, on the part of some institutions to face the reality that emergencies can and will happen and start planning for them rather than waiting until an incident has occurred. Consequently, most institutions are not well prepared. There are three key aspects to emergencypreparedness which must be considered:

  1. Preventing the event from occurring, or mitigating its effects if this is not possible
  2. Cohesive teamwork and collaboration; and
  3. Ensuring that the right people are kept informed and properly trained

No matter what type of collection you have, whether it be a natural history collection, library, archives, museum, or art gallery, planning process will be the same. There are many tasks to be performed, much information to be gathered and collated, but if it is organized in a logical and methodical way and work is shared, then the plan can be accomplished with less hassle. First, there are four questions that need to be asked:

  1. Who needs to be involved in the planning process?
  2. What needs to be done, and in what order?
  3. What needs to be included?
  4. What are the pitfalls?

The plan can only work if the right people are involved and all areas of responsibility are included. in the planning process.  It must first involve determining what is to be protected (assets), and identifying the threats and hazards that will have an impact on the institution or collection.  This involves carrying out a risk assessment, the result of which will be to develop procedures for reducing the risk of the different types of threats that have been identified. Planning will generate a lot of information to collate, but it should not be the task of one person; it should be delegated to all members of the planning team. The important thing is organizing each task so that it is manageable and achievable within a realistic deadline.

Compiling a list of resources (supplies and equipment, funding, alternate locations, conservators, and salvage procedures) is an essential part of any plan. Once the plan has been completed, staff needs to be trained and the plan tested and updated on a regular basis.


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