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Does the LEPC have your number? Disaster Planning

By CJ Jones

This session was designed to provide guidelines for disaster pre-planning in your museum.  We discussed the difference between an EMERGENCY (A man-made or natural incident that requires immediate response) versus a DISASTER (A man-made or natural incident that overwhelms the response system) and preparing for both so that an emergency doesn’t necessarily turn into a disaster.

Preventative conservation for your collection and diligent building maintenance are important in protecting your collection from a multitude of potential disasters.  A conservation and maintenance checklist is very helpful in remembering tasks that need to be completed on a daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annually, annual and less frequent basis.

The museum’s collection management and financial programs should be backed up frequently and one backup kept an off-site location.  The museum should store all important information and materials needed to operate for an extended period of time in an off-site location. Copies of the museum’s disaster plan (which should include insurance information, important phone numbers, etc.) should be in every employee’s possession (home or car) so that plans may begin to be implemented before reaching the museum, especially as the building may be inaccessible or destroyed during a disaster and your written plan with important information destroyed or inaccessible.

Create a clean copy of the museum’s floor plan then make multiple copies.  Create location maps for: water, electric and furnace shutoffs (Physically mark each with visible signs.); Fire detection/suppression system components; Evacuation routes; Security system components.

Make your lists:

  • Phone numbers including staff, board members, volunteers, and anybody with training that can assist during or with disaster cleanup.
  • People trained in First Aid/CPR and other skills.
  • Supplies and materials for cleaning, and collection triage and stabilization.  Apply for grants to purchase materials.  If this task seems overwhelming, remember that most of your emergencies are water related.  A good minimum kit could include a wet/dry vacuum, tarps, sponges, duct tape and a dust pan to scoop water.  Store everything inside the vacuum; label it well; and store for emergency use only.
  • Salvage priorities for your collection.  If you could save only 10 items from your collection, which would they be?  Use one of your floor plan copies to locate the items.  Prioritize them 1-10. Make the list and locations available to the fire department as they might be the persons salvaging items.  

Don’t plan in a vacuum.  Include emergency agencies in your community.  Have the fire department visit and tour the museum during one of their training meetings.  They can be a lot more effective fighting a fire if they know the building layout, locked areas, the fire suppression system, alarms, etc.  They can tell you what would be helpful information for them.  Make sure they have building access in an emergency.  Your Local Emergency Planning Commission and Local Government are also important as the LEPC writes a disaster plan for your community and or region.  The museum needs to be included in this plan.  It is a special needs building, and during a regional disaster you might need special permission and/or resources to access the building and collection.  This permission or the needed resources (including trained people) can be very difficult or impossible to get during the incident.  

Practice makes perfect! Train for emergencies, and then practice your skills.  Staff and volunteers need to know how to handle objects; how to deal with HAZMAT situations even if it is only to evacuate the building; how to operate and work within the Incident Command System; learn different communication techniques; operate and shut off all the different building systems (water, electric, security, fire etc.); how to operate a fire extinguisher; and everyone should be trained in First Aid and CPR.  

In summary,  think about:  preventative conservation; building maintenance; backups; off-site storage; location maps; phone numbers, salvage and clean up material lists; a collection salvage priority list; working with your local fire department, LEPC and community governments; training and practicing.

I am available if you need help with disaster planning or training.  Email me at cjinhaines(at)aptalaska(dot)net.

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