To Do: Migrate

My name is Mary Striegel, and I am Chief of Materials Conservation at NCPTT.  Today I’m going to bring you some information about disaster planning and how to go about creating a disaster plan for your collections.  So we’ll start with our first slide.  I just want to tell you that Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  And today we don’t want anyone to be a failure.  We want everyone to be successful at getting ready for your next disaster.  We know that collections are at risk from natural and man-made disasters.  Anything from a bomb threat to a hurricane to water damage, all of these things can affect our collections.

Mary Striegel evaluates damage to metal artifacts with FEMA workers.

Mary Striegel evaluates damage to metal artifacts with FEMA workers.

Here we see the collections of Fort Jackson after Hurricane Katrina.  The collections there had survived through both Hurricane Betsy and Hurricane Camille unscathed.  The staff, the all-volunteer staff at this museum, just assumed that if they could put their collections up on tables two foot above the floor they would be fine.  Unfortunately, these objects sat under 12 feet of water for more than 60 days.

You are responsible for the protection of your collections for now and in the future, but keep in mind that after a disaster, there are many issues that may arise in the community, and they’re going to be addressed by your Community Emergency Response Teams.  Health and human safety will always come first, but your collections may be an afterthought to these CERT teams.  You may experience frustration waiting to just be allowed to access your collections after a disaster.  But through prior planning, you should be able to identify your most valuable collections and know those which are most sensitive so that you can be prepared.

Currently, many institutions and individuals are lacking in a sufficient disaster plan.  The National Heritage Preservation Organization has done a Collections Health Index for cultural organizations across the nation, and they say that about 80% of collecting institutions do not have an emergency plan that includes collections with a staff that’s trained to carry out an emergency plan.

One way is to prepare through training, and here we see a group called Art Lab Australia doing a preparedness training workshop in South Australia.  What they’re learning to do is how to dry film, photos and negatives.  There’s got to be an easier way.  Many people understand the importance of a disaster plan, but they feel frustrated or they’re concerned about the time it’s going to take to develop a good plan.  The Internet has a lot of information about disaster plans, but knowing what to include in your plan and what information is accurate can be difficult.

Even if you gather up all the information you need to know, how do you organize it into a clear, concise and well-organized document that’s easy to use and easy to update?  What I’m going to talk about today are the three steps to building a better disaster plan.  These three steps include: building a team, creating the plan, and practicing the plan.

Let’s focus first on building the team.  The most successful response to a disaster is contingent on a well-practiced disaster team.  You want to draw on the talents of your staff and those volunteers you have in order to build your team.  Sometimes the plan can get in the way, but if you have a team that’s practiced, they’ll know what their individual responsibilities are when the disaster strikes.  Remember, this is a really confusing time, and so you need people with calm heads.

You want to assign team roles, and here I’m showing some examples of the types of team roles that are out there that you can assign.  Your Team Leader is the person who has the final say.  This does not necessarily have to be the head of your organization, because they may be responsible for administrative and financial details and they may not have the time during a disaster to coordinate each of the other members of the team.  The Team Leader will be responsible for that coordination.  In addition, you need a liaison with the community, the emergency responder liaison, to deal with people like the fire department, FEMA, police department, agencies outside of your purview that are going to be helping you with recovery.

You need a Health and Safety Coordinator that will look at the details and say whether it’s safe to enter a building or a space, and again, they’re going to rely heavily on the community and the responders in the community to know whether to move forward or not.  You need to secure your building, and so you’ll want to assign a Coordinator for Security and Facilities.  This is somebody who should know the facilities well, may be able to identify where the shut-off valves are,  know where the electricity is, those types of things.  You’ll need to have someone who is responsible for coordinating your supplies and equipment.  This is the person that on a six-month basis checks the supplies to see that they’re not outdated, to make sure that everyone knows where the supplies are, and coordinates that aspect.

One of the most important things is to be able to assess the collection both before and after a disaster, and that requires an Assessment Coordinator.  This is somebody who will know the collection well enough and will be able to help perform triage on the collection after a disaster.  In order to meet the needs of your collection and to meet the needs of your insurance agency, you may need a Documentation Coordinator.  This is the person that’s really detail oriented, likes to write details down, takes photographs, so that you can create the documentation you need for the damage that may be done to your collection.  And another team role is that of the Salvage Coordinator.  Now, the Salvage Coordinator is the person that goes in and helps sort your collection by what is salvageable, what is important, what is the most significant aspects of your collection, and knows when some collections won’t be moving forward for treatment.

With your team roles assigned, you may know that these are a lot of team roles, and you may not have that many people.  So one person may hold more than one role on your team.  Before your team ever faces a disaster, there are things that the team will need to be doing:  They will be reviewing the vulnerabilities of your facility and your collections.  They will help create a contact sheet.  They will review building maps and evacuation plans.  They will create an inspection plan that helps to determine what your baseline is, and I’m going to be mentioning your baseline frequently.

You’re going to set collection priorities.  If you have 15 minutes with a tornado coming at you, what would be the one thing that you would try to pull out of your collections?  And I know those are very difficult decisions to make, but you need to have those priorities ready.  And the team will work with the Equipment and Supplies Coordinator to purchase or refresh supplies.  Know who to call.  Having a call list ready is critical to your team.  The ability to contact each of your staff members in the event of an emergency is very important.  The contact information is also required of other people…perhaps your board members, your town planning department, your facilities manager, and the head of security.

Some of the key contacts include the police, your fire department, emergency teams.  Perhaps your town or community has a Homeland Emergency Response Coordinator.  You’ll need to have that phone number on your list. You may want to have the information on your insurance agent if your collection is insured or state and Federal officials if they’re needed.  One thing people forget about is almost everyone today has an electronic data collection.  Those can be personnel records. They can be operational records.  They can be information that you have posted on a web site.  So you may need to have a data plan, and you may need to reach a data recovery service after a disaster.  You will want to make sure that you know the contacts for these types of services both in your region and outside of your region if it’s a region-wide disaster.

Having quick access to dehumidification services for your building will be crucial.  Knowing your electrician and plumber.  Having a freeze drying service information available so that you can call them if you have wet damaged collections.  Whenever a disaster strikes, particularly one that involves wind, there will be trees that may come down, and you may need to work closely with a reliable tree service that knows something about the history of the trees around your building.  You want to keep your contacts, records and supplies handy.

As our Canadian friends tell us, that the devil’s in the details, and you need to know what’s in your emergency kit.  The emergency call list again is absolutely necessary.  You want to create two lists… one in order of responsibility and one in order of proximity to your institution.

A disaster plan is not complete without a list of supplies that should be stored on site for ordinary disasters, as well as a list of supplies that can be easily accessed in the event of a larger disaster.  I’m going to show you just a few of the essential general supplies that you have, and then I’m going to point you in the direction of where you can find more information.  General supplies are going to include things like: Batteries and chargers. Flashlights and emergency lighting. Communication devices – you may or may not be able to rely on your cell phones if the cell phone towers go down.  So having readily charged walkie-talkies so that you can communicate throughout the building and throughout the area is a good idea.

If you can afford it, having a generator that will help you power at least minimal equipment will be useful.  Garbage bags both used to collect things that are going to be thrown away and collect things that are going to later be triaged are good to have on hand.  And then fans and dehumidifiers when you try to remove humidity from the building.  This is just a simple list of some of the things.

A more comprehensive list can be found in the book “Field Guide to Emergency Response – A Vital Tool for Cultural Institutions.”  This document is produced by the Heritage Preservation in support of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, 2006, and it’s available online from Heritage Preservation.

Let’s turn to the second step.  We’ve now put our team together.  What’s the next step?  Well, that’s actually creating the plan.  You want to bring your team together before a disaster, and this is really the crucial part of preparing for a natural or a man-made disaster.  Here we see a team in Australia that belongs to a historic house museum, and they’re working through a workshop to put together their disaster plan.  You’re going to want to use your resources, and I’m going to go over five resources that you have available to you.  Now, you can access these resources online or through contacts.

We’re going to talk about dPlan.  We’re going to talk about Heritage Preservation.  We’re going to talk about the Federal Emergency Management Administration, FEMA.  We’re going to talk a little bit about what NCPTT has available for you.  And then I’m going to address some of the issues that the American Institute for Conservation can help you with as a collecting institution.  dPlan is an online disaster plan writing tool that’s available to you.  When you go to dPlan, a new user can set up an account, and the information is password protected and data is stored on secure servers.

You can go to this, create your plan, and then print it out.  This is what the landing page looks like for the dPlan Online Disaster Planning Tool, and it was really designed as a response to ensure that collections would have availability to good, accurate information.  When you get into the Disaster Planning Tool, you’ll see on the left-hand bar different aspects of the planning tool.  It walks you through the information, and it focuses on the main phases of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

So each of these sections, then, you go through and you fill out through dropdowns and adding information.  You can save the information as you go along, and then when you’re complete, you print it out.  Now simply using this template is not enough to have your disaster plan.  You don’t want the disaster plan sitting on an electronic tool someplace.  You’re going to want to print out and keep a copy handy.  Many of the resources that are available to cultural institutions have been pioneered by Heritage Preservation.  This organization is responsible for the Heritage Emergency National Task Force.  They have created the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel.  And in conjunction with NCPTT, they developed the Emergency Response and Salvage iPhone app.  They also have published things like the Guide to Navigating Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration Disaster Aid for Cultural Institutions.

Here I’m showing you some of the Field Guide to Emergency Response and the Salvage Wheel, just some of the guides that you can get through Heritage Preservation.  FEMA provides a wide range of information about before, during and after a disaster.  They also provide information about training and being a part of that Community Emergency Response Team.  And here we see an image of FEMA workers at Fort Jackson after Hurricane Katrina, and they’re working with volunteers and assigned Federal employees to help salvage the metal and collections that were at Fort Jackson after the hurricane.  I’m part of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, known as NCPTT, and we provide a wide range of information about disasters and response on our web site.  That response includes documents about rapid assessment and documentation to things like wet recovery.

One of the key tools that we have on there are damage assessment tools that let you rapidly go through buildings and collections to determine the level of damage that you might have after an event.  And here we see one of my colleagues, Andy Ferrell, documenting damage to historic structures in New Orleans.  The American Institute for Conservation has an American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team.  These teams respond to the needs of cultural institutions across the nation during emergencies and disasters, and they coordinate with first responders, state agencies, vendors, and the public. They also hold hands-on training workshops that you could be part of.

Here we see a conservator after Hurricane Sandy and the collections triage area determining what could be done for some of the artwork that was damaged after Hurricane Sandy.  Now that you have your resources and you have your team, you’ll want to start with an inventory and a baseline. You want to work through the collections that you have, and don’t forget your electronic media as well.

Next you need to know your risk.  For example, a fire can have a devastating effect on your collections.  When a fire happens, if your fire suppression sprinkler system goes off, you can’t turn off that system, but it’s important for you to know where the shut-off is so when the fire department arrives they may be able to turn off the sprinkler system.  I’m going to highlight some of the greatest risks to collections.  These include water,  particularly materials that are sensitive to water like books and paper. The sooner that you can get them out of the water and dry them up the better.

But the water isn’t just clear tap water. It’s also containing contaminants.  These can include contaminants from sewers, from chemicals.  It can include mud.  So water is one of the damaging factors that you want to be aware of and to be able to assign your risk.  So, for example, an organization that is near a seashore or a low-lying area may be more concerned about water damage than someone that is in a dry arid environment.  With water comes mold, and here we see a textile collection at the Southern University at New Orleans.  This was an African-American textile collection that sat damp long enough that all the white stuff you see is mold growing.

Mold has twofold problems:  It feasts on the thing it’s growing on, and it can also cause health issues.  So if you have mold, you may need special expertise to help you remove items and treat items with mold.  Hazardous materials are an issue.  They can be an environmental issue after a storm.  They can be an issue in and of itself.  For example, NCPTT is located very close to a train line that carries hazardous materials frequently, and that train line is probably our greatest threat risk.  Should the train derail, we’ll be faced with dealing with large amounts of hazardous materials such as natural gasoline, sulfuric acid, nitric acids, methane.  All kinds of chemicals.

Once you’ve evaluated the potential risk for your organization, you want to create a plan that’s simple and easy to follow and something that you can practice on a regular basis, say, once every six months.  Maybe a quarterly disaster drill would be useful, or even at least a fire drill quarterly.  You don’t want it as complicated as this image suggests, but, rather, the opposite.  Again, once you get a plan together, you’re going to want to put it in writing and print it out.  I think that the dPlan Online Disaster Planning Tool is a good resource and a good place to begin, but once you’ve gotten your plan from there, only you can tell how effective it’s going to be.

The third step is that none of this planning is useful if your team and your staff and colleagues don’t know what to do with the plan.  So it’s important that you practice your plan. Here we see museum specialists from all over Southern Louisiana that have come to Baton Rouge to practice wet recovery in a wet recovery workshop.  Dust off the plan and keep it up to date.  If it’s a large binder sitting on somebody’s shelf and no one knows where it’s at, it’s not really useful to you.  You want to have something that’s a minimum number of pages but tells you what roles you have, what responsibilities you have, and how you need to respond to the disaster.  Because those documents are living documents, they often change and you need to refresh them.  Staff members leave. New people come into the community.  Buildings change.  So you’ll want to make sure that you on a regular basis update your plans.

You have to have easy access to your plan.  Again, if it’s a large binder sitting in the library somewhere and people don’t know exactly where it’s at, it’s not that useful.  It should be easily accessible to each of your staff members, something that perhaps they keep on their desks like they would a phone book, somewhere that they could reach it easy.  Hold regular drills.  Here we see a group of collections, emergency response team practicing their skills, and they’re going through a collection and doing triage.

Finally, you have to expect the unexpected.  Sometimes a disaster is just that and there’s not a lot you can do about it.  But if you have a good plan in place, you may be able to salvage something.  Here we show you the Bayou Folk Museum that was at the Cape Chopin House. The house caught fire, but some books were able to be salvaged from this ruin.  From changing climate to floods and earthquakes, from terrorist attacks to oil spills, our collections remain at risk.  But being prepared for the next crisis before it happens with a written plan is one way to ensure the preservation of your collections now and in the future.

Plan for the future of your collections and it will serve you well.  I won’t be able to take questions from you today, but my colleagues will be able to answer any of the questions that you’d like.

If you would like to contact us, please e-mail us questions at

and we’ll gladly answer any of them online while this webinar proceeds.

Thank you.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119