Why We Need to Be Prepared: Resources on Preparation for Natural Disasters for Museums

Added on Medium, September 7, 2017.

In the past couple of weeks, we were either preparing for and assisting others in preparing as well as helping people in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017-September 2, 2017) and now Hurricane Irma. Since these natural disasters occurred, the museum community continues to support those museums that had been through these hurricanes by sharing resources on how museums can prepare for these storms like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in addition to offering whatever we could to help those museums and the communities surrounding them. I was one of the museum professionals who shared resources on how to prepare for natural disasters; in my last blog, I stated that I have gathered resources and posted them on my website for those who want to learn more.

As a community of museums, we need to recognize that we should be able to be prepared for whatever storm or natural disaster that comes into our area. Many of the items in our collections are irreplaceable, and without the protection we need (insurance and preservation procedures) we could lose a part of our past that we may never be able to recover.

We have various organizations and resources that offer ways to help protect and preserve items on the national and state levels. The Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York, for instance, is a collaboration between two long-running New York programs dedicated to service and support for archival and library research collections throughout the state, and is supported by the New York State Archives, New York State Library, Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, and the New York State Education Department.

The Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York offers various resources to assist museums and other organizations on preserving items in their collections. Back in June, I participated in a workshop called Disaster Response and Recovery: A Hands-On Intensive.

This workshop was an all-day program that allows participants to not only listen to advice from the experts affiliated with the Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York but it also provided an opportunity to practice what we have learned through hands-on salvage activities. Participants were also given folders with additional information that can be referred to later on after the program has been completed. Inside the folders, there were pieces of information about the Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York including what the organization is and the programs it offers especially educational workshops.

The folders also included additional information on disaster response and recovery. One of the pieces of information include guidelines for boxing wet books for freezing, and freezing and drying of book, paper, and photographic materials information and guidelines packet. Inside the folders, there were also additional information to supplement the presentation including information about the Incident Command System (the team that is gathered to respond and recover items after a disaster), and what we would need to recover specific type of items such as books, paper, CDs/DVDs, parchment/manuscripts, microfilms, black and white photographic prints, and textiles.

We were also given copies of the PowerPoint presentation to both refer to after the workshop and to take down additional notes on information they mentioned that were not brought up on the slides.

Also, it provided an agenda for the day’s workshop and information about the workshop speakers as well as a directory of museum professionals who attended the workshop.

In the morning, after a brief introduction, we were introduced to a few topics. The experts discussed the Incident Command System, Personal Safety, Site Assessment Techniques, Knowing When to Contact a Vendor, and Basic Salvage Techniques.

One of the first things the speakers pointed out that need to be done is to make human health and safety a priority. It is important to check in on the staff’s emotional and physical state since we should care about the individuals we work with to fulfil our organizations’ missions. Afterwards, the staff has to gather personal protective equipment (PPE) such as aprons, boots, gloves, goggles, and hard hats before approaching the situation.

The next steps in the recovery process are to assess the situation, prevent further damage, have a collections salvage, and return to as normal practice as possible. Each staff member should be assigned to different roles to record the damage, retrieve the items, and recover the items using appropriate techniques to best preserve the various types of items in the collections.

After a short break, we continued learning more about disaster response and recovery. We started to learn about the functional activity we would be participating in, and each part of the activity has a number of steps. For instance, we have to assess the site, assign roles, gather the supplies, and then set up the triage areas.

Once we assigned the roles to our team members, we proceeded to perform the salvage of items provided by the experts using the techniques we learned. After a lunch break, we continued the salvage but switched roles so each team member was able to practice what they have not done before the break.

In addition to this workshop, I also plan on gaining more resources from a webinar I found, hosted by the Texas Historical Organization, called Webinar: Responding to Hurricane Harvey. During this webinar, Rebecca Elder of the National Heritage Responders and Lori Foley of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force will host a discussion about emergency response. The discussion also includes opportunities to ask questions on emergency response, salvage, and recovery.

I recommend signing up for this webinar if your institution was affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. I also recommend signing up if you are curious about what resources are available for emergency responses.

During these times, we need to be there for each other and help support each other however we can. I decided to write about hurricanes and natural disaster recovery processes as a way to offer help to those who need resources on how to preserve their collections. My thoughts are with those still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and those who are in the middle of Hurricane Irma.

What resources have you came across for natural disaster recovery processes? How does (do) your organization(s) prepare for and recover from natural disasters?

 
Here are some resources I referred to in my blog and a link to resources I gathered on my website on natural disasters:
Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York: http://dhpsny.org/
https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/1686939294244406785 (webinar I referred to in the blog)
Northeast Document Conservation Center: https://www.nedcc.org/
and the NEDCC article: https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/3.-emergency-management/3.8-emergency-salvage-of-moldy-books-and-paper
Virginia Association of Museums: http://www.vamuseums.org/page/DisasterResources
My website and the resource pages I gathered for visitors: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.wordpress.com/resources/articles-I-am-reading/

 

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