On Disaster Planning

First of all, we had a minor disaster this morning when I turned the corner and beheld Colin’s new haircut:

The Curatorial Department is in a state of emergency.

In other disastrous news, look at what the Atlantic is brewing:

What the what?

Which brings me to my next point: I am in charge of the hurricane plan here at the Hermitage. For someone born and raised in the mountains (and a far cry from the punishing lash of the Atlantic), the hurricane activities implicit in my choice of locale are nothing short of terrifying. Thankfully I am surrounded by the likes of Colin and Matt who were raised here and actually — perversely — look forward to hurricane season (better waves for surfing!).  Both guys have their fingers on the weather pulse, and this morning I found them gathered around Colin’s computer high-fiving over the chilling graphic featured above.

Disaster planning is a large part of any curator/collection manager’s job. Our daily battles with light levels, humidity, dust, and pests (of all varieties) are ongoing — add a category 5 hurricane to the mix and you’ve got a real party! As the Atlantic starts to heat up, the 2010 Hurricane Plan is already circulating amongst the staff. Our emergency kits are stocked with flashlights and drop-cloths. The tree clearing company has been contacted ahead of time and the windows are ready for boarding up.

Though largely unseen, proper planning is not something to be taken lightly. A good disaster plan means that our institution can continue to function after a major emergency and that the potential threat to our collection is significantly lessened. My primary job is to care for our collection, and in some cases there is a very slim window in which an object can be saved. A good disaster plan shaves hours, even days, off of the typical amount of time it takes to implement recovery procedures in the wake of a hurricane, and in many cases that means saving parts of the collection that would otherwise be lost.

If you are doing some disaster planning of your own, the following links might be of interest:

The advent of the NEH’s  Emergency Response Wheel in 1997 provided cultural stewards everywhere with a go-to reference for every iteration of natural disaster.

In 2010 the IMLS provided over a million dollars in grant money to five states for the planning and implementation of emergency plans.

A New York Times article about the eight employees of the New Orleans Museum of Art who stayed behind to protect the collection during Hurricane Katrina.

A handy guide released by the Virginia Association of Museums detailing how you can assemble your very own Museum Emergency Support Team.

…Happy Hurricane Season 2010! Let’s make this the best one yet.

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