CULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
It's Not a Matter of IF, but WHEN!
By Wilbur Faulk
San Francisco, California
September 24, 2003
Let's assume you are the Director of Facilities of an archeological
museum, which attracts about 200,000 visitors and school
children each year. Your collections contain a wide variety of
specimens from around the region, with many objects many
hundreds of years old. In addition, your library contains many rare
and unique materials, including a large collection of prints. At 2:00
a.m. on a Tuesday evening, the Director of the Museum calls you
at home to tell you there has been a disaster in the galleries. The
city police have notified her of the problem, but provided no details
other than the recommendation that someone should come
quickly. The Director asks you to respond.
Upon arriving, you see smoke and flames coming from the east
side of the property. A city firefighter tells you the maintenance
shed nearest the museum caught fire. The fire has spread to the
nearby office building that houses the library. No one is allowed to
go into the building. The Fire Department has been pouring water
into the building for about 20 minutes and has nearly suppressed
the fire. A reporter and cameraman from the local TV station are
pulling up, having heard about the emergency over the Fire
Department scanner. Many of the museum's neighbors also are
trying to get onto the property to see how bad the situation is.
Is this an emergency? Why or why not?
Will you be able to respond to the emergency by yourself?
What kind of help will you need?
It's too late to try and figure out these questions! A thoughtful
approach to emergency preparedness is critical now while you
have time to think and plan and to train yourselves to react in the
most efficient and effective way when an emergency does strike.
DEVELOPING A PHILOSOPHY - What are your institution's
priorities and obligations in an emergency?
The first essential step in the development of an emergency
preparedness program is for the leaders of your institution to
clarify your organization's philosophy and approach towards
- How will you define an emergency for the purposes of activating
your plan? (For our purposes, an emergency is any situation
that adversely affects people, collections, or other property, and
has the potential to get worse.)
- What emergencies are you most likely to face? (The Red Cross
and your local fire department may be helpful in providing a list
of the natural and man-made disasters most likely to occur in
- Is your priority to save lives or to save property? Would all staff
members agree? Can you do both?
- What are your moral and legal obligations toward the safety of
staff, visitors, the public, and the collections?
- Do you allow employees to go into an unsafe building or area
even if they want to?
- What resources are you prepared to divert from other activities in
order to carry out your responsibilities for emergency
- How urgent is it for you to reopen to your constituents?
- What are your institution's other priorities? Payroll? Computer
systems? Telephone systems? Personnel records? Etc.
- Who will speak for your institution?
- And, very important, exactly who will be in charge in an
ESTABLISHING A COMMITTEE - Who are the people in your
institution who can discuss and resolve these issues?
There are probably a number of people who need to contribute to
these discussions. You may want to establish an emergency
planning committee and appoint a chairperson. Once the
fundamental philosophical issues have been resolved, this core
group will be responsible for most of the real work.
Representatives of this planning committee should be the
principle members of each major function within your institution,
such as collections management, personnel, public relations,
security, facilities, and administration. A successful planning
process is particularly dependent upon the active participation of
the director of your garden.
Your museum may be one part of a larger institution--university,
city, art museum, etc. Your planning efforts might therefore need
to include representatives from that larger organization.
So, what does this committee do? At the first meeting, the
chairperson must clearly spell out the goals and objectives of the
- What are each member's responsibilities?
- What is the mandate of the group as a whole?
- Are there others who should serve on the committee?
- How often should the group meet?
- What is the scope of the committee's decision-making authority?
- What financial resources are available for emergency planning?
- What will happen to the committee after the plan is completed?
In addition, the group must establish a timetable for completing
each phase of planning delegate regular assignments and
deadlines to each committee member, determine what kinds of
emergency supplies and equipment are needed, decide where
supplies will be stored, and who will keep track of them. The
group should also contact outside assistance sources, such as the
local fire and police departments, the Red Cross, your colleague
institutions, and local museum support groups.
Now, back to the fire!
WHO'S IN CHARGE? - Has the Director designated you as the
person in charge? What if you had been out of town?
Many cultural institutions (and other corporations) have adopted
the "Incident Command System" (ICS), which was developed for
the California fire service in the 1970s. This command structure is
designed to allow management and coordination of emergency
response regardless of which key personnel are present at the
time of the event.
What functions are necessary to react to the fire and water
damage that's occurring?
You certainly need:
- Facilities folks to help evacuate the water, clean up the building
and restore critical services;
- Security to keep people from entering, especially the maintenance
shed which might contain pesticides and other chemicals;
- Public relations to deal with the media on site and off;
- Collections staff to assess the damage to the objects.
- Perhaps library collections colleagues from a nearby institution
help assess the damage to books and to begin salvage
- Probably some computer staff to restore your on-line catalog or
mapping system if it was damaged;
- Human resources (personnel) people to define emergency pay
policies and guide staff in whether and when to return to work;
- Someone to coordinate all these efforts.
There may be lots of other functions your museum needs, too.
Who's going to head each of those functional areas? What if
that person is not available?
The organization chart for emergencies is based on areas of
responsibility, not by individuals. A line of succession by title, as
deep as your organization can support (ideally three to five
positions), is established for each essential emergency
assignment before an emergency occurs. Regardless of the size
of your organization, the ICS concept is an excellent way to
minimize confusion during an emergency. The system allows for
expansion and contraction of your plan to whatever magnitude of
response your situation may require.
Do you know how to reach these leaders and in what order
they should be called?
List the names and home phone numbers of key staff members on
a small card. Laminate the cards and ask emergency plan
personnel to carry them at all times in a wallet or purse. Update
this information on a regular basis. This is particularly critical if
you work for the city, county, or a university, as your garden may
be just one component of the overall organization.
As technology evolves, automatic paging systems are becoming
cost-effective and easier to use. These systems allow you to pre-designate multiple groups of people who can be paged with one
phone call, depending on the needs of the emergency.
BUILDING A PLAN - Do the people in charge of each function
know what to do? For example, do they understand that
there may be hazardous materials in the maintenance shed?
Do they know the importance of diverting water quickly away
from the books in your library?
Having determined the line of succession for each functional area,
create checklists that detail the basic tasks that may need to be
completed by the person filling the role. These checklists function
as mini job descriptions and serve as guidelines only; they are not
intended to be all-inclusive, but are in place to help the user begin
the process of managing an emergency. It is critical to take these
checklists beyond the "what" stage and into the "how" phase. For
example, it is easy to say, "relocate damaged objects to a safe
location." However this requires extensive thought and planning
to determine how to do that: how to find the equipment you need,
how to document the move, how to identify and select appropriate
locations, how to secure the space, etc.
What if the head of the Library comes up to you and says,
"Please help me get the water out of the library. Could you
go turn off the power to the building?" You are too busy
managing the emergency. Does any of the few staff on the
property know what to do?
Rather than looking like a deer caught in the headlights, you might
want to refer to a "fact sheet" that provides simple, step-by-step
instructions to guide you through unfamiliar tasks. Topics may
range from starting a portable emergency generator or shutting off
a natural gas valve, to even such unthinkable topics as setting up
a temporary morgue. Any task that is complicated or seldom
done, but is relevant to the operation of your institution, can be
written up as a fact sheet. The process of writing fact sheets is an
excellent training tool. Important forms, like collections damage
forms should also be included as fact sheets.
USING YOUR RESOURCES - If you're allowed to go into the
galleries and other buildings to assess the damage to your
collections, what tools or supplies would you want to have
with you? Where would you get them?
A technique that has worked well for some cultural institutions is to
pack the appropriate sections of our plan and the supplies we
need for immediate response, in easily carried duffel bags. Label
each bag by title (not by person) as noted in the emergency
organization chart, and store all of the bags together in a secure
and accessible location. Having the essential information
organized is particularly helpful if a person further down the line of
succession has to assume a particular role. Remember, the bags
are related to a specific emergency function, not to a specific
individual. Do not store them in the custody of people who may
not be present to use them.
In our fire scenario, you might want access to a flashlight, some
rubber boots, some forms for noting damage, a clipboard, pencils,
a couple throwaway cameras, and a map of the garden or library.
You might also want that checklist on the Collections function, and
the fact sheets on "stabilizing wet materials."
In the galleries, you discover that about 20 objects have been
severely burned, and 3 significant statues have been knocked
over and broken during the fire. Once inside the building,
you see that there are several inches of water on the ground,
a row of books is sitting in the water and many others are
wet. What resources, human and physical, will you need to
respond? (Don't forget, every other function in your
organization chart, from the life/safety folks to the PR folks
should be asking themselves these same questions and,
potentially, needing the same resources you do.)
Your organization already has many resources on hand that may be needed in the event
of a disaster. However, will your staff know where to find them? It takes only a little
time and energy to prepare and distribute a list of the locations and quantities of such
basics as fire extinguishers, first-aid supplies, rolls of plastic, flashlights, paper goods,
plastic boxes, hand trucks, battery-powered radios, shovels, crowbars, lumber, buckets,
food stocks, and so on. Don't forget that other departments may regularly use things
you would need in an emergency: cardboard boxes, packing materials, fans,
Some time ago, I developed a series of "crash carts," modified
custodial carts which contain those supplies and pieces of
equipment that are needed for immediate response to an
emergency. Security Officers or other staff can be trained to
deploy and use them. Some carts can be primarily focused on
responding to water leaks and contain squeegees,
wet/dry vacs, plastic sheeting, buckets, absorbent materials,
portable lights, a portable generator, electrical cords, and small
tools and personal protective equipment.
Would you be able to treat the objects and wet books
yourself? Would you need access to a freezer service?
Would you need access to consultants?
Many institutions keep the names and telephone numbers of
those colleagues, contractors, and vendors with whom they most
often do business in a card file or address book. Take this
practice one step further. Assemble this information into a master
list of the names, addresses, and key telephone numbers of local
institutions, conservators, and security personnel. Add the phone
numbers of building contractors and landscape engineers your
institution has used recently. Compile a list of local vendors,
especially those with whom you have open purchase orders or
special arrangements. This may minimize the need to use cash
during major emergencies when vendors will not accept credit or
checks. Organize this information by category, incorporate it into
your emergency plan, and store it in the appropriate bags.
Store duplicate copies of important plans, drawings, and diagrams
of your facilities and gardens in a secure and accessible place.
Maintain copies of critical keys in a safe and separate location.
Develop a liaison with emergency planning organizations within
your area. Attitudes are changing in most communities, and
resources are growing rapidly in the emergency preparedness
How many people would you need to help in the first 24
hours? How many more would you need later on to help
clear debris and replant?
Include your institution's non-employees in your emergency plan.
Make use of your docents, volunteers, and contract labor. These
people are dedicated to your institution and too often are left out of
important programs. Help them to be an asset rather than a
burden by letting them know what is expected of them and how
they can contribute.
You may find that others call upon your collections staff in the
institution to support their efforts. For example, your group
probably has the best access to vehicles, equipment, and debris
removal expertise. Or, your irrigation systems may be needed to
help protect the institution against an approaching brush fire.
TRAINING: THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENT - So, how do you and
your colleagues become comfortable with the roles you may
play during an emergency?
Once the committee has completed a draft of the plan it must be
shared with your employees before it is implemented. It is
essential that you distribute the draft to all department heads for
comments. Then share the plan with everyone at a full staff
meeting. The committee must be sensitive in advance to
individual needs, fears, and expectations. Encouraging
suggestions from all staff members and incorporating appropriate
revisions allows everyone to become a part of the plan.
We all do what we train to do, so the more time you spend
thinking and talking about your role, the better. On a regular
basis, picture yourself in an emergency situation; anticipate the
actions you would take; consider whom you would interact with.
You might consider even allocating a few minutes of your regular
department head meetings to posing a variety of likely scenarios.
Do you wish your security officers had relocated the objects
on the lowest shelf? How could they have done that in a way
that minimized further damage?
Determine what training is needed for staff in key positions, and
decide what kind of training other staff members will receive, as
well as how frequently staff should be retrained and retested.
Remember that if you have security personnel, they may be the
only staff at the site initially during an emergency, especially
during nights, weekends, and holidays (approximately 70 percent
of the time). It is difficult to find the time, but regular emergency
response training for your security or other designated staff is
imperative and should include basic fire fighting, first aid,
cardiopulmonary resuscitation, utility shutoffs, and emergency
collections movement. Consider opportunities for cross training.
For example, staff in your facilities department may be invaluable
in repairing damaged irrigation systems. If you are part of a larger
organization, many folks may be valuable "extra bodies" in the
event you need to pack out wet library materials or clear debris.
If a region-wide emergency occurs during the workday, will
your staff want to stay and assist?
A great way to get your employees motivated is to assist them
with emergency preparedness at home. If they know that they
have taken steps in advance to protect their loved ones at home,
they may be more willing to remain and help with the emergency
at your institution. Even if your employees are unable to leave
work due to impassable roads or the like, being prepared at home
will provide some peace of mind so that they can concentrate on
the task at hand.
TESTING THE PLAN - Will this thing really work?
Only if you move quickly to develop a scenario that tests the
strength of the emergency plan while the subject is still fresh in
your mind. It is suggested that you develop a timeline around
developing and testing your plan.
Conduct your first drill after staff members have been given an
opportunity to develop an understanding of the program and to
adequately rehearse any new skills related to the emergency plan.
For greater impact, try to schedule the drill near the anniversary of
an emergency that is well known in your community. For
example, some Cultural institutions in California have historically
held drills in April, the month of the 1906 San Francisco
Determine whether you want the public involved and how much
publicity you want to generate. Docents and volunteers make
great "acting visitors." Decide how much participation you want
from your public safety agencies.
During the drill, assign selected members of your staff to observe
and evaluate the exercise. Document the drill with photos and
video--both are great training tools and excellent motivators. Do
not expect your first drill to go off without a hitch, but use it as a
learning experience. Plan the emergency drill to teach success,
not failure; build confidence, not apprehension.
The drill should be developed by a very small number of
employees so as to maintain an element of surprise and
spontaneity among other employees. It is best to simulate the
type of emergency most likely to occur in your area. Your drill
should actually begin with the total evacuation of your staff and
"acting visitors," but must go father if you really want to test your
response capabilities. Once your staff has been evacuated, key
members should assemble at a designated location so that you
can determine who is at the site to take responsibility for each
function. This group of leaders should be presented with a
comprehensive set of problems. Determine who will be in charge
of the safety and health of visitors and staff, who will evaluate the
structural soundness of the building, who will direct salvage
operations for endangered collections, and where objects will be
relocated if necessary.
It is helpful to simulate collections damage, structural damage,
road blockages, and injuries. Cardboard signs describing these
situations work well (i.e. "broken glass here"). Use moulage or
theatrical makeup to create realistic injuries in order to test first aid
and CPR skills. Moulage creates an amazing sense of reality and
is very useful in keeping the staff focused on the seriousness of
the drill. (The Red Cross or a local drama group may be helpful
The drill creates many opportunities to test your staff members.
They should be able to operate fire extinguishers, move
collections in emergency situations, use special tools and
equipment, and shut off utilities. Make the drill realistic--tap the
creativity of your staff. Provide at least two to three hours to really
test your plan.
By the way, did you know what steps the Fire Department
would take when they responded to your fire? Did they know
how to minimize further damage to your collections?
Full-scale drills with broad simulated disasters are critical to
testing the coordinated approach of your plan. But, smaller, more
modest exercises can be interspersed for more focused attention
to one or more areas. For example, mini-drills can test just the
collections salvage efforts.
Round-table exercises, especially involving outsiders like your
local Fire Department, can be very enlightening about what
response to expect in the event of a real emergency. And they
give you an opportunity to provide the Fire Department with
information on the sensitivities of your collections.
Telephone callback drills can give you a sense of the number of
staff members you may be able to count on to respond to an
emergency during off-hours.
CRITIQUING YOUR DRILL - How did it go?
If you've really planned a challenging drill, it probably did not go
well. Don't despair! Immediately following the drill, convene the
emergency planning committee to evaluate the exercise while
impressions are still vivid. Create a non-threatening climate for
discussing the inevitable mistakes and need for improvement.
Establish a format for the entire staff to participate in a critique
Do not procrastinate--take action immediately on the good
suggestions and comments. Establish a schedule for the next
Avoid the temptation to finish the plan and put it on the shelf.
Most likely, after your first drill you will know just how much
practice is still necessary. By conducting exercises at least
annually, you will enhance your written plan over time, and staff
members will learn to develop confidence in their level of
PERSEVERANCE: THE CRITICAL ELEMENT - OK, we've got
a plan. That's it, right?
Well, based on this scenario, things didn't go so well with the fire.
There was some avoidable damage to the collections and the
museum had to remain closed for a month, and personnel records
were lost. But next time will be different. Your emergency plan will
evolve over time. No one is ever fully prepared for a major
emergency. There's a lot to do; don't be overwhelmed; just go
home and do something!
Wilbur C. Faulk, CPP
Executive Vice President
Cultural Property Protection Division
Contemporary Services Corp.
17101 Superior Street
Northridge, CA 91325
Tel 818 885-5150 ext 103
Fax 818 885-6115
Cell 818 335-3824