Dear Members, Friends, and Colleagues,
I admit to being one of those people who perhaps overly prepares for winter in Upstate New York. We have a generator for our 200-year-old home because we live in a place where the power goes out. I have a “winter bag” with blankets, flashlight, water, and granola bars as well as a very large brush and ice scraper in my car. In the MANY office, we keep extra jackets on hand and cover the windows with plastic to hold back wind blowing off the Hudson River.
We learn each winter about weather-related disasters that have damaged museums, historic structures, and collections. I have spoken with museum directors dealing with flooded basements because nearby creeks overflowed their banks; fire and smoke damage because electrical systems were compromised, and roofs that caved under the pressure of snow or fallen branches.
Today I spoke with someone whose museum was damaged because of a water pipe valve failure. They lost their furnace, electrical and communications systems, program supplies, files, exhibits under fabrication, computers, and many historic artifacts. The building is closed for the foreseeable future. Their road to recovery will be long and will require substantial funding from a wide range of sources.
If you work at a museum and do not have a current emergency or disaster plan, please take the time to create a plan and train your staff, board, and volunteers to use it. A plan will help you face emergencies whether caused by weather or mechanical failure. Walk through collection evacuation routes and safe assembly areas for visitors and staff. Include a floor plan of your building and contact information for emergency responders and collections recovery services.
If it has been a while since first responders and legislative representatives visited your museum, reach out and invite them. Find the leaders who represent community service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis and invite them too. Last year I learned about fraternities and sororities who are dedicated to public service and offer their assistance in emergencies. If you are located near a university, see if there are any of these social organizations on campus and plan annual visits.
The New York Capital Region Alliance for Response has great information on their website, including who to contact first in an emergency. They also have resources on disaster preparedness, disaster response, and free training webinars. The Getty Conservation Institute, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, and The Library of Congress also have free resources to help you develop a plan.
We are fortunate in New York to have several private, independent conservators and businesses that can help with disaster recovery. Not all disasters are preventable, but all are equally heartbreaking. MANY staff and board are also here to connect you to people who can help.
With thanks from someone who occasionally wears a belt and suspenders,