Often we think that the goal of disaster planning is the creation of a written disaster plan. In fact, the value of disaster planning is in the process itself--training, familiarization, and practice--so that when a disaster does strike, all staff or collection stewards are prepared. Disaster plans in written form are incredibly valuable. However, these only become effective when collection caretakers participate in their creation and maintenance and are trained in their use. Disaster plans are excellent reference guides; they contain important contact information and emergency response procedures. Effective disaster planning, however, is an ongoing process, one that lives in the minds of those responsible for collections. For individual collectors and artists in particular, a written plan is not nearly as important as taking appropriate steps to be prepared in an emergency.
Disaster preparedness planning should focus on two key goals:
Not all emergencies are preceded by warnings, but when they are, preparedness plans should be put into action to help prevent an emergency from turning into a disaster. Time is of the essence. A well-researched and tested disaster preparedness plan will allow you to take swift action in the short window of time available.
Disaster preparedness actions are by nature very contextual. Hurricanes and typhoons, dust storms, flash floods, tornadoes, fires, and civil unrest warnings require very different preparation steps. Localized threats, arising in scenarios when pipes have aged or electrical wiring is faulty and the building itself is the threat, require a different set of preparedness steps. Even when the threat is shared, the way it is addressed depends on the location of the building, the material of structures, and where and how collections are stored.
When creating a disaster plan for your organization, start by considering each line of defense for the collection. Think of these as layers as those of a Russian matryoshka, or nesting, doll: the outermost layer provides protection for the next, which protects the one inside of it, and so on. Start with the outermost layer, typically the building or the structures that surround the building. Whenever possible, collaborate with people who know the structure well, such as the building manager or owner. Research and talk to others in the region who have buildings of a similar structure and material to find out what types of precautions they take when emergency warnings are issued. Factor in structural vulnerabilities that may need to be addressed. For instance, are sandbags needed to reduce the chance of floodwaters from entering the building?
Beyond just the building, additional defensive lines may need to be strengthened. Depending on the anticipated risks, emergency procedures may include covering shelves and boxes with plastic sheeting, moving collections off the floor and onto higher shelves, moving collections from one room to another, or other procedures.
All individuals responsible for the collection should be involved in establishing preparedness procedures, lead by identified members of the “disaster team.” The team should work together to determine when preparedness procedures should go into effect at the point that warnings are issued, bearing in mind the individuals’ personal needs. If people need time to secure their own homes or evacuate the area, this should be accommodated in the preparedness procedures.
Once a disaster strikes, the availability of individuals to help with recovery will vary greatly depending on their personal circumstances. Therefore, as much as possible, preparedness should be inclusive of anyone who might be available to help in a disaster. A first step in getting staff thinking about how to react in a disaster is to conduct training exercises. Simulation training is highly recommended as it provides an effective way for people to become familiar with preparedness actions and the process of disaster recovery. It also provides some sense of the confusion and anxiety that arise during disasters, while simultaneously surfacing ways that the constraints and urgency of a recovery scenario can influence disaster preparedness steps.
Two types of staff training should be conducted:
Simulated disaster recovery training involves setting up a small, isolated “collection” of materials that have been affected by some type of disaster. The collection should include a mix of materials that represent items of different “value” and types, including paper artifacts alongside audiovisual formats. Since nearly all disasters involve water, this is a good damage agent to use during recovery simulations.
The experience should force participants to think through the disaster recovery process and inform the preparedness process by raising questions such as: Who is our insurance company? How do you prioritize when media items are unlabeled? Are these commercial LPs really valuable? How do you clean a ¼” open reel tape? The training should be guided by an expert but largely leave the operation of the recovery and the discovery of lessons-learned to the participants. Training activities include: ensuring the area is safe to enter, damage site survey and documentation, establishing roles and responsibilities, gathering and managing supplies, triage and prioritization, handling and workflow, documentation, and cleaning and drying. The outcomes of this type of training will likely reveal steps that can be factored into preparedness planning procedures.
2.3 Equipment and Supplies
In an area-wide emergency, supplies will be hard to come by, and at first you will likely only be able to work with what is immediately available. Even in the case of a small, localized disaster, such as a burst pipe, it will be much easier to protect collections from damage if basic supplies such as plastic sheeting are on hand. Keeping a stock of emergency supplies will go a long way toward effective recovery.
Use your knowledge of the area and the building (see Section 1 of this chapter) to know which supplies and equipment will be essential after a disaster. For example, if electricity is frequently interrupted, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) or a small power generator might be a wise investment. If your area is earthquake prone, having emergency lighting or at minimum an adequate supply of flashlights and batteries will be critical.
Keep emergency supplies in a watertight plastic container and in an easily accessible place. This may be near building entrances or in your car. It doesn’t hurt to have caches in multiple places. A list of basic supplies you might want to have on hand includes:
Think about which items in the collection will be a priority to evacuate or recover if they are damaged in a disaster. This is the point at which the appraisal process is very important (see Section 1.1). Make sure these items are well identified. Consider storing priority collections in a separate area that can be easily reached in the dark in case of a power outage. Organizations have used various approaches to ensuring these items can be quickly found and retrieved in an emergency, including locations identified on building diagrams and glow-in-the-dark stickers on shelves.
A disaster plan will be an invaluable resource in the event of an emergency. The written plan is a quick reference for telephone numbers and email addresses of staff and external resources (e.g. recovery labs). It also contains information about preparedness steps for the building and collections, including floor plans, the location of emergency exits, shut off valves, electrical breakers and outlets, and priority materials, and the details of salvage procedures.
A written disaster plan does not need to be overly detailed and should not be too long. It should be a well-organized resource and reference in the event of an emergency--not a verbose book that must be read from cover to cover for effective response, salvage, and recovery. Sections of the plan should be tabbed so they can be easily located in a time of crisis. Lists, diagrams, and bulleted, bold text will be most useful in an emergency. Make sure the plan is clear and easy to use. Additionally, it should be available in print and electronic form.
A disaster plan should include: