Every institution has its own unique set of hazards (e.g., threats to the building and/or collections). Risk assessment studies the probability that specific hazards will result in disaster. The most likely disasters and their potential effects should be identified during the risk assessment process. When assessing risks, focus on the following questions:
- Which of the identified hazards are the most significant to the site or the collection?
- What risk of disaster is posed by each of these hazards?
- Which sources of risk can be eliminated or moderated?
- Which risks must be addressed in the emergency plan?
It's important to prioritize; don't try to address all potential risks at the same time. Trying to plan for too many different scenarios is inefficient, and will slow down the process of improving emergency preparedness at your institution.
External hazards can be natural or manmade. They may be common, like flooding or uncommon, such as an oil leak. They may happen suddenly (e.g., tornado), or there may be prior warning (e.g., hurricane). They may be a result of geography, physical location, or even the political environment. As you consider the external hazards to which your institution might be vulnerable, remember that there may be unexpected risks.
Following are some risks to which your institution might be subjected:Hurricane: Hurricanes are slow moving, severe storms with high winds that are a serious threat to the East Coast and the Gulf Coast of the United States from approximately June to November of each year. Those affected usually have 24 hours or more to prepare, with hurricane watches and hurricane warnings issued well in advance.
Flooding: Flooding often develops over a number of days, as a result of prolonged heavy rain or melting snows that create high river, stream, or reservoir levels. Flooding, particularly flash flooding (which occurs very quickly with little warning), can be extremely dangerous and damaging; even shallow floodwaters can sweep away cars or people. Flash flooding occurs most often from storms that produce large amounts of rain in a short time, but can also be caused by some sort of catastrophic event, such as a dam failure.
Earthquake: Earthquakes measuring 6 or more on the Richter scale are considered major; earthquakes with a magnitude of 8 or more on the Richter scale can result in catastrophic damage. Buildings that are constructed on unconsolidated landfills, old waterways, or other unstable soil are most at risk. Trailers and manufactured homes without a reinforced foundation anchored to the ground are also at risk. Certain areas of the United States are prone to earthquakes, but history has also shown that damaging earthquakes do not always occur on well-known fault lines.
Wildfire/Forest Fire: Institutions located in a rural wild land or forest area face a significant risk from wildfires, of which the major causes are human negligence (e.g., smoking, or improperly extinguishing a campfire) and lightning. Adjacent properties may pose a danger to your building and collections if the property owners do not take steps to prevent the spread of the fire. In addition, a rural location may be far from fire stations and water supplies. Finally, wildfire firefighters may be unaware of actions needed to protect cultural buildings and collections.
Water Main Break: Since many underground water mains are very old and deteriorated, they often break unexpectedly. It is also possible for a water main to be broken accidentally by digging or construction in the area. The primary threat to institutions and collections is flooding, which can be significant, particularly if some time passes before workers can cap the water main.
Sewer System Backup: Sewer system backups often occur because of heavy rains that increase the water pressure in the sewer system, causing sewage to flow into buildings through the basement drains. If there is a widespread power outage in the area, the sewer system may fail due to lack of power to parts of the system. Sewer backups can also result from inappropriate materials being disposed of down the drains or from shrub or tree roots cracking or breaking the sewer lines.
Proximity to Hazardous Materials or Activity: Hazardous materials are used in a wide range of activities, including manufacturing, agriculture, medicine, and research. Many products that are routinely used in homes or workplaces contain hazardous chemicals (e.g., cleaning products, paint removers and thinners). Most serious accidents involving hazardous materials are the result of transportation accidents (involving air transport, highways, trains, and/or waterways) or accidents in manufacturing plants.
Terrorist Attack (or Riot/Civil Disturbance): Most terrorist attacks that have occurred in the United States have been bombing attacks, but chemical or biological attacks are possible. If an institution is located near railways, highways, waterways, power plants, government buildings, or other prominent public facilities, there is some risk of terrorist attack. If an institution is located in a public facility or in proximity to a controversial organization, there may also be risk of a riot or civil disturbance.
Internal hazards within your institution fall into several categories. They might relate to the building and/or mechanical systems (e.g., leaky roof, inadequate electrical system); detection and alarm systems (e.g., fire, security); personnel and procedures (e.g., inadequate backup of records, poor staff training); or maintenance issues (e.g., insufficient inspections and repairs).
When evaluating the relative importance of internal risks, consider the frequency and occurrence of past problems. Again, remember that there may be risks that have not previously affected your institution.
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