Emergency Mitigation for Museums


This step includes those actions that are performed prior to a disaster and are used to support and enhance response to a disaster.  This is an imperative component of an emergency preparedness effort.  Such actions include carrying out:

  1. Implementing mitigation procedures developed as a result of the risk assessment
  2. Establishing relationships with the first responder community and local salvage vendors,
  3. Training staff to perform the designated response roles outlined in the disaster plan.

Read on for more information on these three mitigation strategies. 

Address Immediate Risks

When a risk assessment has been completed, quite often there are risks that can be mitigated through a few simple and relatively inexpensive steps.  They may include:

  • Relocate collections – if high priority collections are located in vulnerable areas (attic, basement, etc) or areas known to have reoccurring leaks, relocation may be the simplest way to mitigate potential damage.
  • Improve current storage areas – if it is not possible to relocate collections, or large numbers of objects are at risk, some steps can be taken to improve the current storage environment.
    • Draping open shelving with plastic can limit the effect of water leaks.
    • Adding bumpers, straps, or ropes to open shelving may help limit damage due to seismic activity.

Other high priority risks may require sourcing funds for mitigation efforts.  Developing cost-benefit scenarios may be effective in weighing the expense of mitigation against potential loss of collections.

Contact First Responders and Create Strategic Partnerships

Not all institutions will be able to cope with responding to a disaster without assistance.  Contacting the first responder community prior to an event - including the local fire marshal and police, Red Cross, local museum personnel and conservators - will help to develop a network of assistance in the event of a disaster. Invite the fire department to tour your facility and collect their feedback about potential improvements.  Seeing the facility will help familiarize them with the institution’s layout, as well as provide the opportunity to share information that would help them in an emergency, such as the location of high priority or hazardous items.

Working with an emergency services vendor can be a positive experience if appropriate planning has been carried out. By reaching out to potential vendors BEFORE an emergency, vendors will know that they have been integrated into your emergency plan. After a site visit, they will be able to assess the types of equipment and supplies they will need to bring with them depending on the size and scope of the event. For more details on working with an emergency services vendor visit the Mitigation Vendors page. Additional assistance and planning tools may be found through your local Alliance for Response community. 

Insurance and Emergency Planning

If you have insurance, it must be the first, rather than the last consideration. While there may be different levels of coverage, the insurance company must sign off on any treatment before it begins to ensure reimbursement. In essence, the recovery company must wait on the negotiation to be finalized between the insurance carrier (if there is one) and the policy holder before anything can begin – unless the policy holder is intending to pick up the costs out of pocket.  Discuss the use of a recovery vendor with your insurance carrier when developing your emergency response plan.  In addition, ask what kind of documentation you will be required to provide in the event of a disaster (see Documenting the Emergency under Response). See Museum SOS for additional tips on museum insurance.

Train Emergency Response Staff

Developing a disaster plan without conducting regularly scheduled training sessions is only half the battle. Participating in table-top exercises with staff helps familiarize them with the change in responsibilities that may take place when staff assumes the roles assigned to them as part of the response team.  Although it may seem uncomfortable or silly at first, role-playing emergency scenarios through every response and salvage step helps ensure a smooth and successful recovery effort. At the AMNH, workshop modules have been developed to provide organized and guided training specific to the museum’s collections and facility.