Expect the unexpected
Recently, I attended the two-day Emergency Response and Salvage Workshop held by the Archives Association of Ontario at the City of Ottawa Archives. Sixteen people attended from a variety of backgrounds and institutions in Ontario. The instructor for the session, Iona McCraith, is a seasoned veteran, with a career spanning more than 30 years as a preservation consultant and archival materials conservator. This was a great opportunity to discuss with other professionals in the field how to create and maintain a disaster plan and—more importantly—how to react, including ways to organize staff and emergency responders in the event of a disaster.
Although we already have a disaster plan for the National Currency Collection, Ms. McCraith offered some great resource information and suggested ways to update and improve our plan. For example, Heritage Preservation publishes a nifty little information wheel that provides invaluable guidance and practical advice for saving collections in the critical 48 hours following a disaster. Like so many things these days, there’s an app for that! Android users can download it for free from Google Play and Apple users with iOS 5.1 or later can get it free through the App Store. The app provides the same reliable content found in the original Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel.
Day two was our chance to get out of the classroom and “into the field,” so to speak. After reviewing the basic disaster tool kit containing masks, coats, gloves, paper towels, etc., we took part in a simulated disaster—in this case a flood. The City of Ottawa Archives generously supplied a variety of documents, books, photographs and electronic records as our test materials. Although we knew that these were disposable items, you could feel the anxiety in this group of museum professionals as we were told to submerge the pieces in water. However, once the first item sank to the bottom of the tray, all bets were off. This was a great opportunity to practice familiar recovery methods and try out new ones we learned in the previous day’s class. Understanding how different materials react to getting wet is essential because 80 per cent of disasters involve water (e.g., through a flood or a sprinkler being activated in a fire).
A yearly review and simulations of your disaster plan are critical. As the old adage goes, use it or lose it. We certainly would not want to risk losing our collection by not being prepared. For those who missed this opportunity, be sure to attend the 2016 conference in Montréal, “Emergency! Preparing for Disasters and Confronting the Unexpected in Conservation,” which is being jointly offered by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and the Canadian Association for Conservation. Dates and details of the conference are available on the CAC website.
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