What is the PRICE of Emergencies on Cultural Heritage?

Preservation Week is April 27 to May 3, 2014. May Day is a time to reflect and do something to bette

Today is "MayDay -- Do One Thing for Emergency Preparedness" sponsored by  Heritage Preservation which encourages libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, and preservation organizations to set aside May 1 to "do one thing for emergency preparedness."  As in past years, we are devoting a blog post to news and thoughts about emergency preparedness. 

Recently, colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution have discussed the roles that we play in preventing, preparing, and responding to emergencies.  Even with a robust disaster management program at SI, we discovered that we needed to do a better job of planning for emergencies that affect collections. We know that the offices charged with life safety at the Smithsonian will do a great job managing the people and many visitors at the Institution in an emergency, but what about the collections? Our team came up with a concept that we are bringing to the administration of the Smithsonian, called "PRICE" – Preparedness and Response in Collections Emergencies.

Each of the museums at the Smithsonian functions with its own set of plans for emergencies, but we recognized that at a big place like the Smithsonian there might be scenarios that require the help of the Institution at large. What if a museum needs help from a team of external conservation experts because it is overwhelmed with recovery? What if having a collections emergency recovery contract in place ahead of time, for instance, from a dry-freezing company, would spare a collecting unit from spending the valuable post-recovery time having to write and execute a contract? What if one unit has equipment and supplies needed by another unit? The PRICE concept would provide staffing, training, logistics and administrative support that pertain especially to collections before, during, and after a disaster.

At the Smithsonian we follow the Incident Command System (also known as ICS) for emergencies, and the PRICE concept would fit right into the structure as one of the reporting nodes to the incident commander.  If you are not familiar with ICS, today would be a good day for you to look at an important publication on the topic: Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level: A Handbook for Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Other Cultural Institutions by David Carmichael. 

We think that the model that we are proposing will help the Institution take care of its 137 million collection items. Stewardship of our collections must include ongoing review of collections emergency plans and put the emergency preparation, response and recovery experts in touch with one another.

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