About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

How many of this blog’s readers have emergency disaster plans for their museums? If you do, where did you start? How did you create a plan that covers every eventuality? Or does your plan just cover the most likely disaster scenarios?

Mary Warner

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Tagged with:

13 Responses to Planning on Disaster

  1. Mary Warner says:

    Nothing like answering my own question . . . sort of. Since asking it, I’ve received the newsletter from MALHM that includes the notice of MALHM’s fall conference. The topic is Writing a Disaster Plan: Year III. My co-worker and I are planning to attend. I’ve also been online looking for sample disaster plans. Most of the plans I’ve found are monstrous in size, scaled for large organizations. I have found a few more manageable plans that we can use to get started.

    I’ve also discovered that disaster plans seem to be mostly about writing down the common sense stuff that we already do during minor events – like who to call when there is water in the basement, or what to do during a tornado warning. Disaster plans give you something written to refer to when you might be tempted to lose your head – as long as you can find a copy of the plan when you need it!


  2. Well, if ever there was a living document, the disaster plan has got to be it. In addition to making it readily accessible to staff, it has to be continuously updated. This need not be as onerous as it sounds.

    The adjunct to having the plan written is to do regular training with museum staff and principle volunteers. Everyone has to have some idea as to what would go down in the event of an emergency.

    Wish I had one, and it is on my agenda, but with my luck, it’ll be years before I get to it.

    I did work on ours when I was in South Dakota, and I’ve got to say that the single most difficult challenge we faced was finding someplace to serve as a recovery center. It is very difficult to find another building, preferrably close by yours, that can allow you to occupy it for upwards of a year.

    There are a number of sources out there that can help you, but especially the American Institute of Conservation, the Midwest Art Conservation Center (the friendly folks doing the workshop for the Alliance), and even MHS.

    True that examples out there are huge, but if you study them carefully, they all have common denominators that you know you’ll need to include in yours.

    Also, while there is a general format for these things, you need to do what will work for you and your organization. You can do something very simple on a flip chart and the rest of the material can be numerous appendices that hang out in someone’s home (if you have a big disaster at your place, you may not be able to get into your office to grab the plan off the shelf).

    Not much help, I am sure, but worth thinking about.

    See you at the workshop!


  3. Mary Warner says:

    The fact that we don’t have a disaster plan, and you don’t, Claudia, and no one else has replied to my question, says to me that there is something about disaster planning that makes it daunting. For me, I was caught up in the thought of attempting to plan for every single disaster out there. How does one plan for something totally unexpected or unforeseeable?

    If this is such a vital thing to do, there has to be a way to make it easier, especially for small organizations that don’t have the time to put one together amidst all the other tasks screaming for our attention.


  4. Well, that is what the series of Alliance workshops with the Midwest Art Conservation Center were supposed to be all about. Unfortunately, I missed the first one, which was more about the contents of a disaster plan.

    They are daunting, but if you focus first on water disasters, then you will have 90% of your basic disasters covered. Fires involve water, a roof collapse in winter involves water, burst pipes, misfiring sprinklers, all involve water. And the way to get it done, I think, is to bite off small chunks. You’d probably have to devote six months to it if you were working on it full time.

    The way to begin is to begin. [Now, if I could just take my own advice.]


  5. I pulled out our Staff Emergency Procedures “manual” and found a definite common theme. Remain Calm. Dial 911.

    My recollection is that we patterned this after a set of guidelines from UMCA. It has main headings such as Authority & Delegation, Emergency Contacts, Staff Recall List, Medical Emergencies, Flooding & Water Damage, etc.

    It is not comprehensive ala the Allinace Collections Manual. More a bullet point list of quick actions to take just in case…. It definitely needs updating (and probably retyping since is looks like and old Mac file).


  6. Mary Warner says:

    I like your form of emergency planning, Mike. Remain calm. Dial 911.

    I’m astounded by your comment, Claudia, about an emergency plan taking 6 months of full-time work. If that’s really what it takes, it’s no wonder 80 percent of museums don’t have an emergency plan. (I saw that stat on a disaster planning workshop email.) What small museums need is the equivalent of the winter coffee can kit we Minnesotans keep in our cars. Just the basics. What to do at the height of the emergency. A top ten list of which things from our collections are critical to save if we can’t save everything. Something that’s easy to update each year. If I think about this long enough, I’ll end up creating that small museum coffee can kit myself.

    Remain calm. Dial 911.


  7. Well, I think that the reason that it would take so long is that there is only one size disaster plan taught–the big honkin’ thing that is incredibly thorough, and deals with all kinds of disasters.

    But then, what others might think of as a small disaster for them, could be a big disaster for us. The mondo disaster plan would seem to be necessary no matter what.

    Mary, if you can develop the coffee-can disaster plan, your name would be heralded far and wide.

    Do it!


  8. Erik Holland says:

    I feel strongly that any plan is better than no plan! Don’t worry about being all encompassing but do begin to plan. Start with something borrowed from someplace else and adapt the specifics to your place. Remember, it will never be done. Situations change. Do you suppose that the twin towers had a plan for two aircraft hitting in one day?

    Okay, quit reading and get to work. The plan is to protect your resources–afterall, if you don’t you won’t exist. E


  9. Mary Warner says:

    I noticed that someone (David?) slipped a link to an online disaster planning service on Local History News.

    Link: http://www.dplan.org/

    It’s called dPlan and was developed by the Northeast Document Conservation Center and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. dPlan allows museums to use the site to fill out information about disaster planning within a structured format. Once the plan is filled in, a museum can print out the full plan for its use. I took a tour of the demo yesterday and I must say that it is a very complete plan. If you want to have a paper version to fill out before going online, there is a 129-page pdf to download. Once again, that’s a whopping amount of work for a small museum, but dPlan has a “lite” version. I’m assuming the demo version was the long version, so I’ll have to register to the site in order to see what the lite version is like. (Registration is free.)

    Someone has obviously done a lot of the hard work here, although the site makes it clear that the plan is only for the building and collections, not for people emergencies. I’m not sure it deals with reputation sorts of emergencies, either. Maybe it does and I missed it. When I think of emergency situations, the breakdown in order of importance for me is: People first, Collections & Building second, and Reputation third.

    Erik, you bring up a good point by mentioning the Twin Towers. I would say that 9/11 is the marker for when writing disaster plans became a priority in our nation. While we’ve been working on emergency systems straight along, that event put it all into sharp focus.


  10. As Mary and Claudia were writing about Coffee Can Disaster Plans, one of the many listservs I monitor for useful things to pass along to readers of the blog and Local History News carried the dPlan Lite announcement. According to the announcement, it should be ready in early October. I had meant to post a brief note in addition to the link in the e-newsletter.

    Mary’s outline seems really good: protect people, things, and reputation, in that order. While not as succinct as Mike’s “Remain Calm. Call 911,” Mary’s is memorable and serves as an outline for addressing emergency situations. And, if done in this order, more than likely reputation will be taken care of as a matter of course in most cases. Good job, everyone!



  11. Mary Warner says:

    dPlan lite is up and running. I officially registered MCHS for the site (it’s painless) and selected the lite version. It appears to be much more manageable than the full version. I’ve already started filling in requested information. Do you know where your main water, gas, and electric shut off valves, switches and levers are? That’s part of what the plan asks you to provide and, by golly, that’s good information to know.


  12. Erik Holland says:

    It is useful to collect access points to ideas, resources, and procedures related to preparedness. One that I would recommend that you bookmark in your organization is
    Erik Holland
    Interpretive Program Associate
    Historic Properties Office-Collections
    Historic Sites and Museums
    Minnesota Historical Society
    651 259-3476 voice
    651 296-8404 fax
    erik...@mnhs.org work


  13. Cathy Walters says:

    What’s your important items,incase of fire-is it on wheels & can be pushed out doors,is it easy to grab ,create a plan,include fire department,your staff and your volenteers.Incase of flood-notification system needs to be planned,water damage weather due to spinklers,hose,leeking pipes or flood-before you lockup tonight,take a look at all that history-irreplaciple ,what if tonight it happen’s.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers