Conservation Workshop: “Emergency Preparedness, Response and Salvage in Museum Collections.”

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was honored to host a museum workshop last week titled “Emergency Preparedness, Response and Salvage in Museum Collections.”  We invited two conservators to come down to the Hollywood reservation and teach the course at the Native Learning Center.  The instructors were MJ Davis, a paper conservator from Northern Vermont, and Barbara Moore, an object conservator from New Jersey.  Both of the instructors are members of the American Institute for Conservation’s Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT); which was formed after Hurricane Katrina when the conservation community realized that cultural collections that are unfortunately involved in disasters were not getting the attention needed for a successful recovery.  AIC-CERT offers free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations when a disaster has occurred.  If your historical site or cultural institution needs advice or emergency help, please call 202-661-8068.

MJ Davis and Barbara Moore explain which tools to use in a water recovery.

            The Emergency Preparedness workshop held by the museum was a two day workshop open to any museum or cultural institution employee in Florida.  The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has annually held museum workshops to help bring together museum employees in the state and create a network of communication within the professional field. 

As we all know, Florida is threatened by numerous hurricanes and the resulting floods.  Unfortunately, there are few educational opportunities in the Southeast to teach museum employees how to handle disaster and emergency situations should they arise.  During the course of the workshop, the participants were taught what needs to be included in their institution’s emergency plan.  The lessons included how to work with first responders (fire, police, EMS, governmental aide), how to assess the document damage and how to prioritize, document, organize and carry out a salvage operation. 

Teams work to recover water damaged items.

            The course consisted of a day and a half of classroom lecture.  The sections included what should be in our own institutional emergency plans and covered risk assessment for natural disasters (hurricane, flood, blizzard, and fire), man made disasters (bomb threats, workplace violence, vandalism, arson), and internal disasters (building failure, pipe leaks).   We were also taught how different materials react to water or fire damage.  The materials highlighted were paper, books, textiles, paintings, photographs, electronic media, wood, furniture, leather, ceramics and glass.  The most exciting portion of the class was our actual salvage activity.  Groups of various “artifacts” were gathered from local yard sales, employees’ houses, and good will stores.  These artifacts were thrown into kiddie pools and allowed to soak for 6 hours before we staged a rescue operation on them.  This activity was a great way to provide hands on training as well as an understanding of both the rescue structure with its defined roles and how materials change when they are saturated with water.  We all enjoyed this activity and learned tremendous amounts about salvage of artifacts.  Let’s just hope that we never need to use these skills! 

All of the teams working on thier recovery efforts.

            For more information on this course, AIC-CERT, or conservation during disasters, please feel free to send me an email.   

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Conservator Corey Smith explaining what her team did.

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