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Subject: Disaster recovery and natural history collections

Disaster recovery and natural history collections

From: Sally Shelton <sshelton>
Date: Thursday, March 26, 1998
Andrea Maierhoffer <amaierho [at] dlcwest__com> writest

>I am a conservation intern putting together a disaster recovery plan
>for natural history collections
>... I have found several articles that
>describe in adequate detail how to treat library and archival
>collections but almost nothing about natural history collections.

I'm not sure why natural history collections should be treated
differently in a disaster plan from any other type of object
collection (with a couple of exceptions listed below). Let me weigh
in with one caveat: any disaster plan that focuses first on
collections and not on human health and safety is off on the wrong
foot. We tend to be object-oriented people, but human health and
safety must be the top priority throughout the plan.

I recommend the book PREP: Planning for Response and Emergency
Preparedness, published by the Texas Association of Museums with the
assistance of IMS (now IMLS). I think you can get copies through the
American Association of Museums. I'm biased; I was on the committee
that wrote it. Still, I use it as a reference all the time for just
this kind of thing.

I also strongly suggest that you get in touch with George
Baumgardner and Kathryn Vaughn at the Texas Cooperative Wildlife
Collection, Texas A&M University, for an in-depth look at what
happened and how they responded when their collections were
submerged after a water line ruptured.

The only materials I can think of in natural history ranges that may
pose unique problems are fluid-preserved materials (problems with
solvent exposure and flammability) and materials treated with
heavy-metal biocides such as arsenic and mercury. There is a lively
debate in the natural history community as to whether or not primary
types should be stored separately for ease of top-priority rescue.
Me, I've found that you can't really rigidly plan what you're going
to rescue first because you don't know what the disaster will be or
what areas you will be able to reach. Your response plan has to be
extremely flexible to accommodate reality: you're not going to be
the top response priority if you have a community-wide disaster,
your key staff may not be able to get to the scene for some time,
the building itself may be off-limits for some time until the
authorities declare it safe to enter (and, in that interim, it is
not your building, it is their building), you may not be allowed
back in the building once you're safely out....etc. If your plan is
based on the assumption that everyone will be present, able to
complete assigned jobs, and have nothing else to think about other
than collections rescue, your plan may not be worth much when put to
the test. Cheers,

Sally Shelton

                  Conservation DistList Instance 11:80
                   Distributed: Friday, April 3, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-11-80-009
Received on Thursday, 26 March, 1998

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