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Subject: Information on fires sought for documentary

Information on fires sought for documentary

From: Barbara Appelbaum <aandh>
Date: Wednesday, June 17, 1998
A quick comment on the search for fires in cultural institutions:
One issue that has not been discussed in the open is possible
confidentiality of information that conservators hold about their
clients, either their employer institution or contract client.  Can,
for example, we discuss with our colleagues incidents we have been
involved in without permission if we do not give names or other
information that would allow someone to identify the institution? If
we are looking for permission, who in the institution would it have
to come from and in what form?

Obviously these questions relate strongly to the inquiry.  A large
number of my clients have had incidents of leaks, floods, and fires
that were small enough that they would not have come to public
attention.  (Even when they do, there have been examples of
institutions forcing their staff not to discuss the incident with
"outsiders.")  A small fire, even if it does not destroy or directly
damage collections, can create huge smoke contamination, and other
so-called small accidents can have major impact on collections.

In short, a search for disaster incidents will come up very short of
the actual occurrence, I would guess by at the very least a factor
of ten.  Of incidents known about, even fewer will have had open
inquiries into their causes. It is therefore unclear to what extent
the ones that have been investigated are representative.  I would
guess that most museum/historical society fires are in places that
do not have any detection, not to mention suppression.

The lack of information makes it very difficult to get institutions
to take disaster planning and prevention seriously, since all they
hear about are the world-class disasters.  A research project that
would guarantee confidentiality and would do everything possible to
assure that those in an institutions who were in a position to know
about disasters would be very helpful.  Any takers?

B. Appelbaum

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:4
                  Distributed: Thursday, June 18, 1998
                        Message Id: cdl-12-4-008
Received on Wednesday, 17 June, 1998

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