JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 13 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 13 (pp. to )


STEPHANIE WATKINS, & Chinese proverb

ABSTRACT—ABSTRACT—The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed an emergency response training program, which is divided into five sections: orientation, drill, tabletop, functional, and full-scale. Each section provides skills that are expanded through subsequent exercises. Suggestions are given for implementing the FEMA training model to the needs of cultural institutions. The Missouri Local Records Preservation Program's archivists were trained in emergency preparedness and response methods for books, papers, photographs, and electronic media by adapting FEMA's model. This article concludes with resources for developing similar training programs.

TITRE—Le d�veloppement � l'�chelle d'un �tat am�ricain d'une expertise en mesures d'urgence en cas de sinistre. R�SUM�—Le Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA ou Agence f�d�rale de la gestion des urgences) a d�velopp� un programme d'entra�nement en mesures d'urgence qui est divis� en cinq types d'exercices, soit l'orientation, la pratique particuli�re � un type de sinistre, le situations hypoth�tiques, la pratique r�aliste pour une situation particuli�re, et enfin la pratique dans les cas d'un sinistre au niveau de l'�tat. Chaque exercice permet le d�veloppement d'habilet�s qui sont ensuite raffin�es davantage par les exercices qui suivent. Des suggestions sont faites pour mettre en oeuvre le mod�le de formation du FEMA en fonction des besoins des �tablissements culturels. En adaptant le mod�le du FEMA, les archivistes du Missouri Local Records Preservation Program (Programme de pr�servation des documents locaux de l'�tat du Missouri) ont re�u un entra�nement sur la pr�paration et les interventions en cas de sinistre, en ce qui a trait aux collections de livres, de documents en papier, de photographies et de m�dias �lectroniques. Cet article se termine en expliquant les ressources n�cessaires pour d�velopper des programmes d'entra�nement semblables.

TITULO—Desarrollando destreza en la preparacion para desastres y emergencias a nivel estatal. RESUMEN—La Agencia Federal de Manejo de Emergencias de los EE UU (federal emergency management Agency, FEMA) ha desarrollado un programa de entrenamiento para actuar en emergencias, el cual est� dividido en cinco secciones: orientaci�n (introducci�n a los objetivos del ejercicio), instrucci�n (explicaci�n detallada de un procedimiento), peque�a escala (ensayo verbal o prueba de un procedimiento), funcional (ensayo fisico o prueba de unos cuantos procedimientos) y escala natural (ensayo f�sico o prueba de muchos procedimientos). Cada secci�n provee ejercicios que se van expandiendo en las etapas subsiguientes. Se brindan sugerencias para implementar el modelo de entrenamiento de FEMA de acuerdo con las necesidades de las instituciones culturales. Los archivistas del Programa de preservaci�n de registros locales de Missouri fueron entrenados en la preparaci�n para emergencias y en m�todos de respuesta para libros, papeles, fotograf�as y formatos electr�nicos, adaptando el modelo del FEMA. Este art�culo ofrece alternativas para desarrollar programas de entrenamiento similares.


The goal of emergency and disaster preparedness programs is to protect people and property from damage. The extensive flooding in 1993 in the midwestern United States underlined the need for accurate preparedness and recovery information, including information on the care and recovery of historic and cultural property. For example, one library in the Midwest gave citizens the poor advice to insert cornstarch into their wet books and close them until dry. While various cultural institutions such as the National Institute for Conservation and the National Park Service made information available during the summer of 1993, the information often did not reach those in need. More flooding in 1995 reinforced the need for an emergency and disaster preparedness training program for the protection of historic and cultural material.

Founded in 1979, FEMA states that its mission is “to reduce loss of life and property and protect our nation's critical infrastructure from all types of hazards through a comprehensive, risk-based, emergency management program of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery” (FEMA website, www.fema.gov 1999). As part of the nation's emergency management system, FEMA has developed a training program to instruct people from a wide variety of educational and social backgrounds in preparedness and recovery operations. In addition, FEMA's independent study courses and broadcasts over its Emergency Education Network (EENET) are offered free to the public.

While emergency personnel are familiar with the language and concepts of preparedness and recovery, they are unfamiliar with conservation and preservation procedures developed to safeguard valuable materials before and during recovery efforts. The FEMA training program can establish a dialogue between conservators and emergency personnel by informing and educating members from each profession. Participation in FEMA-type emergency response training introduces conservators to governmental, legal, and medical motivations, priorities, responsibilities, and restrictions during an emergency event. Sharing of knowledge can lead to solutions that meet mutual goals.


FEMA's training program is designed to help reduce the panic, hysteria, and stress that can occur in a real emergency situation by offering training exercises in a safe, controlled environment. The five exercises are defined as (1) orientation, (2) drill, (3) tabletop, (4) functional, and (5) full-scale. Each successive exercise increases in complexity, and participants can develop confidence and comfort in incremental stages through their experiences. The exercises are run by experienced professionals or “simulators” who direct the action or “play,” “evaluators” who observe the participant's responses to the scenario, and “controllers” who monitor the progress and predetermined time constraints of the scenarios. The participants might include elected officials, emergency managers, first responders who are required by law to train in emergency response and recovery methods, and community volunteers desiring training. First responders can include members of fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, and emergency management assistance. Immediately following each exercise, participants are asked to evaluate the play and make suggestions for improvements to the preparedness plans and future exercises.


During FEMA's orientation exercise, the concepts and intentions of the training program are introduced to an audience of potential participants. The organization's plan, policies, procedures, and responsibilities are presented, and a consensus for development of future exercises is reached. There is no attempt to simulate an emergency or disaster situation during this meeting.


The drill exercise is a physical walk-through of one single response, such as drills for fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The procedure is demonstrated, then the participants practice the action. Participants are encouraged to ask questions about the procedures and then repeat and practice methods until they are comfortable. Generally no time constraints are imposed. Many components of recovery action can be developed into a drill exercise, and these exercises can be repeated at random over the course of the program to reinforce the other exercises as necessary.


The tabletop exercise is an informal discussion of a small, simulated emergency. It is designed to test and evaluate proposed plans and procedures and resolve questions of coordination and responsibility before implementation of a plan. This exercise familiarizes participants with the administration of response procedures and the need for communication and cooperation during an emergency or disaster situation. It also gives them insight into what resources they might need. A brief background of the emergency situation is given at the start of the exercise, but no help or prompting from the simulators, evaluators, or controllers is permitted. Message notes from the simulators generate a series of verbal or written responses from the participants. There need not be time constraints for the responses of the participants, nor are participants encumbered by facts such as number of available fire trucks.


The functional exercise is a physical, practice emergency response that allows participants to incorporate their drill and tabletop experiences. Like a dress rehearsal, the functional exercise acts as a realistic and stressful simulation in “real time.” The exercise is limited to practicing a few functions within the plan. After a brief history explaining the emergency situation, the exercise begins. Message notes are given in real time, and responses are monitored and observed. Discussion with other team members is possible, but participants must “act out” their responses in an appropriate and timely manner.


The full-scale exercise tests the design of the plan and the coordination of personnel from different organizations. The range of the participant's skills and knowledge is tested. The ultimate opening-night, full-scale exercises take place in real time and employ real people and equipment as if the emergency were actually occurring. Many facets of a plan may be tested simultaneously or throughout the course of the exercise. A well-designed full-scale exercise will provide the most complete and complex training short of an actual emergency situation. Efforts to make the exercise as realistic as possible sometimes extend to the use of moulage, theatrical makeup, on the persons playing the “victims” to give them the appearance of having cuts, scrapes, broken bones, amputated limbs, or other conditions requiring medical assistance. FEMA notes that the exercise can produce extreme stress, and it can develop into a real emergency situation when participants are hurt during play, or when the natural elements, such as fire, water, and wind, alter the exercise beyond the intent of the organizers.


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”


FEMA's model is easily adaptable to meet the training needs of many diverse types of organizations as well as conservation specialties. Those persons charged with developing a preparedness plan would benefit from adapting FEMA's terms and definitions, as the language of the emergency management profession is very specific. For example, the terms “disaster” and “emergency” are used by conservators, sometimes interchangeably, to indicate catastrophic destruction of information and artifacts, often within a limited time frame. To FEMA, “emergency” means a single-entity situation. “Disaster” means a multilevel or multijurisdictional situation. The president of the United States can declare an area a “disaster,” whereas many areas have “emergency” situations.

The following sections provide practical advice and formats for implementing a FEMA training model. The suggestions were compiled from training materials, conversations with community and training organizers, and personal experience. The ideas are given to help others develop and implement programs of their own.


Orientation can begin as a roundtable discussion or as a one-on-one on-site meeting. Objects conservator Barbara Roberts has used a simple ruse designed to capture the attention of participants when teaching preparedness concepts. It begins with someone turning out the lights. While participants are in the dark, they are asked to think about this sudden situation. Where are they? What might have just happened to cause the lights to go out? What are they thinking and feeling? How will they get out? Do they know where the exits are? What is the type of building structure? Is there a false ceiling that might crash down? Where is the emergency equipment? Will they be thinking of the safety of loved ones such as a spouse, children, or parents?

The concept of preparedness is introduced after the participants evaluate the initial simulated emergency situation. Participants can identify the possible situations, such as earthquake or flood, that might occur to their collection or institution. The meeting should end with some ideas of simple preparedness measures the participants can take to continue interest in the program. For example, participants can attach a small flashlight to their work keys. They can be reminded to store insurance policies off-site, to back up their computer systems frequently, on a daily or weekly schedule, to review their preparedness plans, and to start identifying emergency supplies, local suppliers, and other resources.


Drill exercises should be developed for each type of material that needs to be saved, such as paintings, papers, books, or photographs. For example, procedures for air-drying or packing materials for freeze-drying might be taught through separate drill exercises. Participants are shown what to do; then they are given time to practice the procedure demonstrated. Original materials do not need to be used for the drill exercise, as it is the action of recovery that is being taught. However, for participant familiarity during drills, donations of personal materials from staff members, items destined for destruction, and deaccessioned items can also be used. Noncollection and duplicate materials can be dry or altered (e.g., wetted or burned) as needed to teach skills.


Tabletop exercises consist of sample situations that can be conducted on paper while the participants are gathered in a room, often around a table. The region, type of emergency or possible disaster event, and type and size of collection determine the scenario to be tested in a tabletop exercise. For example, this exercise format can be used to test the emergency response plan for a localized fire, a burst water pipe, or the backup of a nearby sewer into the collections storage area. Quick responses can be encouraged. The exercise helps participants understand what level of involvement is appropriate, whether consultant advice or staff recovery action, for situations they are likely to encounter. The play helps participants determine where their responsibility begins and ends and highlights that cooperation is necessary to complete the task.

Keeping participant groups small and assigning each person a role such as director, building manager, conservator, administrative assistant, reporter, city planner, or fire chief or marshal can help focus the exercise. The hypothetical situation should develop with message notes given by the “simulators” to appropriate role players. For example, the administrative assistant can be given one message that reads “complaint of foul smell on first floor” while the building manager receives another message that reads “blueprints for basement requested.” Discussion among other crew members can proceed before participants decide on a course of action.


The functional exercise can test limited aspects of a plan, such as response procedures and response times for implementing a few specified recovery procedures that were already drilled. As with a tabletop scenario, the message notes for the hypothetical situations are given out in real-time intervals by the simulators, observed by evaluators, and timed and monitored by controllers. Unlike the tabletop exercises, functional exercises are a physical walk-through of action and responses. During this exercise, resources can be limited as they might be in real situations. For example, one message can read that the flat files are swollen shut. Will the crew decide to remove these materials or not? If so, will they know where to go for the appropriate tools? If the tool kit does not hold the necessary tools, how will the participants react?

Developing a functional exercise will highlight the needs of personnel engaged in recovery. Limitations of seats, toilets, and drinking water in the area can become apparent. Considerations can be generated by the following questions: If the exercise will take place outside, is it pollen season? Who among the crew has allergies? What are the age and fitness of the participants? Are some of the participants on special diets, or do they have medical conditions such as diabetes, bad backs, or heel spurs? A good plan can allow for breaks and special needs. Participants should be provided in advance with information on what they can expect and might need to bring with them for their comfort during the exercise.


Numerous events or aspects of a plan can be tested during a full-scale exercise, and the exercise can be as realistic as possible. For example, a sample scenario can be a fire engulfing an entire collection during the rainy season. As with the tabletop and functional exercises, simulators give participants the events of the full-scale hypothetical situation in message notes, and these can be relayed via familiar communications means such as the telephone. Participants can be equipped with supplies and functioning gear. Wet or burned materials can be incorporated into the exercise. Like functional exercises, much care and planning will be necessary to test the procedures of a recovery plan. Multiple evaluators will be necessary to observe the play. Controllers should allow the exercise to develop but keep a close watch on the results to stay within time constraints and to avoid mishaps.


The Missouri Office of Secretary of State Rebecca McDowell Cook has positions for four book and paper conservators at the Missouri State Information Center in the capital of Jefferson City. Conservators are responsible for the care of governmental records in the state archives and 114 counties as part of the secretary's Local Records Preservation Program (LRPP). LRPP's responsibilities include providing disaster preparedness and recovery information. Another aspect of LRPP is the regional employment of 11 local citizens as archivists to work on the local governmental level in the offices of clerks, recorders, coroner's districts, and so on. The LRPP archivists organize and sort important records from legally nonpermanent records, implement retention schedules, create finding aids, and improve records storage.

Like conservators, archivists have a professional interest in preserving the historical record. As employees and local citizens, the LRPP archivists are ideal candidates to help local government offices establish preparedness measures or to consult with these officials in the event of an emergency or disaster situation. Citizens, especially in rural areas, tend to contact local people they know instead of “trusting” state or federal representatives. Along with local trust, the archivists, as state representatives, carry some authority to follow through with projects. These employees are also invited to speak to private clubs and organizations, thereby disseminating relevant information to the private sector.

Disseminating preparedness information can be more cost-effective and can better utilize available resources than a cleanup and recovery program. Preemergency and disaster awareness and training help safeguard and protect important documents for the future by identifying correctable but potentially damaging situations and providing the knowledge for safe recovery of materials. The Missouri preparedness program goals were to provide expertise on a local level; to provide a proactive rather than reactive program; to reduce potential damage to vital and historical records from emergency and disaster situations; and to complement existing state services, namely the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).

Adapting the FEMA model into training for preparedness and recovery of archives, libraries, and governmental records was very easy. In January 1997, two conservation staff members completed FEMA training courses in orientation-to-community exercises and design and evaluation of exercises offered by Missouri's SEMA. In addition, the senior conservator participated in some of the planning stages for a local community functional exercise and observed the action. Then the conservation staff developed drill exercises focusing on the recovery methods for waterlogged paper, books, photographs, and electronic media, as water is likely in almost all scenarios. The conservation staff instructed the LRPP archivists in recovery procedures during the drill exercise and provided a three-ring binder containing relevant articles and reference materials. The binder format was chosen so the participants could easily transport the information and update it as necessary.

By June 1998, the LRPP archivists had participated in an orientation and an in-depth drill, and the senior conservator and LRPP's assistant archivist had drafted the tabletop exercise and outlined future exercises. The exercises are designed to prepare the archivists for consultation. The exercises were scheduled to occur over the following three years, to be held as part of routine meetings at the central office. Once the pilot project is complete, the program is intended to be repeated for the Missouri State Archives (MSA) staff.

The training exercises built self-confidence in the participants by letting them become familiar and comfortable with aspects of an emergency situation. As training and experience have progressed, participants have become increasingly comfortable with ensuring the safety of materials. Many have developed their own preparedness procedures. The 11 archivists in LRPP are finding numerous opportunities for dissemination of information. Their assistance is also welcomed by conservation personnel who no longer need to respond to and manage every emergency situation regardless of size.

Training of personnel can be the largest expense in any training program, but in Missouri it is considered an investment toward saving materials from potential peril. The Missouri training program does not provide a cleanup, recovery service, or task force. Preemergency planning is stressed. The preparedness program is offered as a free service to the Missouri local officials and is well received.

During development of the LRPP training program, Missouri's SEMA area coordinators, counterparts to the local field archivists, were identified. In the process, the LRPP staff got to know the emergency and disaster recovery personnel throughout the state before an event occurred. In addition, Missouri's SEMA personnel began requesting collections preparedness information for statewide distribution and presentations on preparedness measures at their regional meetings. The conservation staff began to understand the needs, concerns, and jargon of the FEMA and SEMA professionals, and the staff's involvement also gave conservators an understanding of the limitations within federal, state, and local systems. In the event of an emergency or disaster, conservators are generally not allowed into a site until it has been stabilized. There are physical limitations to salvage, such as time, personnel, and resources. Saving everything is seldom possible. However, it is possible to prioritize materials by need and importance before an emergency.


To develop a preparedness plan or training program, first define the needs and expectations of the group. Next, identify the resources within the community. Use published accounts and guides available through the library, Internet, or World Wide Web as references. One available guide is the “Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel” developed through Heritage Preservation and the Getty Conservation Institute. It is available by calling (888) 979-2233.

Government agencies may be able to offer advice and information but seldom are able to provide the materials and equipment necessary for training in the protection of cultural material. Contact your local community Emergency Management Office (EMO) or City Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) to determine what is already available in your area and the extent to which these agencies can offer you advice, guidance, and assistance. Your State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) may also offer classes in developing these training programs but may not have a cultural property recovery course already in place. State services vary, so contact state agencies directly. The contact numbers for state services can be found in the government blue pages of your local phone book or via websites. Many state websites are linked through FEMA's website at www.fema.gov. Contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency at Federal Center Plaza, 500 C St., S.W., Washington D.C. 20472; FEMA's Emergency Management Institute at 16825 S. Seton Ave., Emmitsburg, Md. 21727-8998, phone (800) 238-3358; or consult FEMA's website for additional information about training and available services and assistance.


The FEMA training model can be easily utilized by museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions for the training of personnel in preparedness and recovery methods and operations. Adaptation of an existing program saves management time when designing a program. Using an established training model from a profession versed in emergency response provides a standardized language and approach. The interaction that training can provide fosters communication among professionals to achieve common goals such as reducing damage and providing safe, fast recovery of endangered life and property.

Training can occur over several months or years. The time between lessons allows participants a chance to assimilate the exercise lessons. A reasonable time frame for completion of the exercise cycle is three to five years. However, the time frame will vary with the complexity of the plan and the sustainable commitment by the group or organization. Details of the plan can continue to be evaluated and training modified to meet overall goals. Plan, prepare, and practice; then proceed.

Establishing a training program does not eliminate the need to reduce threats to a collection. Individuals and institutions can continue to work on preventive and preparedness measures such as educating people, identifying and establishing community networks, identifying resources, improving storage facilities, creating backups and master microfilm security copies of records when appropriate, and maintaining good management of collections.

Contact the Missouri Local Records Preservation Program at (573) 751-9047 or Stephanie Watkins at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin at (512) 471-9117 with any additional questions regarding the adaptation of the FEMA model.


My sincerest thanks to those self-proclaimed “disaster junkies” at the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency for initial inspiration and training and to the conservation staff at the Missouri State Information Center for helping to develop the training program in Missouri.


STEPHANIE WATKINS is head of paper conservation at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. She earned a master of arts and certificate of advanced studies in conservation from the State University College at Buffalo and a bachelor of fine arts degree, magna cum laude, from Virginia Commonwealth University. She was the senior conservator and head of conservation services for the Missouri State Archives and Local Records Preservation Program when her presentation was given at the AIC 26th Annual Meeting in June 1998. She has also worked or interned at the Intermuseum Laboratory, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, the Library of Congress, the Phillips Collection, the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, and the Dard Hunter Paper Museum. She is an AIC professional associate. Address: Conservation Department, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, P.O. Box 7219, Austin, Tex. 78713-7219

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