Volume 13, Number 3, Sept 1991, pp.13-19, 7 line drawings, 2 reduced record-keeping forms
Working with museum collections on the West Coast, we have always been conscious of the potential damage to art by earthquakes, but the October 1989 quake revealed some flaws in our preparedness. While our storage rooms and most exhibition spaces had been well strengthened against seismic disaster, a number of our top-heavy sculptures, furniture and objects fell, and, in addition, we all agreed that we could have prepared our staff better to handle the aftermath.
Since then, we have made strides in upgrading seismic readiness and protection measures for the building, the collection, and the museum staff. Since earthquakes continue to happen, we would like to share some of our methods and insights in the hope of getting other museums started on the path to earthquake preparedness.
For larger buildings, it is suggested that the building be divided into zones. Each zone might have two persons appointed as zone monitors who will take control of their areas during an emergency. Zone monitors learn to clear the building, learn to assess preliminary objects damage, and report to the chain of command. Zone monitors should be continually trained in CPR, first aid, use of fire extinguishers and evacuation procedures. Stage periodic earthquake and fire drills to iron out potential problems in the zone monitor and command system. Organize a phone tree so that all staff can be reached in a short period of time and be apprised of what to do in case an earthquake occurs during off-hours--a likely scenario.
a. Cordon off the damage areas and designate them off-limits to everyone.
b. Documentation is of primary importance when dealing with insurance companies and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Try to have the damaged museum objects well documented, photographed and appraised with current valuations. Photodocument damage and disrupted settings, but also photograph undamaged situations--it is important for the insurance companies to know that many preventive measures worked. If you do not have cameras and film on hand, urge your staff to bring in theirs. Videotape everything, if possible.
c. Secure anything that is in imminent danger of falling in an aftershock. This may mean stabilizing objects with sandbags, or transporting objects to a safe location.
d. Fill out the damage reports--a sample form is shown in Appendix II.
e. Pick up all loose pieces, label them and take them to a safe area with the damaged objects--this area will serve as a casualty ward where conservators can fill out detailed condition reports and treatment proposals, and where insurance assessors can see all the objects in one place.
f. Keep detailed time sheets of all your rescue efforts. The insurance companies and FEMA will require an hour-by-hour justification of how your staff time was spent during rescue.
The Collection Objects
Here are some suggestions for anchoring objects to provide better seismic security:
Ethafoam with recesses for storing individual objects. Receiving holes for art objects are cut into the upper block of 2-inch-thick ethafoam using a drill press. A sheet of 1/4-inch ethafoam is glued to the block with recesses. The whole unit is sized to fit a shelf.
Store objects in padded trays (we use gatorfoam trays lined with ethafoam) or in individually-made holders or carved out shapes in 2-inch thick ethafoam. We hot-glue ethafoam holders for individual objects to their tray (see Figure 2). Across the openings of the shelving units, fit nylon cords/nylon webbing to catch objects in case they slide outward during a quake. Nylon webbing can be purchased from companies supplying handtrucks (such as California Caster and Handtruck Co., San Francisco, 415/982-8750). Bungee cords could be used but should be of short length only, otherwise they will not be strong enough to retain heavy objects.
Place all freestanding sculptures, furniture objects or other large objects near a storage rack or on a wooden pallet; pad such objects out at the point of contact and secure them with nylon straps to the rack or to hooks in the wall. Do not place loose objects onto furniture; they can fall. Use common sense.
Grant money to upgrade storage rooms is available from NEA (the National Endowment for the Arts) and IMS (Institute for Museum Services).
An idealized case for exhibiting small artifacts.
The exhibition cases should either be secured to the floor or heavily weighted with lead weights or sandbags (see Figure 1 for a sketch of an idealized exhibit case).
Anchor exhibition decks and risers onto the case, and then hold the object down with:
A contoured T-mount and monofilament brace a top-heavy container, shown mounted on a riser. Make a wooden insert (shown at right) to fit snugly inside the riser; then screw this to the exhibition deck.
Support for sculptures and large objects on pedestals.
To anchor sculpture or heavy objects onto the pedestals, fashion individual mounts. Consult with an experienced mount maker and/or a structural engineer before guessing how and where the object should be held down. There is a way to calculate the center of gravity of the object, its approximate stability, its mass and weight. A good pedestal and mount should take all three into consideration.
Under an IMS grant, we are learning how to build better internal mounts for our bronzes and marble busts. We are also learning about "base isolation systems" which let objects and their pedestals vibrate independent from the building motion caused by an earthquake. We will report our findings at a future time when studies are complete.
What we have learned so far is that guessed-at flexible mounting systems (using flexing wires or monofilament), or base isolation systems without the help of a qualified structural engineer, can cause more harm than good--such systems often cause the object to vibrate more in a quake. While several companies manufacture such systems for computers and hospital equipment, they must be designed for situations and objects specifically. The design should be tested on a vertical/horizontal shake table. For further information, obtain a copy of Evaluation of Seismic Mitigation Measures for Art Objects, published by the Getty Conservation Institute, 4503 Glencoe Avenue, Marina del Rey, California 90292.
Figure 7.Two methods to support furniture or other freestanding collection objects.
Method 1: Padded Brackets Top and Bottom.
Method 2: Aluminum or Wooden "Template" Supports Clock from the Rear.
Pay attention to furniture or artworks made of more than one part; for example, a furniture highboy. You may secure the top and bottom of the artwork, but the middle may swing out. Or, alternatively, if held in place too rigidly, the shelves of a piece of furniture may fall out because the top and bottom cannot move but the center can bulge. Consult an engineer when securing complicated pieces. 16. Art in Transit or being Worked on: It is important to remember to secure art objects in transit between galleries and storage, or in the conservation lab or photography lab, or packer's workshop. Use lipped trays and carts, padded boxes, wedges, or sandbags placed underneath sculptures, or tie art objects to the wall or a strong work table. Secure art objects not only for overnight protection, but while you work with them-- an earthquake can happen when you least expect it.
We welcome readers' remarks and questions, and we hope that you and your institution will share your own seismic protection findings.Elisabeth Cornu and Lesley Bone
SEARCH AND RESCUE ITEMS
broken glass/fallen debris
jammed doorways/blocked passages
pipe crescent wrench
gas mains shut-off
first aid kit
support fallen areas
polyethylene bags, various sizes
padded push cart
damage report forms
screw drivers that open all cases
In the printed version of this article, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's "Damage Report Form" and "Procedures" list is reproduced in reduced size. The following is an approximate rendering of that reproduction
THE FINE ARTS
DAMAGE REPORT FORM
IDENTIFY THE OBJECT
FAM # _______
Who found it:
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE DAMAGE TO OBJECT:
WHAT IMMEDIATE STEPS WERE TAKEN (Object moved? Pieces gathered? Preventive action?)
WHO WAS NOTIFIED (Registrar, conservator, curator, administrator, owner/agent):
CONSERVATOR'S PROPOSED TREATMENT:
WHO FILLED OUT THIS REPORT __________________________________________DATE_______________
IN CASE OF DAMAGE OR ACCIDENT TO ART WORKS
1. The immediate need is the protection and care of the object. Seek the advice of conservation for the best action to take.
2. After the object is secured, and at the earliest opportunity, fill out a Damage Report Form
[Item 6 will be filled out by a Conservator.]
Send the form to Registration as soon as possible. [We prefer to receive Reports from several participating individuals rather than no Report at all.
Please do not assume some else is making the report.]
3. Registration will notify the Chief Curator, Department Curators, the Administration, and anyone else not already notified.
Registrars will keep all Report Forms and will issue periodic summaries to the Adminstration and to Security, as appropriate.
THANK YOU for your assistance and care.
Roll wax into very small balls (less than pea size). Each vessel takes approximately 3 balls on the lower edge. Apply to artifact with a thin spatula, or by hand, and push down at once. Wax can also be used with plexiglass mounts--to attach the mount onto a shelf, and to hold the ceramic artifact onto the mount.
To apply ceramics onto furniture: be careful with French-polished surfaces. Apply a thin coat of paste wax onto the furniture surface first.
Be careful when using wax with low-fired and painted ceramics; the surface may detach.
Do not lift the object straight up. Twist the object free; remove excess wax with a sharpened wooden stick (a coffee stirrer is ideal). Remove excess wax with petroleum naphtha or mineral spirits.
This product is identified as Large Utility Wax Strips, White, Healthco P/N HCOW030201, and comes 60 strips (11 inches long, 3/16 inch diameter) to a box with the following price break-down per box: 1-5 boxes, $6.50; 6-11 boxes, $5.95; 12+ boxes, $5.50. It can be ordered from Healthco International, Inc./30689 Huntwood Avenue/Hayward, California 94540, or it can be purchased at a medical supply store.