By Elyse Driscoll
The fourth training session for Alliance for Response, NYC‘s Heritage Response Team took place on Sunday, October 19th in MoMA’s Celeste Bartos Theater. This session focused on documentation and damage assessment and included presentations from representatives of Heritage Preservation and the American Institute for Conservation – Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT).
The first presentation was given by Steve Pine, Conservator of Decorative Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and an active member of AIC-CERT. Steve discussed the history of AIC-CERT, which was formed after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. At that time, collections care professionals recognized the need to create a uniformly trained team to respond to the needs of cultural institutions during an emergency. In 2007, the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works (FAIC) received funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to develop a series of advanced workshops to train conservators and other museum and library professionals. Members were trained in the Incident Command System (ICS), health and safety, deployment exercises and recovery techniques. Presently, AIC-CERT consists of more than 100 members across the nation in a variety of disciplines. They provide collecting institutions with advice and referrals through their 24-hour hotline and through email correspondence. On-site assistance may also be requested. AIC-CERT has been a model for the Heritage Response Team and we are currently modifying some of their protocols to accommodate the unique needs of New York City’s cultural institutions, galleries, and artists.
Steve’s presentation included case studies of AIC-CERT’s recovery efforts after several incidents including the earthquake in Port au Prince, Haiti in 2010, the flooding in the Mid-West in 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey in 2012. He shared what he and other team members learned from those experiences and provided valuable and practical advise to our team members. He stressed the importance of coordinating with civil authorities, creating an organized database of contacts and trained professionals, establishing funding for travel and supplies, and the screening and training of volunteers.
While you might be tempted to reach for your laptop or tablet, Steve recommends paper notepads and graphite pencils for on-site documentation because there is typically limited access to electricity and electronic tools during an emergency. AIC-CERT has also developed form sheets for responders to efficiently assess damage and communicate the needs of an institution. A number of publications, tips, and resources related to response and recovery can be found on the websites of Alliance for Response, NYC and AIC.
The next presentation was given by Lori Foley, Vice President of Emergency Programs at Heritage Preservation. Heritage Preservation is an organization dedicated to preserving the cultural, historic, and scientific heritage of the United States. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force is a partnership of national service organizations and federal agencies and is co-sponsored by Heritage Preservation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Task Force was established in 1995 to protect the nation’s cultural heritage from natural disasters and other emergencies. Lori discussed the various goals of Task Force, which include assisting cultural institutions with emergency planning and preparedness, risk evaluation, response and recovery, and obtaining resources such as supplies, contractors, conservation specialists, and federal funding. The website of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force offers numerous tools and information to cultural institutions and the general public for preparing for and responding to emergencies that affect collections.
Lori also guided the Heritage Response Team through a “Hotline Intake Exercise” where members practiced responding to incoming calls. Disaster scenarios ranged from severe weather conditions to hazardous materials spills and involved different types of institutions such as art museums, historic houses, and municipal offices. A key takeaway from this exercise was to remain flexible in our response. In addition to collecting pertinent information regarding the extent of damage and the institution’s level of preparedness, Lori also reminded us to consider the emotional state of those involved in the event. The Heritage Response Team will play an advisory role during an emergency and we will be recommending resources and best practices to help individuals and institutions regain control of the situation and begin to take steps towards making decisions.
The training session concluded with Steve Pine and Cynthia Albertson, Project Manager for Alliance for Response NYC, demonstrating the proper way to “suit up” when entering a site to assess damage. As you can see in the image to the left, Cynthia models Tyvek coveralls, a dust mask, and nitrile gloves. Note that her wrists and ankles are sealed with tape. Steve recommends putting on your personal protective equipment in a “cold zone,” an area that is away from the “hot zone,” which is the site of the emergency or disaster. Protective equipment should be removed in a transitional zone, somewhere between the hot zone and the cold zone. It is also best to have another person help you put on and remove your gear.