By: Michael Kirchner, Director of Safety and Security, Harvard Art Museums
Emergency Planning is something that we all know we need to do, but it is just one of those things that never seems to get done, and even if it is done, it is never really “done”. What is a busy museum professional to do? Well, here are 10 steps that hopefully will lead you to some successful emergency planning.
Step One: Obtain buy in from the senior administration to move forward with this process. A plan that is started at the grass roots level of the organization, no matter how good it is, is destined to fail without proper buy in. Proper emergency planning requires time, energy and even a certain amount of money, and a commitment from the front office is mandatory.
Step Two: Identify a key person in your organization who is knowledgeable (or at least teachable), and is willing to own this responsibility. We are all busy people, but someone who is interested in this job will be able to fit it into his or her busy schedule.
Step Three: Conduct a vulnerability analysis. What are the threats that we are vulnerable to? Are we located in a flood prone area? What about severe weather (hurricanes, winter storms)? Will a major utility outage affect you? Fire continues to be the greatest threat to cultural properties in the US. Other common events are hazardous materials incidents and building systems and equipment failures. We know that we can never plan for every type of emergency, so let’s spend our valuable time planning for the more common and predictable ones.
Step Four: Identify Internal Resources. Once we have identified our most likely threats, the next step is to identify the resources we have on hand to mitigate the effects of those threats. Those resources are both personnel and material resources. Keeping in mind that in most emergencies, the vast majority of your staff will be evacuated immediately, who do you have on staff to remain around and manage the event through its completion? One way to increase your response capability is to conduct a “skills survey” of your staff. What unknown skills do members of your staff possess that would be useful in an emergency? (medical, engineering, communications, foreign language, etc.) Do you have supplies and equipment on hand to battle your most common or likely threats? Fire suppression equipment, first aid supplies and communications equipment are examples of items that could be needed.
Step Five: Identify External Resources. There are many external resources that may be needed depending upon the nature of the incident. Are you familiar with your local emergency management office? Have the local fire department, police department and emergency medical response agencies toured your facility and are they aware of any hazards or special conditions that exist? Do you have a relationship with other museums and an agreement whereas they would accept your art in case of a widespread emergency? Sometimes formal agreements may be necessary and should be finalized prior to an emergency. The establishment of a “preferred vendor” list is also recommended, with agreements in place that state the vendor will respond to your facility promptly in case of an emergency, and details of cost and payment will be settled when the emergency situation has subsided.
Step 6: Gather support documents. Chances are you have many documents available to you that would be a great help during an emergency. The trick is to gather those documents beforehand, check them for accuracy and then consolidate them for inclusion in your Emergency Management Plan. Examples of some of these documents are: Emergency call lists, Building and site maps that indicate utility shutoffs and other important building utilities information as well as resource lists.
Step 7: Identify Challenges and Prioritize Activities. Once you understand your vulnerabilities and the resources available to you it is time to list the problem areas and make a list of tasks to be performed, by whom and when. How will you address the problem areas and resource shortages that were identified in the vulnerability analysis?
Step 8: Write your plan. Yes, now that all the busy work is done, it is time to sit down and write your plan. It is important to remember that your plan should actually include two plans. One is an Emergency Response Plan, and that is something that will outline immediate response activities for all staff members. Remember that for 99% of all emergencies your staff will take one of only three protective actions. They will be asked to 1) evacuate, 2) shelter-in-place, and 3) lock-down. The decision of which action to be taken is one that will be made by the person(s) delegated to be in charge of your emergency program. The vast majority of your staff will participate in one of these actions regardless of the emergency. Emergency response plans should be straight forward and simple. Since evacuation is the most common protective action in most types of emergencies, this plan should instruct the staff and visitors where to go, how to get there, and what to do once they are there. “Muster areas” must be identified and called out in your emergency response plans. Shelter-in-place orders are less common and only are given when the conditions outside of your facility are more dangerous than those inside. In these instances it is important that you have identified areas within the building where staff and visitors could congregate, and where windows and doors can be closed and HVAC systems may be disabled. The final protective action, Lock-down, is the one that is the least practiced, but one of increasing importance. This order would of course be given in case of an armed intruder who is providing an immediate threat to staff or visitors. In a lock-down, all persons are asked to go into an office or room, close and lock the door, turn out the lights and remain quiet until the police have stabilized the situation. These are generally very short term events, and are incidents that need to be taken very seriously.
The second plan that is necessary in the emergency planning process is an Emergency Management Plan. This is different from the response plan in that it is much more detailed and is intended for the use of the emergency team in your facility who will gather during a major emergency to analyze the situation and plan an appropriate continuing response and recovery. This is after the initial response has been ordered and the majority of the staff has been removed to safety. Obviously a location for this team to work is vital and this “command center” should be identified in advance. In fact there should be more than one location identified (at opposite sides of the facility) in case one end of your facility is involved and the other is not. These command centers should be equipped with a computer, a telephone, portable radios, and a copy of any necessary information to be used during the emergency.
In establishing your emergency management team, explore the principles of the Incident Command System (ICS). These are the principles that every public emergency response team in America (police, fire and ems), now operates under and it is important that we in the private sector get on board. Information about ICS is available at: www.fema.gov/incident-command-system
Step 9: Train on your plan! Review the plans with the appropriate staff members and then conduct a table top exercise or other training to test the plan for weaknesses or false assumptions.
Step 10: Review and Revise your plan annually! An emergency response plan will remain somewhat static, but may be changed through lessons learned in training and exercises. The emergency management plan will need to be reviewed and revised on at least an annual basis. Personnel change, resources change, call-lists change. All of these changes need to be identified and revised to give you an accurate plan to work with during a difficult time. Your plans should be living documents!!
Simple? No. Important? Yes. Good luck.
For more information contact: www.fema.gov