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Museum Disaster Management

Museum SOS

For many people in the museum community, the events that took place in New York and Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001 brought home the vulnerability of our cultural heritage and added new urgency to efforts to put together collection preparedness & response plans (CollPRPs). Terrorist attack may be an improbable scenario for most museum collections but its effects, be they fire, flooding, or physical trauma, can be found in many other collection emergencies. One of the most encouraging aspects of developing a CollPRP is that the procedures put in place for truly catastrophic situations are often just as applicable to more mundane events, such as the failure of a sprinkler system.

In May 2004, a conference entitled Museum SOS: Strategies for Emergency Response and Salvage was held at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City as part of the 19th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC). Over 200 people attended, from institutions worldwide. The high level of interest in the topic was reflected in the number of participants from outside the natural science collections community; from art and cultural institutions, biological repositories, and government agencies. It was an exciting and dynamic group resulting in a very successful conference.

The talks at the meeting focused on a number of critical themes in emergency response. Case studies of individual collection emergencies were provided, giving examples of where emergency plans had succeeded or failed. Guidance was provided on developing CollPRPs for collection holding institutions. There was a strong emphasis on the importance of developing strategic partnerships, locally, nationally, and internationally, to provide support and assistance in the aftermath of an emergency. Finally, a 1-day workshop, entitled Don't Panic: Emergency Response & Salvage, provided hands-on training in how to respond in the critical first 24 hours after disaster strikes a collection.

Support for the conference was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF), through grant # DBI-0353533 from the Biological Research Collections Program. As part of the grant, this website has been created to disseminate information from the conference and as a continuing resource for anyone who is planning, mitigating, or responding to an emergency situation in the context of a natural history collection. Please help to keep this website up to date by providing us with related content or links that are not included by emailing MuseumSOS@amnh.org.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of NSF, SPNHC, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and AMNH in the planning and hosting of both the meeting and the website.

(excerpt from MuseumSOS web page: "What is Museum SOS?")