Of course, human life is the priority in any emergency situation. But afterwards, it is up to the museum staff to save the collection.
Here are some quick guidelines to follow to assess the damage to your collection. For more detailed information, please see the link below for an excellent step by step guide to creating an emergency preparedness plan.
1. Once it is safe to re-enter the premises, asses the character and extent of the damage. What kind of damage are you dealing with? Fire? Smoke? Soot? Water? Heat? Humidity? What kinds of items have been damaged?
2. Use extreme caution. Be sure electricity has been disconnected in flooded areas. Items that have survived the disaster may retain heat or be weakened, broken or crushed in unexpected ways. Wear gloves to protect yourself against sharp edges. Handle anything that has been damaged as little as possible to minimize further damage.
3. Take lots of notes! Document all damage with photographs. Contact your insurance company immediately to find out what information they will need from you.
4. Stabilize the temperature and humidity levels as best you can. Fluctuations in these levels can make a bad situation worse.
5. Organize your disaster recovery team and define responsibilities. No disaster or recovery area should be accessible to the public.
6. Remove all undamaged items to a safe location. Then begin salvage procedures on damaged items.
7. Establish a large, clean, dry work area with good air circulation.
8. Collect all the supplies you will need to begin cleaning up: portable generators, sump pumps, fans, freezers, vacuum drying facilities, mops, buckets, sponges, flashlights, work lights, rubber gloves, boots, waterproof markers, etc. Ideally you will have already gathered these things into an emergency preparedness kit “just in case.”
9. Inventory and label files and boxes with their contents and location as you remove them. This is extremely important when you reconcile your emergency records with your database.
10. Never attempt to open a wet book or separate books that are stuck together. Never write on wet materials. Do not use detergent, bleach, adhesives, paper clips or staples on wet materials.
11. Dry out any flooded areas as quickly as possible to prevent the growth of mold.
12. Contact professional conservators and disaster specialists to handle any materials that you cannot salvage yourself. Seek out those resources NOW and make a list to use in the event of an emergency. You will be glad you did your research in advance when you are knee deep in damaged artifacts!