According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, a preparedness plan establishes arrangements in advance to enable timely, effective, and appropriate responses to hazardous events or emerging disaster situations that might threaten society or the environment.
The success of a disaster plan is based on the sound analysis of disaster risks and the understanding of the link between certain hazards, warning systems, and effective response actions. Plans need to be flexible and address numerous contingencies, allow for the stockpiling of equipment and supplies, as well as provide clear instructions for coordination, communication, and staff responsibility. Any disaster plan must be supported by institutional leadership at your institution. The related term “readiness” describes the ability to quickly and appropriately respond when required.
Disaster planning is so important because:
- Disasters are relatively rare, but emergencies – such as a burst pipe or leaky roof – happen all the time.
- If a disaster strikes and you’re prepared, you can ensure the survival and continued access to the greatest amount of material possible. It also ensures that material survives in the best possible condition.
- Preparedness ensures that your organization can continue with its mission. You cannot fulfill your mission if your collections have been lost.
- Preparing a disaster plan is your professional responsibility. We put resources toward arranging and describing our records and making them available. We also need to put resources toward protecting these records from disaster.
Read below for more information on how to properly begin, improve, and test your disaster plan.
Understanding emergency management terms and how to categorize hazards is the first step in planning your response.
The Disaster Declaration Process
Familiarize yourself with FEMA’s disaster declaration process in case one is declared for your state. Federal Emergency Management Agency
Understand Severe Weather Alerts
Educate yourself about disaster terminology: for example, do you know what the difference is between a watch and a warning? National Weather Service / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Are you located on the coast? Check out NOAA’s online tool to better understand how high water will rise in/around a building in the event of a major flood. Office for Coastal Management / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Assess and Evaluate
Successful disaster planning starts with identifying hazards and evaluating risks to your facilities and your collections.
Risk Evaluation and Planning Program (REPP)
Originally developed by HENTF, REPP provides multiple tools to assist in planning that include a site questionnaire, a risk prioritization worksheet, a walk-through checklist, suggested plan contents, and steps for developing a plan. American Institute for Conservation
Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP) program
CAP, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation, provides small and mid-sized museums with partial funding for a general conservation assessment of their collection, environmental conditions, and site. Emergency CAP grants are sometimes issued following major disasters.
Jump-start Your Emergency Plan: Collections Emergency Preparedness Benchmarks
Produced by Harvard Libraries, this is a good template to assess baseline capacities in your organization. Once a baseline is established, this document can help identify areas for improvement and suggest goals for the future.
Fire Safety Self-Inspection Form for Cultural Institutions
Do you want to assess how prepared your institution is concerning fire safety? This five-page checklist from the National Archives and Records Administration examines overall safety, special areas, building-exterior concerns, and staff fire-safety training.
Protection Your Institution From Wild Fires: Planning Not to Burn and Learning to Recover
This publication is designed to help point out what you can do to protect your collections and also steps you can take during recovery efforts to help minimize the damage. Chicora Foundation
Write the Plan
A written plan is a living document that should be constantly updated to reflect changes in personnel and lessons learned in responding to emergencies. While a written plan is valuable for reference to respond to an incident, perhaps the most valuable aspects are the discussion, awareness, and buy-in fostered during the planning process.
Developing a Disaster Preparedness/Emergency Response Plan
A primer on disaster preparedness that helps museums understand the process of developing a disaster preparedness/emergency preparedness plan. It reflects national standards and outlines plan elements that align with the requirements of the AAM’s Core Documents Verification and Accreditation programs. American Alliance of Museums
dPlan: The Online Disaster-Planning Tool for Cultural and Civic Institutions
Though in the process of being updated, dPlan is a free online tool to create a customized disaster plan for your institution that includes an extensive outline, webform templates for each section, and explanations and definitions along the way. Any information entered into the current version of dPlan can be transferred to the updated version upon its release. Northeast Document Conservation Center
Dorge, Valerie, and Sharon L. Jones. Building an Emergency Plan: A Guide for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, 1999.
Northeast Document Conservation Center, Preservation Leaflets
See especially (3) Emergency Management.
Protecting Your Collections: Writing a Disaster Response Plan
A four-part recorded webinar series from the Connecting to Collections Care network that employs the Pocket Response Plan (PReP™) tool to compile important contact information and immediate action steps for response. American Institute for Conservation
Commonwealth of Australia on behalf of the Heritage Collections Council. Be Prepared: Guidelines for Small Museums for Writing a Disaster Preparedness Plan. 2000. https://aiccm.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/beprepared.pdf
Halsted, Deborah D. Shari Clifton and Daniel T. Wilson. Library as Safe Haven. 2014.
Libraries have always played a special role in times of disaster by continuing to provide crucial information and services. Making a Continuity of Operations Plan is imperative for libraries.
Protection of Collections during Retrofit or Renovation.
If your site will undergo renovations soon, this MayDay 2019 post focuses on tasks and strategies to prevent construction incidents – including fires – from occurring and affecting collections. Includes an extensive list of additional resources on protecting collections and historic interiors during renovation.
The best disaster plan is worthless if it simply sits on the shelf or in a computer file. Training all staff and volunteers in emergency procedures and implementation of the disaster plan is critical for a successful response, whether the incident is a pipe leak or flooding from a major hurricane.
Carmichael, David. Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level: A Handbook for Libraries, Archives, Museums, and other Cultural Institutions. RescuingRecords.com, 2010.
Level of Collections Emergency Scenarios
Because full-scale emergency response rehearsals are impractical for most institutions, these realistic scenarios can serve as the basis for “tabletop” or “talk-through” exercises to cross-check assumptions and response strategies. Notes of your discussion and the assumptions and gaps identified, and modification of your plan to confirm or address them, will strengthen your preparedness for a real event. Library of Congress
Test Your Call List
One of the simplest but most important practice activities is testing your call list. How is information relayed efficiently to the staff? What reporting structure exists to ensure that all staff and volunteers are safe? You can use the PReP™ tool as the basis for your call tree, or you can complete the emergency call list from the Minnesota Historical Society.
May Day: Do One Thing for Emergency Preparedness!
Set aside May 1 each year to participate in MayDay, a tradition established by the Society of American Archivists and now promoted by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) and other HENTF member organizations. Ask your local first responders to provide fire extinguisher training, update contact information in your phone list, practice your disaster plan using the Library of Congress scenarios. Just do one thing for emergency preparedness!
The better prepared you are for an emergency or disaster, the easier it will be to stay safe and respond effectively. Bookmark the reputable sites that will help you and your institution maintain awareness of an event as it unfolds.
National Hurricane Center
Monitor tropical weather in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Track storms with NHC’s graphics, public advisories, and forecast updates and advisories. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / National Hurricane Center
National Weather Service
Local forecasts can be obtained by city/state or ZIP code. The site also includes a link to the National Hurricane Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / National Weather Service
State Emergency Management Agencies
As emergency managers are wont to say, all disasters are local. Know who your emergency managers are at the local, regional, and even state level. And bookmark the website of your state or territorial emergency management agency or public safety office. U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Ready.gov – Business
The Ready Business program helps business leaders make a preparedness plan to get ready for natural, health, human-caused, and technology-related hazards. Ready Business resources include toolkits on social media messaging, earthquakes, hurricanes, inland flooding, power outages, and severe wind/tornados. U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Ready.gov – Emergency Alerts
When emergencies strike, public safety officials use timely and reliable systems to alert you. This site describes different warning alerts and how to get them. U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The global pandemic has meant that health and safety protocols must be factored into planning for hurricanes and other events. See also HENTF's COVID-19 Resource Hub.
COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season
In preparing for the 2020 hurricane season, this document provides actionable guidance to state, local, tribal, and territorial officials to prepare for response and recovery operations and encourages personal preparedness measures amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although focusing on hurricane season preparedness, most planning considerations can also be applied to any disaster operation in the COVID-19 environment, including no-notice incidents, spring flooding and wildfire seasons, and typhoon response. Federal Emergency Management Agency