Emergency Preparedness of Culture & History


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In September the Office of Emergency Management of Philadelphia presented EPOCH: Emergency Preparedness of Culture & History – a preparedness conference.  Attendees gathered at the Museum of the American Revolution and over the course of the day we heard six presentations ranging from special challenges of cultural heritage institutions to active shooter drills to the step-by-step process for an emergency.  The main themes of the day were to be prepared and to build relationships between cultural institutions and emergency professionals.

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Combining both themes Lynn Fisher of the OEM and John McDevitt of the Museum of the American Revolution spoke on their responses to a fire that occurred directly across of the museum.  From OEM we learned how an emergency progresses and how many people are involved.  First responders, the Red Cross and Salvation Army, the people displace by the event (in this case a fire) can fill the area in the 100s, but it doesn’t stop there.  Coordination needs to happen with public transportation, area businesses and, in this case study the museum across the street.  John McDevitt spoke about how they responded from an emergency preparedness standpoint – protecting the building and staff – as well as their interaction with emergency personnel and the people displaced by the fire.  Open communication and negation between the emergency personnel attending to the fire and the museum led to a positive encounter and the fairly smooth return to normal services for the museum itself.

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Jessica Unger of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works spoke on building cooperation between cultural institutes and emergency professionals.  The talk emphasized how important it is to establish good relationships before an emergency happens so that everyone is on the same page.  Invite first responders to your museum, seek their feedback on emergency plans, and make collections issues – whether priorities for saving or potential hazards – as clear as possible.

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Eric Gentry of the Smithsonian opened and closed the conference speaking on his work with the Smithsonian Office of Emergency Management.  His first talk covered changes he made to procedures when he first joined the Smithsonian – not only what he did, but how change was handled to ensure cooperation and adoption of new procedures.  He also discussed the different challenges of major events that happen around museums – festivals, marches, parades – which can impact safety and security and can overwhelm even the most well developed plans.  Eric also discussed the introduction of active shooter drills into some of the Smithsonian museums.  He shared some of the methods they used and encouraged attendees to consider drills at their own institutions.

Not only was the conference filled with information, it was itself was a good example of the themes – an opportunity to prepare and to build relationships between emergency personnel and cultural institutions.

All images courtesy of the Office of Emergency Management Philly.  You can follow the on twitter @PhilaOEM

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