The Survey of Maine’s Cultural Institutions

WIN_20140519_145422As CERC was forming, one of its first projects was to conduct a survey of Maine’s cultural institutions, to get a sense of what the state of disaster planning is within the cultural community, what the obstacles to disaster planning are, and what kinds of collections are out there. One version of the survey was sent out to libraries, museums and historical societies, another to city and town clerks.


The CERC Philosophy

As CERC studied the results of the survey and had conversations about disaster planning with several stakeholders around the state, a disaster planning philosophy began to take shape. Keeping with its vision of helping organizations become prepared as efficiently and quickly as possible, CERC developed the following tenets for its approach:

  • Provide a specific list of benchmarks and curated resources to achieve them.There is a paralyzing amount of information about disaster planning available to cultural institutions through organizations like the Northeast Document Conservation Center and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, among many others. While it is important to know where comprehensive information is available, CERC felt that in order to make the disaster planning process as achievable as possible the best use of the CERC web site would be to present specific benchmarks for cultural organizations to attain, along with one or two carefully selected resources to help with each benchmark. CERC formed a subcommittee of professionals that bridge both the cultural and emergency management worlds to develop a manageable list of benchmarks and to vet the resources.
  • Provide a stepped approach that addresses organizations at various levels of support and staffing. CERC recognizes that the cultural community in Maine includes organizations with wide ranges of resources, from volunteer-run historical societies with an annual budget of under $20,000 to places like the Portland Museum of Art with a staff of 45 and an annual budget of $6,000,000. Accordingly, a “disaster plan” can be as simple as a two page list of contact information and basic procedures or as complicated as a 90 page document that outlines mitigation and recovery procedures for several specific scenarios.  Expecting the volunteer historical society to adhere to the same standards as the Portland Museum of Art is unrealistic. While the volunteer-run organization should be aware of what best practices are so that they know where improvements may be made to their disaster plan, it is far better for them to accomplish small, manageable pieces than to be overwhelmed (and eventually give up) by trying to achieve an ideal. Therefore CERC divided its benchmarks and resources into three levels: essential, enhanced and advanced. Organizations may choose the level they are comfortable starting with, and have a clear map of how to improve as time and resources permit.
  • Concentrate on providing information for the majority of collections/scenarios. As part of CERC’s survey of the cultural community, we asked what kinds of cultural assets organizations hold: books, papers, paintings, textiles, taxidermy, photographs, etc. The resources that are included on the web site address what the majority of Maine’s institutions hold (although we do also point the direction to sites that cover a much broader range of materials).si-rubble1
  • Emphasize communication.You do not have a disaster plan unless it has been shared in a meaningful way within your organization and with your local emergency responders. You cannot control who will be on vacation or at a doctor’s appointment when disaster strikes. You will have a tough time managing a disaster if well-meaning volunteers or board members do not understand who should be in charge or who should speak to the media, and decide to help in their own way. And you do not want the night of a fire to be the first time the fire department meets you or sees the inside of your building – by then it is too late to communicate where your most valuable pieces are or what the particular quirks of your building are, and you will waste valuable time establishing a working relationship when it would be much better spent addressing the disaster.

The benchmarks and resources that you will find on this web site were selected with these tenets in mind. If you are ready for a more comprehensive collection of resources about disaster planning, please refer to the Northeast Document Conservation Center or the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

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