Risk Management and Disaster Planning

Whether personal or institutional, all collections are subject to risks that can seriously affect the lifetime and value of a collection. Evaluation tools in the field of “Risk Management”, developed for use in the insurance industry, are increasingly used by museums and universities to identify the greatest risks to their collections and to set procedures in place to plan for and reduce the effects of unavoidable disasters. 

In the wake of recent world events, institutions have learned that they must prepare to be able to respond in the case of a disaster – whether natural or manmade. This process is known as disaster planning. While the word “disaster” may imply a major event, such as floods, fires, or earthquakes, most collection disasters are much smaller in scale – flooding from a burst pipe, for example. There are numerous resources available online that can be of use to both individual collectors and collection managers, but a brief outline of risk factors and elements of an appropriate disaster plan are given here.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment – whether formal or informal, extensive or just on a representative portion of a collection, is generally an administrative tool to prioritize the implementation of measures to preserve the collection. The goal is to hopefully prevent damage or, at least, to limit the extent of the damage.

The most common risks to museum collections include:

  • Physical forces (earthquakes, physical damage from staff, vibrations from drawers, repair work
  • Fire (flame, soot)
  • Water (floods, plumbing or roof leak)
  • Criminal (robbery, isolated theft, vandalism)
  • Pests (rodents, insects)
  • Contaminants (dust, gasses)
  • Light and UV radiation
  • Incorrect temperature
  • Incorrect relative humidity
  • Custodial neglect (data loss, misplacement, sample mixing)

The goal of conducting a collections risk assessment is to determine:

  • What percentage of the collection is susceptible to a specific risk?
  • What will be the resulting loss in value?
  • What is the probability of the event happening?
  • What would be the extent of the event?


Disaster planning

In the event that a disaster, whether large or small, could not be prevented, individuals and institutions must be prepared to respond appropriately to assure safety of personnel and collections and their associated data, and then salvage whatever can be saved.  For this to happen effectively, a plan must already be in place — during a disaster is no time to plan.  For information on the elements in a disaster plan, see the downloads and links below.

For more Information…

See the following links and resources.

Risk management
Disaster planning