Heading Into Storm Season: Making a Disaster Plan, Part I


Disclaimer: While we always suggest that you seek the guidance of a professional in finalizing your plan, here are some steps you can take to get started thinking about emergency preparedness.

As summer rolls on, we’re heading closer to “storm season,” the part of the year where several regions of the country are more susceptible to natural disasters. For the next few months, we’ll be walking you through how to make a plan for these kinds of situations, to protect any assets and collections you might have in your home or business. While personal health and safety is always the priority in a dangerous situation, after over 35 years of experience in Disaster Response at The Center, we’ve often found that the most successful responses are those where the client has taken measures to prepare for such events.

The process of creating a plan can be just as important as the plan itself, because it makes you sit and think through a variety of situations and likely responses, as well as asses any vulnerabilities that might present themselves.

Toady, we’ll be focusing on parts one and two, your building and security / safety.


Layout and design – Starting your plan is a great opportunity to perform a risk assessment for your space, whether public or private. Consider natural, biological, mechanical, and human threats – what are the most likely hazards? Document these hazards and establish preventative measures so that they can be addressed in the plan. This means considering repairs that need to be made, locations of exits, potential tripping hazards, congested areas, etc. It’s also useful to think about safe spaces within your own building to store items in the event of a disaster, which wouldn’t require moving them. During Hurricane Harvey, we assisted several clients in taking preventative measures and through this process determined that while we didn’t need to preemptively evacuate their art, there were areas in their homes that could provide a safe storage location to ride out the storm.

Policies, inspection, maintenance – Start by drawing a floorplan of the entire space. Then, consider the practical utilities – where can you turn off power and water? Is there an alarm system? Sealed windows and doors are crucial for protecting your home. What’s the plan for an emergency exit, in terms of getting people out of the building? Where are fire extinguishers, and does everyone know how to use them? Is there a phone tree? Do the sprinklers work? Now is the time to plan a refresher for any staff / residents on safety policies.

The interior of a home severely affected by a wildfire in California.

The interior of a home severely affected by a wildfire in California.

Geographic profile – Where are you located? It’s important to have a handle on what potential disasters might affect you. Depending on where you’re located, you might be at a higher or lower chance of hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. It can seem daunting to prepare for general “emergency situations,” so paring down what are and are not practical regional concerns can help address what sort of measures you’ll need to take. If you’re in an area prone to wildfires, updated HVAC systems could help prevent significant smoke damage.

This is the ideal time to take inventory of any issues your building is facing and address them before a disaster situation presents itself. Preventative maintenance can be the most valuable work you do!


Electronic security – Disaster planning is mostly about prevention measures, so now is the time to review security equipment and procedures or consider installation if your building isn’t currently protected. Theft protection is going to be an important part of any plan. Consider visitor logs, security guards, locks, alarms, etc. Streamlining and clarifying these procedures can help your space run more efficiently in any situation.

Fire detectors and suppression – Fire, an enemy of collections, can frequently only be subdued by water, which poses an entirely new threat. Consider the material of your collection and property and choose an efficient and minimal / fast acting system to quickly combat either of these hazards. Now’s the time to check things that are easy to overlook, like smoke alarms.

A “total loss,” a burned piece inside of a vitrine that was damaged during the LaSalle Bank Fire.

A “total loss,” a burned piece inside of a vitrine that was damaged during the LaSalle Bank Fire.

Facility administration and access – It’s easy to forget that in dangerous situations, you might not be allowed access to your space if an evacuation occurs. Decide who will be allowed to enter (if possible) and make sure you’re familiar with policies of local law enforcement. During Hurricane Irma, The Conservation Center’s relief efforts were temporarily halted by the police, as only homeowners were initially allowed back onto their property, and contractors had to wait until homeowners mitigated damage.

Steps taken during triage can dramatically affect the outcome of the preservation of a collection.

Steps taken during triage can dramatically affect the outcome of the preservation of a collection.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and here at The Center, we like to be as prepared as possible for any situation. We’re happy to share our planning process with you and welcome any questions or concerns you might have this storm season.