Museums all over the country have to prepare themselves for any sort of disaster that could affect their collection. At the Royal Pavilion & Museums, we have been putting a lot of work into our Salvage Recovery Plan, which sets out how we rescue objects in the collection in the event of a disaster. To support this work, some of us were lucky enough to attend a specialised training course in May this year.
Historic England runs a practical three day course in cooperation with the West Midlands Fire Service, that shows delegates how an effective response during an emergency incident can mitigate loss and damage to heritage assets.
Based at a fire station in Birmingham the course was able to provide a much needed hands on experience, without any real life damage to a real life collection. As part of the course we were kitted up as fire fighters with breathing apparatus and took part in an exercise, entering a smoke filled building with little visibility and trying to navigate around.
It was a great opportunity to see how hard the fire fighters job is and how hard it would be them for salvage heritage items from a building, where the practicalities of their kit — heavy gloves and bulky clothes — would make a salvage operation challenging at the best of times.
In teams we spent an afternoon working to divert water and got very wet! We also learnt how to use ladders and other salvage equipment correctly, how to handle and move museum objects correctly, and also took part in several classroom based activities.
The culmination of this training was a full scale ‘mocked up’ incident. For this exercise, the training building was filled with ‘museum objects’ from a junk shop. The fake museum was filled with smoke, an alarm was activated, and a fire truck arrived and went into action, assessing the scene and dousing the area ‘on fire’ with water. Although the incident was mocked up it was surprising how real it felt. We all volunteered for specific roles for the salvage operation and entered into the roles with gusto
Experiencing such a full scale operation, although just mocked up, gave us a very real feel for how the Salvage Recovery Plan for the Royal Pavilion & Museums would work and what, if any, changes we would need to make. It was a huge learning experience, a great opportunity and made us all feel prepared should the unthinkable ever occur.
Amy Junker Heslip, Paper Conservator