Be ready for an emergency. In the event of an earthquake, a fire, or a flood, your museum or gallery staff need to know how to keep themselves and visitors safe and protect collections.
On this page:
How to make a disaster plan
Flood and water damage
Disaster planning guides
Is your museum ready for disaster? Damage from a burst water pipe? Or devastation by earthquake, fire, or flood? This guide from National Services Te Paerangi looks at how to plan for recovery from emergencies.
Do the people who work at your museum know how to respond immediately? This guide from National Services Te Paerangi shows you how to develop an emergency procedures flip chart.
How do you safeguard the items in your museum? This guide from National Services Te Paerangi looks at practical steps you can take to ensure the protection, safety, and security of your collection.
Disaster preparedness poster
A quick reference guide to help your museum prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impact of a disaster.
We can send you the poster (A2 size) – your first copy is free. Additional copies cost $15 each.
Contact us to place an order
Phone: 0508 678 743
Other useful resources
Videos: Disaster planning
The Northeast Museum Services Center (USA) has a number of short videos about how to develop and implement an effective disaster plan.
Watch Emergency Preparedness for Museum Collections – Northeast Museum Services Center
Since the devastating earthquakes in Canterbury in 2010 and 2011, New Zealand institutions have been more aware than ever of how important it is to prepare for such events.
Put people first, collection items second. Make sure your staff are trained to take cover during an earthquake and stock up on emergency supplies.
What to do in an earthquake – NZ Civil Defence: GetThru
Collection items and earthquakes
Minimise damage to your collection by taking preventive steps.
- Large shelving units and display cases can be bolted to the floors and walls.
- In storage areas, place straps or netting around the shelves to prevent objects from falling onto the floor.
- Fragile objects like glassware and ceramics should be well padded and wrapped to protect from breakage.
- Quake wax should be used on non-porous ceramics or stone objects to help secure them.
The New Zealand Fire Service has guidelines for identifying and preventing fire risks for heritage buildings and collections:
NZ Fire Service guidelines
Prevention is the key, so make sure that everyone is vigilant about fire safety. Keep an eye out for any sign of electrical damage in the building. Always turn off appliances and heaters when they aren’t needed, and never leave them unattended.
- Make sure your institution has a fire safety plan and all staff have been well trained.
- Evacuation exits must be marked clearly, and fire extinguishers must be readily available.
- Keep track of who is in the building, and set up an outdoor assembly point where staff and visitors will meet.
- Keep copies of important documents (like insurance policies and museum records) off site, such as in someone’s home.
- Smoke alarms should be fitted in all rooms and checked regularly.
- Consider investing in a sprinkler or gas flooding system to protect your collections. Gas flooding is excellent for high-value collections, but costly to install and maintain. Sprinklers are a cheaper option and have proven to be very effective. Water damage is reversible in most cases (with care), but it is still advisable to keep valuable collections stored within enclosures (like boxes) that further protect from water and smoke damage.
If your institution’s site is prone to flooding, make sure objects are always elevated – when on display and in storage. The Canadian Conservation Institute identifies the major issues with incidents that cause water damage in collections, and provides strategies to prevent or minimise any occurrence.
Agent of Deterioration: Water – Canadian Conservation Institute
In the event of a flood, be careful around electrical appliances and outlets and do not stand in the water. If you know how, turn off the power supply to the building.
If some of your collection items are affected by flooding or water damage, consult with a professional conservator about what treatments or long-term care you should implement. Have your building inspected afterwards to ensure there isn’t a mould infestation, which could further damage your collection.
If your institution’s collections sustain damage in a disaster, you’ll need to act promptly to limit further damage and recover items.
The Canterbury Disaster Salvage Team provides training and advice to those in the Canterbury region who are responsible for the care and maintenance of heritage collections. Its website offers general disaster advice and a disaster plan template.
Canterbury Disaster Salvage Team
This look-up table from the Western Association for Art Conservation (Canada) helps collections staff identify recovery priorities and methods for a variety of media:
Salvage at a Glance – Western Association for Art Conservation