Tuesday 14 June 2016

University College Cork museum studies intern creates a disaster plan for Clare Museum

This is Andrew Songhurst, a Masters student from University College Cork. Andrew served an internship at Clare Museum during the spring where he was charged with the creation of a Disaster Plan for the museum building and offsite storeroom which would help the museum achieve one of the standards for Full Accreditation under the Museum Standards Programme for Ireland. It is the first time that Clare Museum has facilitated an intern from UCC.

The placement provides obvious advantages to the student in terms of relevant work experience, but from the museum’s perspective we benefitted from having a trained person who could concentrate on bringing all of the elements of the plan together efficiently, something that the full time staff found difficult as we juggled our regular duties.

There are a number of reasons why having a Disaster Plan is a good idea.

Firstly, it is considered best practice for museums to have a Care of Collections strategy as there is an ethical responsibility to look after items donated or loaned to the museum by the public for the public benefit. A disaster plan is an important part of this strategy.

Secondly, across the world there are disasters - both natural and manmade - on an almost daily basis, and many of these disasters will also impact museum buildings, exhibitions, artefacts, staff and visitors. These threats can include:

• Weather extremes
• Flooding
• Earthquakes
• Civil disorder and war
• Theft and vandalism
• Terrorismp

We have an obligation to the taxpayer to protect our public resource to the best of our ability from such threats.

Thirdly, appropriate planning helps to counter the threat of poor building maintenance and pest infestation. While we cannot control nature, a lack of planning for minor problems can result in avoidable disasters befalling a museum.

Finally, it makes economic sense to have a Disaster Plan, as potentially years of investment in conservation can be eliminated in very short time when disaster strikes.

In our Disaster Plan, Andrew sets out maintenance regimes and the procedures to follow in the event of a list of threats in order to save the collection. Andrew conducted risk assessments of the museum building and the offsite storeroom and identified a number of areas were a maintenance schedule was required or needed review.

With the assistance of museum curator, John Rattigan and Facilities Manager Eamon Fennessy, Andrew also drew up a salvage priority of list of objects in the collection, consulted with the fire service for advice and helped to identify alternative accommodation in the event of the collection requiring evacuation.

At the end of process, Clare Museum now has an emergency preparedness and response plan that is tailored to the needs of our museum. As for Andrew, aside from gaining valuable experience in the creation of a Disaster Plan, he also sat in on a number of meetings between the curator and the museum’s education programme partners while on placement. As a consequence, he was able to establish contacts that would assist in his MA research which relates to learning and museums.

We look forward to an ongoing relationship with Andrew and also to reading the results of his post-graduate research.

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