What’s the Danger?

In this week’s blog Project Conservator, Katharine Richardson, discusses the challenges she has faced while reviewing the CRC’s Disaster Plan….

For the last two months I have been reviewing the Disaster Response and Recovery Plan for the University of Edinburgh’s rare and unique collections. The plan covers twelve different collection sites across the University campus that contain a large number of diverse objects and materials, including archives, anatomical specimens and musical instruments.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project has been to identify each collection’s vulnerabilities and to anticipate the risks involved in moving and handling them during a disaster response operation. Some collection items have very specific handling requirements which must be recorded in the plan, such as the School of Scottish Studies Archive’s audio visual equipment that is so sensitive to movement that they can be damaged beyond repair from one slight knock. There are also certain collections that contain items hazardous to human health, one example being the geology collections, which contain specimens of mercury and asbestos. These, too, require specialist handling instructions and a record of what personal protective equipment (PPE) is required.

A major part of the project has been to evaluate the emergency kit held on site for disaster and recovery operation. Each collection site has its own ‘disaster box’, which contains the equipment and materials required to salvage collections. I came across a couple of issues when reviewing the contents of these boxes, most notably that some of the materials were out of date.

For instance, I was surprised to learn that hard hats expire three years after manufacture. Worryingly, I discovered our hard hats were more than ten years old! As result of this I have been careful to include a record in the Disaster Response and Recovery Plan of what materials are perishable and when they expire, so that contents of the disaster boxes will hopefully be kept up to date in future.

Another issue was that the personal protective equipment in the disaster boxes were very random in terms of size and as a result didn’t seem to match any member of staff in particular. It seemed a lot of time could be wasted during the initial phases of a disaster trying to find PPE that fit. Our solution to this was to create grab bags for the Disaster Co-ordinators (the staff members trained to lead a disaster response operation) with a full set of PPE matched to the individual. Each grab bag also contains some basic kit that will hopefully enable the disaster co-ordinator to act when they arrive at the scene. This includes stationery to document the scene of the incident; some sheets of plastic sheeting to protect collections from water damage; water absorbent pads to stem a leak or stop water ingress; barrier tape and laminated signs to cordon off dangerous and/or restricted areas; and a full copy of the Disaster Response and Recovery Plan.

I chose water-proof rucksacks with adjustable straps to use as grab bags as felt that rucksacks would be more practical to carry around, especially as the Disaster Co-ordinators may have to carry their bags up several flights of stairs. The grab bags are almost complete and I will soon be distributing them. In the meantime here is a quick preview of what they will look like.

Katharine Richardson, Project Conservator


Front of grab bags


Back of grab bags

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *