Keeping your Buildings and Collections Safe during the Covid-19 Crisis
Priorities for Temporary Museum Closure
- Make sure that more than one or two people know how your building works and who to contact for what. Set up multiple tiers of backup. Draw on your staff, volunteers, and Trustees to set up systems and communications that will ensure our buildings and collections for the future.
- Check your insurance company’s minimum requirements for security and maintenance checks, and for building occupation levels and arrange to comply
Building Security and Environment
- Ensure physical perimeter security
- Maintain a minimum staffing where possible to ensure alarms and the environment are monitored and maintained as necessary.
- Where buildings and open sites do not have the benefit of staff on site, the buildings should have alarm systems, possibly CCTV and environmental monitoring systems. These should be transmitted to be received by nominated people who can act should an issue arise. Where possible random checks of the exterior of buildings or open sites are recommended.
- Visit at least once in each seven-day period to check systems and refresh environmental measures; some insurance policies may require more regular visits. As the lock-down proceeds, staff and volunteers undertaking security and collections checks may need evidence that their trip is essential. Ask the Director or Chair to provide you with a letter outlining the essential nature of your travel.
- Record checks and visits by who, when and where are made and any action required/ taken to ensure the wellbeing and security of objects. Where it has not been possible to visit a site due to current restrictions, this should also be recorded. These may be required in the event of any later claim.
- Emphasise to museum staff and volunteers the need to use social media carefully, with no reference to closed/empty buildings (buildings perceived as being empty are already being targeted)
- Ensure fire alarms and systems functioning and being maintained
- Equipment powered down where possible
Buildings and Equipment Maintenance
- Instigate or enhance daily, weekly, monthly checking systems. (Museum Development Officers can provide example checklists for adaptation).
- Keep the list of actions for site visits simple and prioritise. Use limited time in the building most effectively.
Collections Care and Access during Lockdown
The UK Heads of Conservation Group has produced the following guidance for museums.
With restricted access, it is important to identify the highest areas of risk across your collections to enable you to focus the time and resources you can deploy.
The primary risks to collections in the current lockdown scenario include:
- Pest infestation: collections with known pest issues or which are particularly vulnerable to pests
- Poor environment: collections susceptible to fluctuations and extremes of humidity located in areas with poor or limited environmental control
- Dust: organic material on open display or open in storage
- Light: collections exposed to UV or extreme light levels at risk of fading or degrading from light exposure
- Building fabric/features: known building issues including areas prone to water ingress, leaky radiators or historic fireplaces that may introduce water, dust and debris to collection areas.
Also consider equipment onsite linked to the care of collections that requires ongoing maintenance (e.g. standalone dehumidifiers/humidifiers and freezers holding collections). These may be high-risk if equipment maintenance is reduced during this period.
Manage and Reduce Risks
When you have identified your high and medium risk collections, focus on identifying methods to manage and reduce the risks.
- Turning off all lights except for security lighting
- Ensuring food is either removed from site or held in air-tight containers
- Where possible, monitoring collection environments remotely via Building Maintenance Systems (BMS) or other environmental monitoring systems, making changes to air handling unit set points/functions via remote controls if temperature and humidity move outside preferred parameters
- Turning off environmental control systems, either because they are prone to malfunctioning, cannot be maintained, or because with no visitors in the building, adequate conditions can be maintained without using the plant.
Where possible, a regular check of those collections assessed as high and medium risk is desirable. These checks are ideally undertaken by colleagues trained in collections care. For some organisations, it may be onsite security or other colleagues not trained in collections care who undertake checks. In these instances, an overview of the high and medium risk collections should be provided with details of where to focus checks, what to look for and contact details of trained colleagues offsite to report concerns to or discuss potential issues with.
Collections Trust suggest creating a picture check list of the objects or areas that you want non collections staff to check (using smart phones and torches to light the area photographed). The person who checks the objects or area can then take a picture to send back to the collections care person to assess.
In all instances, it is important establish a means to record and share the results of collection checks across relevant colleagues. This will enable you to identify changes in collections and reassess risk areas throughout this period to ensure your resources are always effectively deployed.
The person who leads on collection emergency planning should consider whether response plans need updating for this unique period.
- Will the plan work if some colleagues are unable to attend site due to the corona virus isolation orders and, if not, can other colleagues be identified as reserves?
- If the plan relies on the use of an external contractor or assistance from a partner organisation, is that service or support still available?
- If the plan assumes that equipment, materials and PPE will be purchased or hired at the point of need, is that still achievable, or do alternative arrangements need to be put in place?
Exhibition loan material
Where museums have loans-in, extend the insurance period if necessary. If the loan material is covered by the Government Indemnity Scheme (GIS), follow ACE’s GIS advice on security and environmental controls.
Key sources of information about building and collections safety
Museum Development Officers can access conservation and collections care advice for your museum. MDOs are listed by county on the South East Museum Development website.
Arts Council England offers succinct advice on museum security and environmental checks for Government Indemnity Scheme (but useful more generally).
Safeguarding Museums and Collections, Daryl Holter, Heritage Crime Officer for Sussex Police, March 2020. Comprehensive guidance on securing museums and collections – aimed at smaller museums. Download PDF
Collections Care Guidance during the Covid-19 Crisis, Spencer & Fry, March 2020. Comprehensive guide to resources and ‘best practice’ advice. Download PDF
Museum of London Pocket Salvage Guide provides guidance in the case of an emergency. Download PDF.
English Heritage Insect Pests found in Historic Houses and Museums poster Download PDF
Historic England offers advice on preventing heritage crime includes links to Heritage Watch groups.
Heritage Watch – Alert from Kent Police Security Checklist