Change Text Size: A A A

Emergency Planning for Collections

Julie Bon, ACR, Emergency Planning for Collections Project Manager

The fire at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) in May 2014, which caused huge damage to an iconic building and led to a salvage operation for the collections held within it, was a real stimulus for the National Trust for Scotland’s (the Trust) approval of an internal project focussing on emergency planning for properties with collections. Whilst this was an area of work that had been highlighted for a number of years - it was picked up in our Cost of Care exercise of 2013 which looked at the cost of conservation across our whole estate - like many heritage organisations, the GSA fire has highlighted the need to re-evaluate emergency preparedness.

The Trust’s Emergency Planning for Collections project started in March 2015 and will last for 18 months until the end of September 2016. It has been funded through a dedicated Conservation Deficit fund which was a product of the 2013 Cost of Care exercise which identified key areas of concern for the Trust in terms of the conservation of its built and natural heritage across Scotland.

The Trust conserves and cares for over 50 buildings with collections displayed in-situ in their original contexts. Many Trust buildings have important and historic interiors and unique collections of furniture, paintings and decorative objects. We also care for about a dozen properties which have collections of historic archive material within their walls. These range from the family and estate paper collections at properties such as Drum and Brodie Castles to the collections of Gaelic and Celtic material held within a house on the island of Canna. As might be imagined these can present significant challenges, but it is these historic interiors and collections that the Emergency Planning for Collections project is focussing on.

As a heritage organisation with historic properties open to the public, the Trust takes its responsibilities to its staff and visitors very seriously and has a comprehensive approach to health and safety, which ensures the safety of everyone working at, and visiting, our properties. Therefore, the Trust is well equipped in terms of emergency action for people. However, it is not currently as well prepared to deal with emergency situations affecting its collections; that’s where this project comes in.

The Emergency Planning for Collections project aims to put plans and systems in place so that the Trust will be better able to cope with an emergency affecting collection items. It aims to raise our levels of preparedness and to ensure that we have arrangements in place should the worst happen at one of our properties.

There are three main strands to the project and these include:

1. Writing and preparing an emergency plan for every Trust property holding historic collections
2. An audit of existing emergency equipment at properties and then the provision of essential materials and equipment so that our properties are prepared to deal with emergency situations affecting their collections.
3. Training for staff in emergency planning and collections salvage

Through the successful completion of this project, Trust properties will be in a better position to deal with an emergency situation should the need occur. The information required for staff to communicate with each other, and the emergency services, will be collated into a usable document. The basic emergency kit will be accessible in the first stages of an emergency. Staff will be trained in the use of emergency equipment; in the contents of the emergency response plan and in salvage techniques.

This is a key area of work for the Trust over the next year and will raise Collections Trust Benchmarking standards across our properties in terms of emergency preparedness. It will help the Trust to maintain and achieve Museum Accreditation standards and it will address one of the main areas of concern identified in our Cost of Care exercise. It is also hoped that the Trust will contribute to the re-emerging emergency support networks across heritage organisations, museums and archives in Scotland so that we can help to raise the preparedness and resilience levels across the heritage sector. 

The GSA fire last year was a terrible event and it was shocking to see the damage caused. However, it was inspiring to see the heritage sector in Scotland working together to help minimise the damage and salvage what could be saved. It was a wake-up call for many heritage organisations and I am proud that the Trust has responded to this event in such a pro-active manner and is clearly demonstrating its commitment to emergency planning and to its unique and special collections.