New Mexico Association of Museums

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Security Resources

Threats to Your Museum

Museum security is the art of protecting your museum, collections, personnel, and visitors from risks whether they are from natural disasters such as fires, floods, or sickness or from man-made disasters such as thefts or vandalism. Museums need to have safety and security plans to ensure that its staff is prepared to respond to fire, water emergencies, and other large-scale threats to collections. Emergency and disaster planning is clearly part of the broader concern about the fabric of an institution. So a museum emergency or disaster plan is but one element in a larger safety and security strategy to guide the entire institution's policies and procedures during such events as criminal acts, natural disasters, structural fires, serious medical emergencies, or releases of dangerous fumes and gases. Developing a manual of procedures to anticipate all these threats to the entire institution is clearly a process in which all museum personnel must participate.

History has shown the wisdom of taking precautions before events that no one wants to happen or can imagine happening-any catastrophe likely to affect the entire structure of an institution and the security of its collections. This section is divided into several sections that provide resources for overall museum security as well as for dealing with specific threats. There is also a section for safety and emergency forms for your museum, as well as a section for disasters and disaster planning.

The Museum Security Network works to provide a wealth of information and resources on all topics of interest in Museum Security.

Suggested Guidelines for Museum Security is a manual compiled by the Standing Committee on Museum, Library, and Cultural Property of the American Society for Industrial Security and the Museum Association Security Committee of the American Association of Museums.

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The essence of theft prevention is knowing what you have and vigilance. If museum collections materials are not clearly identified and described, proof of ownership will be difficult to establish even if stolen materials are discovered in someone's possession. A fist step is an inventory of your collection and better yet, full registration of all of the collections materials. You should also mark your collections materials with an identifying mark that included at least, the registration number for each object. This ownership mark not only identifies artifacts as the property of the museum, but also discourages theft, especially if the mark is not readily removable. Indelible marks are especially important, since staff commit most thefts from museum collections.

The following websites provide information about marking your objects:

Access to secure storage areas must be carefully monitored. Cleaning, maintenance, and janitorial staff should always be admitted in the company of a staff member, and unauthorized visitors should never be left alone in storage areas. Allowing a potential thief full and unsupervised access to museum materials is tantamount to encouraging theft. In general, the more information a visitor can gain about your physical plant, the greater the risk to your collection. Make sure you know who has keys and keep extra keys in a safe and locked place.

Ideally, exhibition areas should be separated from storage areas by a locked door that can be opened only by authorized personnel.

Materials on exhibit are especially vulnerable to theft and mutilation. Exhibits featuring rare or other special materials can attract thieves or vandals. Exhibit cases should be within a controlled area so that they can be monitored. The cases should be securely locked and constructed from materials difficult to dismantle or damage.

Should you have a theft of valuable objects from your museum, these organizations handle all thefts related to objects from museums and they assist in the recovery of stolen materials.

The FBI Art Theft Program Website includes resources to report the theft of works of art valued at $2,000 or more as well as resources on legislation regarding the theft of works of art and artifacts.

The Art Loss Register is an organization that helps victims of art theft and also acts a clearinghouse for the reporting art thefts and recovery of stolen art.

Collections Theft Response Procedures by Wilbur Faulk and Laurie Sowd is available as a book on-line.

Fire and burglar alarms should be monitored on a regular schedule and, if possible, should be connected to a fire or police department or a remote guard or security post manned 24 hours a day. Burglar alarms should be set when the museum closes and should include both door and motion alarms. Fire alarms should be designed to alert the occupants of the building while at the same time notifying the appropriate emergency services. The most effective fire alarms for museum are ionization detectors, since they react to combustion gases rather than heat, flame, or visible smoke.

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Protecting Your Institution From Wild Fires: Planning Not To Burn And Learning To Recover
by Michael Trinkley, Ph.D.

The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) provides free brochures on fire prevention. They can be contacted at:
  1 Batterymarch Park
  Quincy, MA 02269-9101
  Fax: 617-770-0700

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Emergency Drying Procedures for Water-Damaged Collections
Emergency measures to be taken in case of flood damage to collections.

The American Institute for Conservation has several brochures with tips on dealing with objects in a water emergency:

Tips for the Care of Water-Damaged Family Heirlooms and Other Valuables

Saving Water Damaged Textiles

Saving Photographs After the Flood





Insurance should be part of a museum's risk management plan. It offers financial protection to shield your museum and collections from catastrophic monetary loss. The companies listed below are a few of the most prominent companies that offer fine arts (museum) insurance.

Fine Arts Risk Management
1530 Wilson Blvd, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22209
FAX 703-312-6404

Huntington T. Block Fine Arts Insurance

CHUBB & Son, Inc
15 Mountain View Road
Warren, NJ 07061-1615
FAX 908-903-3838
CHUBB also has an on-line Newsletter on various aspects of fines arts insurance coverage particularly for collectors, but some aspects apply to museums.

AIG Fine Arts Insurance
80 Pine Street, Third Floor
New York, NY 10005
FAX 202-809-1533

Henderson Phillips Fine Arts Insurance
4525 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010

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This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be an endorsement on the part of the New Mexico Association of Museums.