Ever since 9/11, creating disaster plans for organizations has gotten priority status. Writing a disaster plan can be a long, complicated process. What disasters do we plan for? What if we do all this planning and some other disaster we didn’t foresee befalls the museum?

The larger museum field has encouraged museums of all sizes to adopt disaster plans, yet, because of the aforementioned complexity, it is rare for smaller museums to work through the process. Fortunately, a number of resources have been developed that help remove some of this complexity.

We at the Morrison County Historical Society decided to use an online disaster planning tool specifically for museums called dPlan. (Available at this address: http://www.dplan.org/.) Once registered with the site, users fill in information specific to their museums, including who to contact in an emergency, insurance policy data, utilities shut-off instructions, evacuation procedures, salvage priorities, and etc.

It was the latter – salvage priorities – that was the most interesting and toughest part to fill out. Akin to a person trying to figure out what to save from a fire (other than people and pets), we had to figure out what we would save first should the museum suffer a disaster. dPlan has a section for administrative priorities (i.e. institutional records) and one for collections priorities (i.e. archives and artifacts). When it comes to collections, our top priority would be the original WPA biographies that were the genesis of MCHS. That was the easy decision; everything after that was more difficult to prioritize.

The beauty of dPlan is that it fills in procedures for salvaging a variety of artifacts, plus provides text that explains recovery options. Even though dPlan is an online tool, the entire plan can be saved and printed once it’s complete. We used dPlan Lite. There is a more extensive version of dPlan for larger institutions. Even with dPlan Lite, our plan printed out at 120 pages. All told, it probably took us about a month of intermittent work to provide the information needed for our plan. That’s certainly a managable amount of time for most organizations. dPlan also provides a check-off system, so users can indicate when each section is finished, allowing them to mark their progress. (If you’re a list person, this feature is very satisfying.)

dPlan does not deal with people emergencies, so those procedures have to be written separately, but in working with the tool, it becomes obvious that disaster planning isn’t about divining which disaster will strike. It’s about giving those who have to deal with the disaster enough information to figure out how to keep an organization going and setting priorities for what to save, which is much easier to do when not operating in panic mode.

By Mary Warner

Copyright 2010, Morrison County Historical Society
The article first appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society’s newsletter in 2010, Vol. 23, No. 4.

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