Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cultural Security When Natural Disasters Strike

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s shocking impact across the Northeast we are reminded of the havoc and devastation that can be left in the wake of Natural Disasters.
In addition to lives, homes, and businesses, Natural Disasters threaten landmarks, museums, and storage facilities—such as the major auction houses and galleries—that house countless pieces of cultural patrimony.  Sandy’s impact has resulted (thus far) in a death count of 74 in the U.S., 8.5 million people across 17 states without power, and damages estimated at $20 billion in NYC alone; in addition, Breezy Point, Queens, was ravaged by fire and many Jersey Shore landmarks, including Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights, were decimated.  Luckily, the Smithsonian Institution’s museums and National Zoo were able to reopen after two days and report that all facilities in Maryland and Virginia weathered the storm in good condition; thanks to the maintenance staff on hand all leaks were diverted with sandbags, leaving the collections undamaged.  The devastation incurred and the number of close calls prompts us to consider what measures we can take to protect citizens, property, and both man made cultural and natural heritage.
An example of preemptive measures taken to protect art and antiquities came from the Chicago Conservation Center.  Fearing the effects of Sandy would be felt as far inland as the Midwest, the Conservation Center sent out e-blasts warning against the danger of flood-damage to works of art.  In preparation, the Conservation Center set up a “Hurricane Sandy 24/7 Disaster Response Service” to help clients safeguard their collections, endeavoring to fulfill its mission of “Conserving Art from Coast to Coast.”
Hurricane Sandy is a reminder that destruction can be wrought by nature itself; it is also a reminder that we cannot always be 100% prepared, so we must be vigilant.  What sort of protection against natural disasters can we offer? How are we to pick up and reassemble the pieces?

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