Yesterday I attended the Rapid Response Network familiarisation and training day in Saltaire with two colleagues from the library and I had a great day. It was lovely to get out of Bradford and visit sunny Saltaire and we were a little bit too impressed with the fancy trains running out of Bradford Forster Square station. We’re used to travelling on trains that have come straight out of the 1980s. However we weren’t on a trainspotting day out so we quickly curbed our excitement.
The purpose of the day was to familiarise ourselves with the emergency kit provided by the Rapid Response Network in the event of an emergency. (http://www.rapidresponsenetwork.org.uk/index.htm )
The RRN is a network of heritage organisations with collections in the region providing information and resources which aim to improve preparedness and emergency planning in the archives/ libraries/ museums sector. For a modest subscription fee they provide training opportunities and access to emergency disaster equipment which would be absolutely invaluable if a disaster occurred in your organisation. They also have a network of people who can be called upon to assist if the worst did happen.
The range of equipment you would probably need should you be hit by a fire or a flood is massive. In order to be safe and to make sure the collections can be salvaged and removed safely, you need boxes and boxes of equipment ranging from standard health and safety equipment such as gloves, waterproofs, dust masks, hi-vis vests, wellies, helmets etc to salvage equipment; polythene sheets, plastic crates, bubblewrap, blotting paper, paper towels, freezer bags, trolleys, heavy duty plastic, tools, all of which would cost a fortune should you not have access to them. There are other things in the equipment boxes which you might not immediately think about during an emergency such as clipboards, pens, headlamps and batteries! They can also offer free access to expensive but really useful in an emergency pieces of equipment such as a generator, a gazebo, water pumps and vacuums.
We were able to see a makeshift disaster site for ourselves and have a go at salvaging materials (no museum items were harmed during the making of this).
We were split into 2 teams. One team were tasked with recovering the materials from the flood and dealing with the flood zone and the other team were attempting to treat and salvage the materials. The biggest problem I found was that it was so easy just to dive in (pun not intended) and start unpacking the materials. You feel a dire sense of urgency when what could possibly be an invalubale item has been damaged. Without the correct knowledge on how to deal with different types of materials such as textiles, books, photographs and paintings you could end up doing more harm than good. I would like to learn more on how to deal with individual materials because I had no prior experience in handling damaged photographs and costumes. You definitely need a plan in place before you do anything and take lots and lots of photographs! You need to triage the damaged stock and prioritise what you are going to save first and this requires excellent communication between all parties involved in the disaster response team. We noticed early on that the teams were working in isolation, we weren’t communicating with each other and we didn’t have a plan and this would not be helpful in an emergency. We thought this was possibly because these items were not part of our own collections and we didn’t fully understand what we were working with therefore we were unable to fully prioritise our workload.
The crucial bits of information I took away with me were;
- Do not panic and don’t rush into it – if your collection has been flooded it’s already happened and damage will have already occurred and you do not want to make it worse by rushing into it without a plan.
- Have a plan and communicate – you need a proper emergency plan in place and you need someone who can communicate with all of the disaster team to make sure everyone is working together and knows what they are doing.
Finally, I hope that all of the disaster equipment stays firmly in the stores and that no one should need it because a disaster of any magnitude would be horrendous for all involved. However, it’s good practice to be prepared and knowing this network exists means that all of our collections can be a little bit safer.