CAUTION! Do not use fumigants or chemicals such as bleach in heritage interiors and/or objects. The best option is to isolate the building/ structure/object that you suspect is contaminated in-situ and quarantine that place.
During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, heritage custodians need to plan for their heritage sites and institutions for three different situations.
Situation 1: Before lockdown period - when you can prepare for the closure of your heritage site or institution and some spaces may be used to provide aid to affected populations.
Situation 2: During lockdown period - when your heritage site or institution is closed and is being used as a COVID-19 testing centre or for other crisis management activities.
Situation 3: After lockdown period - when you need to prepare your heritage site or institution to reopen.
The following tips on preparation for closure of your heritage sites and institutions are for Situation 1. Tips for Situations 2 and 3 are given further below.
Situation 1: Before Lockdown
Preparation in general
The closure of heritage sites will increase risks of theft, fire, flooding and vandalism. These risks could take place due to the lack of monitoring and weak security measures. Additionally, due to the current Social Distancing measures, response could be delayed, exposing the property to other risks stemming from blocked drains, overflowing gutters and downpipes, storms, lightening, fallen trees, power outage resulting in failure of other systems, broken windows and so on. Therefore, in order to mitigate and prepare for risks during closure, you may consider the following:
- Undertake rapid assessment of the essential services such as electrical fittings, water supply pipes, sewage and drainage system (for any possible leaks). At the same time, review your disaster preparedness equipment and supplies, such as: fire extinguishers, hydrants, water pumps, protective gear and so on. Make sure that they are in working condition. In the event of any faults being detected, measures to fix them should be taken.
- Ensure that all garbage and sanitary waste is disposed.
- Shut down the entire electrical network (if possible). Otherwise, leave minimum number of electrical circuits in operation and make a quick check of all the installations before closing. If possible, close the water inlet to the whole building.
- Check the condition of your HVAC system. At the same time, schedule periodic checks for climate control systems required to store certain types of materials and collections e.g. audiovisual collections. It is important to keep such systems running in optimal conditions.
- Clean roof gutters (for roofs in ceramic tiles, especially). If possible, this should be repeated during a prolonged closure period.
- For historic gardens: clean the drains, avoiding possible blockages in the drainage network due to dry leaves and branches. If possible, this should be done periodically.
- Lock all doors and windows securely. Access should be provided only to the emergency team.
- For works in progress: ensure that the work equipment is in a safe place, with no electrical or hydraulic connections in operation, and ensure that emergency shoring is provided for any part of the work in progress.
- Introduce staff rotation in order to assist maintenance and collections care staff with the following activities:
- general cleaning of the space;
- cleaning of water drains;
- checking of the electrical and gas installations periodically; and,
- periodic review of collections on display and in storage.
There is a need for small teams on rotating shifts at heritage sites (maintaining physical distance requirements) to ensure that the place is being checked and maintained. This will depend very much on: the type of place, its use, and management structure. For example, in the Republic of Korea, to prevent the spread of viruses between managers and maintain the minimal management of heritage, working teams operated in two or three shifts.
- If time permits, check each room of the heritage building, with brief notes on the state of conservation of the works/collections contained in it and its structure: ceiling, walls and floor. Make a photographic record of the general situation before closure.
- Prepare a digital backup (more, if possible) and three printed copies (each at different location) of the essential information, including the photographic record mentioned in the previous point, under protection in a different place. This must contain at least:
- the plans of the property or site;
- the most complete and detailed inventory of the collection or site;
- a directory of all the personnel who work in the institution, site or property with contact details and emergency telephone numbers; and,
- copy of the emergency plan if you have one.
- Special emergency response procedures should be prepared at each site or institution for the closure period. These should include an emergency team with essential roles and responsibilities based on the minimal staff authorized to undertake actions such as rescue, salvage, communication etc. Codes of ethics should be established for assigned persons in the team. Appropriate training should be provided to all the involved personnel and stakeholders.
- Recruit volunteers from the surrounding communities, and or a designated person trained to use fire extinguishers.
- Coordinate with local emergency management agency for effective communication in case of an emergency.
- Work out a methodology for keeping open communication lines by keeping feedback channels open. Set up a schedule for following up with the community, including business owners and other stakeholders. Identify stakeholders and communicate the details of the closure.
- In the event spaces within your site or institutions are to be used for testing or other medical aid, ensure that persons-in-charge of setting up temporary facilities are informed of the safety and security measures to be observed. At same time, they should be given a floor plan or site map clearly demarcating restricted access areas or ‘no-go’ zones such as storage or exhibition areas that house collections.
- Keep a list of contacts of relevant stakeholders with you, on your person, so it is readily accessible. Understand and list out contacts of neighbours, communities with elderly members, services who can follow up with them during the lockdown period. Social isolation might be hard on them.
- Follow up and recognize services and businesses that can be supported during lockdown, e.g. businesses serving food can help deliver to local communities in need.
Preparation of the collection on display
- If possible, remove all those objects that are at greater risk of damage or theft, provided that their size and condition allow it. Make safe packaging and store them in an appropriate place. While moving objects, ensure that their original and new locations are recorded and the objects bear labels indicating their respective identification numbers.
- Those artifacts that cannot be removed from exhibition and are considered to be at risk, must be protected in-situ to avoid damage in case of disasters. This can be done with simple packaging to avoid knocks or falls.
- A list of all the objects contained in each room, space or area within the site or institution should be printed and left in a visible place, near the designated access. Preferably it should be placed in an envelope or plastic bag to avoid being susceptible to water.
- A box containing disaster preparedness supplies should be left in two to three easily accessible areas and staff should be informed accordingly. This must remain near the designated access, must be properly identified for the entire time that the museum or site remains closed and must include at least, but not restricted to:
- flashlight with batteries;
- work gloves;
- mouth guards; and,
- safety glasses.
Preparation of the collection in storage
- Secure objects that may be at risk of falling.
- Wrap fragile objects to avoid accidental breakage, or where possible, put them in boxes.
- All shelves with mobility brakes must be secured.
- All windows and secondary accesses should be closed properly.
- Ensure the critical records for collections in storage such as inventories, finding aids, and floor plans are in a ready-to-share state and can be accessed remotely.
- Ensure that alarms, security cameras and all other safety fixtures in storage are working properly.
- Designate staff on a rotational basis to make periodic checks of storage areas during closure. Do this in coordination with local emergency management authority in-charge of managing the outbreak in your area.
- Only designated personnel should be allowed access during the period of closure.
Blue Shield Australia: Closed by COVID-19 – Checklist for GLAMs and Historical and Heritage Sites
AICCM Dealing with Unexpected Closure: a guide to caring for collections in building closed due to COVID-19
Museum Study Cultural Institution Crisis Response online course
Situation 2: During Lockdown
Considerations During Closure
- If possible, make periodic visits by staff on a rotational basis. At the same time, ensure that you have a functioning crisis management team.
- Activities that should be carried out are as follows:
- It is suggested to designate a diary, or log, where all actions, no matter how small, are recorded during the extraordinary closure period.
- Ensure that regular maintenance such as cleaning of water outlets on ceilings and checking of safety of windows and doors are carried out at least once a month.
- Periodically assess the condition of the water, gas and electricity installations, including the HVAC systems, to make sure that these utilities and fixtures are in good condition or have not failed. Please note that for overall safety, utilities should remain closed or should be kept at minimum functionality.
- A general safety and security check of the collections in storage and on display should be made, room by room and also of the storage facilities, recording all visits made in the diary. This is suggested to be done once a week. Any anomaly should be reported immediately to the concerned staff. All activities must be authorized and validated by the persons in charge and must be reported upon completion.
- Ensure communication lines are maintained at all times.
- Follow up on residents, volunteers and cultural bearers (call them and follow up with other service agencies).
- In the event the spaces within your site or institution are being used as medical facilities or for providing humanitarian aid, maintain contact with persons-in-charge on-site. Provide them with relevant checklist of measures to follow for maintain safety and security.
- Maintain contact numbers of essential services who can check status on-ground.
- Monitor global travel advisories and health advisories. Communicate the updates to residents who might not be able to access such information.
- Convey information on new schemes and relief measures launched by the government with the communities and relevant stakeholders.
- Listen to and understand the needs of communities, businesses, cultural bearers. Communicate ideas to the government and other agencies who can take action.
- Cross-match skills and abilities, between organisation and communities to ensure support during lockdown.
- Reassess projects and current business practices to ensure that they can support a smooth reopening and maintain continuity of services.
- Collect information and data on necessities required on opening, so sources and supply chain networks can be negotiated in advance.
- Prepare a questionnaire on what information and data will be needed to facilitate recovery. Collect data and re-evaluate the questionnaire after interaction with communities. Communicate this information to state agencies and other policy makers.
- Relook at existing projects, re-evaluate project objectives and re-orient them to suit new normal and new demands.
- Explore interactions with large private bodies and organisations to cross-match skills and expertise with new demands. This will facilitate new opportunities for Sponsorship and new avenues for business and growth.
Situation 3: After Lockdown
Re-Opening Heritage Sites and Institutions
- Give yourself and your staff time to adjust to a post-lockdown routine and clean-up in order to maintain their physical, as well as mental health.
- Consider various factors, while you make a critical decisions such as when to reopen or how to do so i.e. fully and at once or in various stages.
- Gather all staff and develop a time bound action plan for resuming services.
- Start with a safety and security check of the site including spaces that are not open to the public.
- Following the safety and security check, reinstate essential services such as: water, gas, toilets, HVAC systems.
- Open windows and ventilate the spaces if possible.
- Reinstall water connections, and filters.
- Air Conditioning units might need to be serviced, filters cleaned and re-fit.
- Be aware of the possibility of slippery surfaces, broken or misplaced objects, tightened doors and windows.
- Prepare for the impact of spaces closed for a long period of time, especially in humid climates: cobwebs, dampness, insects, algal growth, fungi, etc.
- When entering into closed spaces, especially toilets or laboratories, wear masks and gloves, to avoid infection or exposure to harmful chemicals.
- In consultation with collections care staff, prepare a schedule for rapid condition assessment of objects (including documents and records) in phases. You could start with the most significant objects or collections.
- Communicate with communities and stakeholders on opening hours. Acknowledge that there will be a settling period before the organisation can function at its full-capacity.
- Offer time, support and a space for people to drop-in physically. Communities and cultural bearers might need physical conversation and a listening ear after a long time of Social Distancing.
In order to understand the impacts, both negative and positive (if any), and mitigate risks stemming from the pandemic, create a task force to assess impacts and identify risks, as well as immediate needs. Such an assessment would assist your institution in applying for relevant grants. For more information: see templates for monitoring impacts and assessing risks.
Contributions by Ang Ming Chee (GTWHI), Virjaitha Chimalapati (GTWHI), David A. Torres, Marcia Furriel, Catherine Forbes, Abdelhamid Saleh, Celina Rincon, Kene Onukwube, Rohit Jigyasu, Aparna Tandon, and Yasmin Hashem.
Long-Term Closure Re-Entry Checklist for Cultural Institutions and Collections Care Stewards - Rebecca Kennedy and Anne Young
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