44th Annual Meeting – Emergency Session, May 16, “Lighting a Fire: Initiating an Emergency Management Program,” by Rebecca Fifield

Instituting an emergency management program at your organization is hard. I don’t think anyone would ever argue that. And it’s not just about a written emergency plan. While this is a great place to start, and certainly integral to a complete program, it doesn’t inspire and excite. It doesn’t create an emergency preparedness culture. Rebecca Fifield, a Preservation Consultant and owner of Rebecca Fifield Preservation Services, spoke about several ways to ignite a planning effort and maintain momentum when starting an emergency management program at your institution.
First, create a vision. Don’t just update your phone tree. Get a budget line, meet with your local community, and set up training exercises. Asking for a premium plan built on best practices creates the greatest impact and helps staff get behind the change.
Next, refine and strengthen that vision by creating relationships with allies. Allies can make your project stronger by challenging assumptions, informing the project with their industry expertise, and using their connections to develop momentum around your idea. But how do we identify these allies? Are they our supervisors? Yes! If they haven’t considered it before now, educate your supervisor about how risk management and emergency preparedness go hand-in-hand and how they both are part of our professional responsibility. (See Marie Malaro’s A Legal Primer for Managing Museum Collections). Are our allies Conservators, Registrars, Collections Managers, Security, Facilities Managers, Curators, Educators, IT staff, Human Resources, Communications, and Development? YES TO ALL! Emergency preparedness efforts can often be attached to efforts such as the institutional audit process, health and safety initiatives, construction, or large-scale conservation projects. Start a talking campaign. Remember that a disaster effects every staff member, so it only makes sense to have them as part of your web of allies.
Set a time-sensitive goal. Put a time frame on preparedness to create a challenge, because it can be easy to keep putting off planning. Pose questions that reveal preparedness needs for specific institutional goals: Could there be a potential protest related to an upcoming exhibition? Will you be effected by the upcoming hurricane season? Are you in a region that often deals with large amounts of snow? Look at your historical record. Has your organization suffered a past emergency, and what was the impact on people and collections? Are you dealing with aging infrastructure? Survey your staff. Does everyone know their role in an emergency? These aren’t meant to be scare tactics. This is to make sure that the decision-makers at your institution are well-informed.
Connect with other institutions and your community. Reach out to similar organizations to your own and find out who’s on their planning team and their responsibilities. Take this time to establish an informational exchange. Meet other emergency managers in your region. Get involved with professional organizations such as Alliance for Response, as well as regional responders like the Virginia Association of Museum’s Emergency Response Teams and your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Encourage involvement from staff by having some of these organizations come to you for a talk or training exercises.
Be resilient in the face of negativity. We are all very busy and you may receive some push-back from management and staff. Use emergency management as an opportunity for situational leadership, which allows you to display your ability to lead for the future. It hones your persuasion skills, creates ties with operations and administration colleagues, and provides you with a ready opportunity for development that your current position may not provide. It may take months, and even years, to understand how your institution will function in an emergency, the decisions that will need to be made, and the conversations to confirm direction and readiness. Just remember, that time is as important as developing the plan itself.