Writing a disaster response plan

DATE:05TH SEP 2019

Many people do not have plans for responding to disasters, or procedures for protecting their collections. As such, more damage can occur while attempting to save them.  ICS has had extensive experience in disaster preparedness planning and disaster response, and has written numerous Disaster Response Plans for organisations. The main elements of a Disaster Response Plan are:

  • Prevention (which includes a risk assessment)
  • Preparation
  • Response
  • Recovery

A well written, and useful, disaster plan is a vital part of the proper management of cultural collections. It sets out in a logical fashion, what needs to occur prior to, during and after a disaster has occurred. Each Disaster Response Plan is written specifically for an organisation, and is tailored to suit the particular needs of that organisation and its collection and the specific risks they face. In order to do this, and to ensure that all disaster preparedness needs of the collection are met, the collection needs to be inspected, so that all possible risks to the item are identified and, where possible, minimised. For this to occur, a risk assessment of the collection is undertaken.

Risk Assessment

A risk assessment aims to identify all possible risks to the collection, and determines which risks can be eliminated or controlled (such as leaving objects out uncovered and unprotected), and which risks are out of the hands of the organisation (such as storm or hail damage). Once this assessment is undertaken, and there is a clearer understanding of all possible risks to the collection, a Disaster Response Plan is written, in consultation with the caretaker/s of the collection.

Disaster Response Plans

Disaster Response Plans are an effective tool in the management of cultural collections. They provide information regarding the:

  • Prevention of a disaster (by assessing and reducing risks)
  • Preparation for a disaster (by prioritising the collection, assigning a Disaster Response Team, and providing training)
  • Response to a disaster
  • Recovery of material after a disaster


Disaster preparation involves undertaking a risk assessment, prioritising collection items, setting up a Disaster Response Team and support networks, and undertaking training in the plan. Priority collection items are items from the collection which have been identified as being of the utmost importance to the collection and organisation, and are the items which should be protected first with the threat of disaster and saved first following a disaster.


Disaster response occurs when the disaster strikes, and is based on the principles outlined in the Disaster Response Plan. This part of the Plan outlines disaster response procedures, such as evacuation and emergency procedures. The priority list of items to be saved, if there is enough time and if it is safe to do so, is also located in this section. The actions outlined in this part of the Plan may, if followed correctly, prevent a minor disaster from becoming a major one.


This is the final stage of a disaster, and is when damage to the collection is assessed, and salvage procedures are begun. The recovery phase of a disaster occurs once the disaster proper has ended. The extent of the damage sustained during the disaster needs to be assessed during this phase, and any items affected by the disaster salvaged. In order to limit the amount of damage sustained by collection items during this vulnerable salvage stage, clear procedures should be outlined and followed. These procedures form part of the recovery section of the Disaster Response Plan.

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