Salvaging Treasures After A Disaster

Super Storm Sandy in the New York region.

Earthquake in Haiti.

Flooding in Minot, ND.

Wildfires in Washington State.

All were terrible natural disasters with a common thread: conservators – specialists in preserving and salvaging important art and historical works – volunteered onsite to help protect and salvage works of art, archives, and more.

Conservators have helped in each situation.  In New York, for example,  the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) opened a Cultural Recovery Center to provide space and help to owners of artworks damaged as a result of Super Storm Sandy. Volunteer assistance and work space was available for museums, libraries, archives, historic sites, galleries, collectors, and artists in need. The goal was to provide guidance and assistance in the cleaning and stabilizing damaged art and cultural materials.

While many collectors are aware of conservators’ work treating cultural objects and artworks and in repairing or stabilizing an item to reduce further degradation, they may be surprised to learn that conservators can help prepare collections for emergencies and help salvage items in the aftermath.  But if disaster takes you by surprise, as it does most of us, there are some specific tools and tips from our partner AIC:

The First 48 – Should something happen to your collection, the first 48 hours after a natural disaster are crucial. Learn about how to stabilize objects using fact sheets from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Most disasters cause damage because of flood and fire.  FEMA offers some great resources which you can review ahead of time to prepare as well.

The WheelThe Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel is a hands-on tool that explains how to save collections. The Wheel has essential information to help you cope quickly and effectively when disaster strikes. Side one contains action steps which outlines critical stages of disaster response, such as stabilizing the environment and assessing damage. Side two includes salvage steps which provides practical tips for nine types of collections: books and documents, photographs, electronic records, paintings, and more. Information from the wheel is also available on a free mobile app.

When in Doubt Consult a Conservator – Conservators are professionals trained to physically preserve cultural heritage artifacts, while retaining their historical integrity. AIC can assist you in finding a conservator who will answer your questions about caring for your valued art, artifacts, or family heirlooms, and when necessary, clean or repair those items in need.  AIC’s website has a handy feature to help you find a conservator.

Of course, POBA can help in collaboration with partners such as AIC.


Contributed by AIC (American Institute for Conservation)