Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Importance of Disaster Preparedness!

A Blog Post by Melina Avery

Last Tuesday afternoon, if you were in Baltimore, you may have noticed a major deluge that hit the city mid-afternoon. Being a Basement Level Intern, I was only marginally aware of the situation until I emerged from the basement at around 4 p.m. The staff had sprung into action! At first I couldn’t tell what was going on – everyone was wet, barefoot and, while not panicked, clearly in the midst of a Situation.

As it turned out, the heavy rain, a blocked drain and a sinkhole on Watson Street had conspired to cause flooding in the Lloyd Street Synagogue, which is a very important building and component of the JMM; in addition to its intrinsic historical value, it houses JMM exhibits and is host to an archaeological excavation into Baltimore history. As you can imagine, news of a possibly damaging flood to this space caused widespread concern among the staff and interns, but luckily, we are all museum professionals and know the importance of a disaster plan!

The blocked drain and...
...the sinkhole the caused so many problems.

Flooding is one of the most common museum disasters and the JMM, like any responsible museum, is always well-prepared for the possibility, even if we always hope it won’t actually happen. For example, as an MA student in art conservation, I had to prepare a disaster plan and mock-up cache of emergency supplies for a flood at an imaginary institution so that I would be prepared to handle a flood situation at any institution I ended up working for.

After learning what had happened, I helped photo archivist / development coordinator Rachel K. and senior collections manager Jobi grab all the blankets, mops and brooms in sight and headed out through the downpour to join the other staff and interns at the LSS and help with what was left of the situation.

Our trash can full of absorbent U-Haul blankets

The LSS was full of barefoot, drenched but highly efficient people who had already gotten most of the water out or down a drain.

The dampened staff and interns

All I had to do was help lay down blankets to sop up standing water near the front entrance and prevent further incursion.

Blankets sealing up the door

Squeezing out the door

Shutting the door with blankets in place, after squeezing out

The basement entrance and exhibit area, and the Mikvah excavation, were flooded during the storm, but the only possible long-term damage is to the Mikvah excavation area, the structural integrity of which may be compromised. The long-term consequences of the flood are not yet known, therefore, but we do know that it could have been much worse if not for the quick action of JMM staff and interns.

The flooded excavation

A moment of levity after the team has dealt with the crisis.

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