By Kathy Griffin, Massachusetts Historical Society
A couple of weeks ago I “attended” a webinar broadcast under the auspices of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia (their website is ccaha.org) on “incorporating pandemic preparedness into your emergency plan.” As the person responsible for developing and maintaining our emergency management plan at the Massachusetts Historical Society, I had been thinking about this topic over the past year or so (I wonder why?) and had drafted out a simple section for our emergency plan just the week before the webinar.
The webinar provided an important opportunity to think broadly about the current pandemic, about emergency preparedness in general, and about the possibility of future pandemics, which most experts agree loom somewhere on our horizon.
Things I learned from this valuable webinar include the following ideas:
- Mitigation (reducing risk) is an important part of emergency preparedness, but it is difficult to mitigate for a potential pandemic. Planning, though, can be viewed as a form of risk reduction. Planning for a pandemic involves some simple actions that any of us can consider for our institutions. In light of all of our recent experiences, we can ask “How has the pandemic impacted our organizations?” and “How can we be better prepared for pandemic-related closures in the future?”
- The webinar discussed resources for collections care and the coronavirus, particularly highlighting the REALM project research into library surfaces and fomite transmission of the virus. The instructor also discussed facilitating airflow and disinfecting spaces, not just collections. As the latest scientific research indicates, fomite transmission is not the primary vector for transmitting COVID-19, but rather air. So good airflow and air filtering in a building is important to remember when mitigating for airborne transmission.
- Probably of more importance are the general guidelines for a phased approach to closing and re-opening your institution in response to a declared pandemic. The general phases to follow for closing are to monitor the situation before it becomes critical; call a pandemic team and know who makes the ultimate decisions for your institution; check, obtain, and allocate resources for cleaning and for working at home; determine closing protocols for your institution; establish collections care procedures during your closing; continue to monitor the situation through the closure period; determine re-opening protocols, and keep in touch with first responders and local authorities.
- There should be a plan for frequent Team meetings and consistent messaging and voice in communicating with the public. Someone on the Team can be appointed to monitor official web sites and information from the government. Closing protocols should adhere to directives from the federal, state, and local authorities. Building security and monitoring devices should be maintained if possible, including the documenting of all people entering and exiting the collections spaces. Any on-site staff must understand the protocols for collections safety, and normal monitoring should continue (pests, HVAC, mold, etc.).
- Staff must have adequate equipment at home for work: internet access, a computer device, a monitor, network extender (if you are networked at work), phone, desk, chair, etc. A business continuity plan to secure the financial health and resiliency of your organization should be in place for any number of large-scale emergencies (regional disasters, for instance), and a pandemic closure will fall into the same sort of category.
- Human resources, and concern for the mental and emotional well-being of the staff is critically important for an institution during a pandemic and a long closure. Acknowledging pandemic-induced stress, cooperation, diversity, work-life balance, the unprecedented nature of the situation, rapidly-changing circumstances and our ability to adapt, as well as the pressure to produce, and the problem of digital burnout when working from home, will all contribute to a better understanding and a more comfortable working environment for the institution’s employees.
These ideas all come from our recent experiences. But they can be applied more broadly to planning for your future pandemic response, and can be incorporated into your own emergency management plan somewhere around the section about massive earthquakes and giant tidal waves. We have been quite inundated of late, or shaken to our very cores, am I right?
If you have questions about the content of the webinar, please feel free to email the Center for the Conservation of Art and Historic Artifacts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (CCAHA) preservation department at email@example.com.