Disaster planning (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

By accessing this resource, you agree to the Spectrum licence.


Use this procedure well before you are faced with a real emergency that might harm your collections or your information systems. The first thing to do is to list the risks you face, such as fire and flooding. Then plan to make these things less likely to happen, and less damaging if they do.

Once you have assessed the risks you can put together a disaster plan. In the heat of the moment it can be hard to think straight, so have clear, written instructions ready to be grabbed by anyone who needs them. Use drills to test your disaster plan, so that everyone knows what to do even if key people are not around when trouble strikes (as they might not be). This procedure might not stop a disaster from happening, but it will help you react and recover.

The Spectrum standard

You must have a policy on how you will deal with disasters. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy. Either way, you should include answers to these questions:

  • Who is responsible for disaster planning within your museum?
  • What agreements do you have to co-operate with other museums in emergency situations?
  • How do you assess risk and what level of risk do you consider tolerable?
  • What are your priorities for mitigating the risks you have identified?
  • What risks will you insure against (or seek indemnity cover for)?
  • Who has access to the full disaster plan? (particularly if it includes confidential information such as lists of the most valuable objects in your collection)
  • Who will be trained to put the disaster plan into action?
  • What is the chain of command in an emergency? (including if key people are not around)
  • How will you test the effectiveness of the disaster plan and keep it up to date?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow to reduce risks, and how to react to disasters. Spectrum’s suggested procedure is a useful starting point, and is available as a workflow diagram or as a text file you can edit. However you do it, your own procedure must meet the following minimum requirements:

Minimum requirement Why this is important See (cross-references to be added in final version)
You assess the risks facing your collections and information systems, and review these regularly in line with your policy. Your governing body can make informed decisions about safeguarding your objects and data.
You have multiple copies of a written disaster plan that will help you respond effectively to all foreseeable emergencies (with at least one copy safely off-site). You have clear steps to follow so you will not forget something important in a real emergency.

You do not lose your only copy of the disaster plan in a disaster.

You always have access to up-to-date contact details for the people and organisations named in your disaster plan. You do not waste time tracking down the people you need urgently.
You have prioritised the objects you would save first in a disaster, and recorded this information in a way that can guide any rescue that may be possible. You are able to move objects to safety in a planned way that reflects their value to you.
All your staff and volunteers know, and have practised, what they should do in all of the situations covered by your disaster plan. Whoever is first on the scene can react quickly, efficiently and safely.

You are not relying on someone who happens to be on holiday when disaster strikes.


Please use this form to give us your feedback. Required fields are marked *


  1. Equipment and supplies should certainly be identified and listed, but also procured (where practicable) and held in more than one location in the event of an incident making the primarynlocetoin of this material inaccessible.

  2. Disaster Planning Module
    ◦Who will be trained to put the disaster plan into action?
    This should also mention that the plan should mention specific roles, – Incident lead, Incident co-ordinator etc, down to quartermaster and documenter.
    Is it worth mentioning categorising the risks by Incident > Emergency > Crisis to help form appropriate guidance?

Print-friendly PDF

Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust