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Monday, May 16 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(General Session: Confronting the Unexpected) Get SMART! Setting clear expectations for preservation

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The 2016 meeting theme includes mention of “effective risk assessment methodologies” as a long-term response to the need for better emergency preparedness. It also encourages exploration of “surprises encountered along the way in any treatment”. Treatment, in the preventive conservation context, is the treatment of risks to collections to reduce their likelihood, their impact, or both. These two ideas are not disparate but are linked. The strongest link being through the comprehensiveness and clarity of our risk assessments. An effective risk assessment methodology must not only be capable of being comprehensive but must provide evidence of its comprehensiveness. Just one recent example of our failure to anticipate risks comprehensively was the surprise among the museum community at the 2011 Washington earthquake. This event was ‘unexpected’ despite the fact that just one year before the 2010 international Forum on Understanding Risk, held in Washington DC, had identified a low perceived earthquake risk in Washington, DC, likely to be a false expectation, a simple result of an anomalous period of low seismic activity over the past 300 years. People, like all organisms, are creatures of habit. As such, we hold to a default of expecting tomorrow to be similar to yesterday and today. This leads to any and all unforeseen changes being surprises, often small or even trivial, but surprises nonetheless. When we are confronted by too many, too diverse changes our ability to foresee changes and to maintain a balanced view of their significance, let alone to contribute to their management, fails. We rely on other well established professional groups to contribute much, even most, of preservation achieved. Certainly the roof, walls and secure doors provided and maintained by facilities management services provide 90%, or more, of the protection of collections from damage and loss. The coordination of collection risk management poses both a challenge and an opportunity for the conservation profession. We can step in to what is clearly a breach in our wall against deterioration, damage, and loss of heritage. Or not. If we, the conservation profession, do not take up the challenge of assuring comprehensive collection risk management then it is certain that one of our allied professions, be it registration, audit, facilities management, security management, or other, will. All that is required is setting preservation as a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) then taking responsibility for identifying departures from the goal (risks) and ensuring ownership of, and resources for, risk controls are in place. Ultimately it is not critical that this is done by professional conservators but allowing our field to grow in that direction would seem to be in our best interest.

avatar for Robert Waller

Robert Waller

President, Protect Heritage Corp.
Specializing in cultural property risk assessment and management. Strong background in natural sciences, preventive conservation, material science and conservation science. Accredited by Canadian Association of Professional Conservators.

Monday May 16, 2016 4:00pm - 4:30pm
Room 210 AB/EF

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