Continuing professional development is an essential part of any conservator’s ongoing toolkit. It allows development of techniques and skills and extends the service offer I am able to give my clients. This was particularly the case for my most recent CPD venture. I was fortunate to be able to attend Historic England’s immersive residential three day Salvage and Disaster Recovery course, thanks to an Icon Tru Vue CPD grant.
The course structure is based around both theoretical lecture sessions on all aspects of disaster response as well as several practical, hands-on training exercises involving highly effective enactments of emergency scenarios, all led by experts in the field. My aim was to gain experience in managing disaster response situations, and in doing so increase the range of my collections care consultancy and practical help I am able to offer to clients through being named as a first responder on emergency plans.
On the morning of day one, the focus was on effective methods to implement, test and adjust emergency plans. This included understanding the nature of emergency situations such as the specific risks from fire and water and the roles of the fire service in heritage recovery. Kitted out in firefighter’s gear, the first practical exercise took place in the afternoon, and included effective knot tying, working with ladders and lines to facilitate easier and safer salvage and a very useful but thoroughly claustrophobic walk through a smoke filled building. This really contextualised how difficult the work of the emergency services is in heritage disaster situations, and enabled participants to see incident priorities and challenges from a very different angle.
The day ended with an excellent managing water exercise. This enabled teams to react to a specific emergency scenario – a burst pipe – and enact their immediate response using a variety of available resources, some of which were less than ideal or of limited use. There were plenty of equipment red herrings to tempt us into what seemed like obvious or easy solutions, but it was clear simplicity was the best option. The exercise was an extremely effective means of practicing what did and didn’t work well and how communication is a key factor in the success of any response situation.
Overnight we were asked to think about the roles we may like to take in the main practical exercise on day two. As my primary aim for the course was to gain team management experience, I volunteered to be Recovery Team Leader, responsible for triage and first response conservation and preservation measures following salvage. This was a perfect role for the experience I required, involving pressurised and difficult decision making where priorities were constantly shifting, dealing with large volumes of salvaged material at once and the challenges of keeping communication lines open between a large team spread over a wide area and a number of locations. Following a practical session on how to provide first response treatment for a variety of collection materials and fuelled by lunch the exercise started.
After an initial period of what felt like complete chaos the team definitely coalesced and together we developed a system that worked sufficiently well to ensure that some order and process was maintained. The key learning points were the need to regularly review how the situation was being managed and adjust the response accordingly. The main practical difficulties were insufficient people initially appointed to deal with the rapid influx of salvaged items and the need for quick and easy identification and documentation of objects as they were brought into the recovery area. Up to date and well illustrated inventories and clear, well defined and named floor plans should definitely be the top of everyone’s priority list for emergency planning. As the exercise was so realistic it really did feel like a response to a real emergency situation.
The final day provided an excellent learning opportunity through a detailed analysis of the disaster response at Clandon Park, following the devastating fire in April 2015. This gave all participants a first-hand view into how this disaster was managed by the people who were actually on site at the time and showed how long it takes not only to be able implement first response but also the scale and complexity of a major salvage event.
With the lessons of Clandon firmly in mind, I left Birmingham feeling fully equipped to plan for and deal effectively with the risks and the incidents, both large and small, that occur within my clients’ collections.