This presentation highlighted the risks to important collections that are located outside of traditional museum or library environments. Eyebeam, a non-profit multimedia art space was among the buildings inundated by flood waters in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood during Superstorm Sandy. Eyebeam is a collaborative workspace, rather than a museum with a “permanent collection,” but like many alternative arts spaces and contemporary art galleries with no “permanent collection,” Eyebeam maintains a collection of work created by former fellowship recipients (something that looks a lot like a permanent collection).
Just as many people in on the East Coast attempted to prepare for the storm, the art center’s staff had had underestimated the magnitude of Sandy’s storm surge, since the storm had been downgraded from the lowest level of hurricane strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The staff members had worked diligently to raise equipment off of the floors and to cover furniture and equipment with plastic sheeting. Unfortunately, three feet of water flooded the interior of the building, causing the loss of 1,500 media items and $250,000 worth of equipment. The presenter showed a video demonstrating the extent of damage to the media archive, contaminated with foul, polluted, flood water. Recovery primarily involved rinsing in clean water, but recovery required more than just the treatment process.
The presenter provided a convenient, numbered list of lessons learned:
Lesson 1. Know Your Context: Assess known risks and anticipate the worst-case scenario. Eyebeam was located near the water, but the staff members had not anticipated catastrophic damage affecting the entire region.
Lesson 2. Maintain Contacts with Local Responders: Assembling a network of contacts in advance of the disaster will greatly improve response time; plan a well-designed scalable system for working with responders
Lesson 3. Train ALL Staff for Recovery: You never know who will be available in an emergency; Be prepared to break all procedures into simple steps for training. The two biggest risks during recovery were dissociation (separation of related parts or separation of labels and other identifying markings) and mishandling (outside expertise in video preservation may be scarce).
Lesson 4. Label Everything: This makes it possible to reunite parts that were separated during recovery.
Lesson 5. Make Hard Decisions in Advance: Maintain records of collection salvage priorities, so resources will not be wasted on low-value materials.
Lesson 6. Know What Roles You Will Need: Do not allow people to multi-task; each person needs a clearly defined scope of responsibility.
Lesson 7. Keep Critical Supplies on Hand: Regional disasters cause shortages of supplies that might be plentiful at retail under normal circumstances.
Lesson 8. Adrenaline Wears off: Schedule breaks from work, and assign someone to provide food, water, etc.
Lesson 9. Integrate Preparedness into Institutional Culture
Lesson 10. Strive to Avoid Negative Press: Many anonymous critics on social media complained that Eyebeam should not have maintained an archive of analog videos or hard copies of digital content, that all of the content should have been duplicated on some cloud server not affected by the storm.
Since the disaster recovery, Eyebeam has relocated to Brooklyn.