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Emergency Documentation

Infographic Framework from First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis handbook.  ICCROM and Prince Claus Fund (2018)
Infographic Framework from First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis handbook. ICCROM and Prince Claus Fund (2018)


Documentation is a crucial component of emergency response and is necessary in each phase of the operation, as demonstrated by the infographic on the right from the First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis Handbook. Just like risk management and communication and coordination, documentation spans every step.


What is documentation?

Documentation is defined by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) as "capturing a collection item’s condition, history, use, and value. It is how a museum maintains physical and intellectual control over its collection. Without documentation, a collection item has no identity." In an emergency, documentation helps to prove due diligence. Thorough documentation of an incident will help track collection items, support accountability, and inform insurance claims. In the aftermath of an emergency, collections are extra vulnerable to misplacement and theft. Proper documentation will protect not only the collections, but you, your colleagues, and your institution.


There are a few key steps during an emergency response that require different types of documentation. After an emergency occurs, you will likely have to perform an on-site damage assessment. Damage assessments communicate information about your collection at a specific moment in time. Generally, you will perform an initial damage assessment to gather key information to help plan your collections emergency response. Later, a full damage assessment will be conducted during the security and stabilization step. See the resources to learn more about what goes into a good damage assessment.

Damage Assessment Resources

After you perform the initial and full damage assessment, you begin the salvage operation. During this step of the response phase, you will be tracking collection items, providing item-specific assessments of their condition, photographing items, and recording the location they were found. Watch the video to learn more about collections emergency documentation.

Training staff for all types of emergency documentation is critical. The Smithsonian PRICE team developed a tabletop activity to accompany the above video, allowing staff to practice and share ideas or techniques. Consider hosting a tabletop training session with your colleagues. Our facilitators will take you step-by-step through the exercise.

Activity Materials & Facilitator Guide

After the salvage and response operation is complete, it is vital to conduct an after-action review. Think of this as a debrief that records the successes and failures of the emergency response. This type of documentation describes what worked and what didn't and explains what factors led to the incident. The purpose of this type of review is to identify areas for improvement as well as action steps for preventing future emergency events. Each incident and its corresponding response, no matter how large or small, is an opportunity to learn, practice, and improve.

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