Protecting heritage buildings with a disaster recovery plan

15 September 2019

Insuring historic property and valuable contents is a highly specialised area that requires expert assessment and professional advice.

Fire being fought at a heritage building

What is a disaster?

A disaster is a sudden or unforeseen event that can cause significant damage. In the historic environment, a disaster can put potentially irreplaceable items at risk of total destruction. Disasters can occur because of a significant weather event or a non-weather related incident that causes destruction and could include:

  • Fire
  • Flood
  • Storm
  • Bomb threat/explosion
  • Serious injury to staff, volunteers or visitors.
Many disasters remain out of our control but how we respond has the potential to minimise the impact. 
 
Preventing a disaster in the first instance is always preferable to managing a disaster situation that has already caused damage and disruption. Where possible, preventative measures should be put in place based on assessments of your building, contents and activities. 
 
Disaster recovery planning is the next step and uses those assessments to detail the key actions to take should something happen.

What is disaster planning?

Planning for a disaster involves creating an action plan that can be immediately implemented in an emergency. It sets out the key information that may be needed by your team, such as plans for the emergency services or insurer information and outlines the actions to take in the event of anything from a small-scale incident to a major catastrophe.

Why do I need a disaster recovery plan?

  • Provides procedures for when disaster strikes, to ensure the most effective response where prompt and decisive action is essential.
  • Helps to minimise harm to people, buildings and contents, inform business continuity planning and protect the reputation of the organisation.
  • Supports an insurance claim.

Disaster recovery plan steps

  • Responsibilities and tasks
    Having clear responsibilities defined in the event of an emergency can help achieve an effective response and allow you to consider any training needs as part of your preparation. Detailing the activities that will need to take place as soon as the incident strikes and throughout recovery even at a high level will help to take control of a situation quickly. 
  • Emergency plan
    When the unexpected happens, the plan itself details what to do initially, the information you will need and who to contact in those initial hours to maximise time and efficiency.
  • Communications plan
    How to manage the wider network of people who will need to be informed and how to continue any business activity. This may include staff, service users, volunteers, trustees and the media.
  • Recovery plan 
    Carrying out the salvage process to minimise long-term damage and get back to normal as quickly as possible.
Disaster recovery plans don’t come ‘off the shelf’. If you are a private house owner with a valuable collection, your needs will differ from those of the team running a museum
 
The guide is designed to give you an overview of the sorts of issues you need to consider when putting your plan together. We have also provided a set of ‘Notes’; forms, templates and checklists to help tailor the content to your own circumstances. 

Disaster control documents