The National Climate Assessment finds that more frequent and intense extreme weather – from hurricanes to wildfires to earthquakes – is only expected to get worse in the years to come, causing significant economic damage and destroying public infrastructure and personal property. For example, in 2017 there were 71,499 wildfires across the U.S destroying 10 million acres and 8,065 homes.
Galleries, collectors and art aficionados alike all face the same risk when it comes to extreme weather –potential harm to or destruction of their collection. Fortunately, having a plan in place can be the deciding factor in your collection’s safety and survival. There are five basic steps to take before, during and after an extreme weather event that can help you protect your valuable collection:
- Proactively prepare – The best time to plan for a catastrophic weather event is before one even becomes a threat. Doing so ensures you won’t have to scramble when the forecast gets a bit gloomy. The first thing to keep in mind is documentation of your collection, both what is in the collection and the state of each item. This way if something disappears or is damaged you have proof it was once in your collection. Making a video of your collection is especially useful in the case of a wildfire when your collection could possibly be destroyed altogether. Videos also help your insurance company process your claim quicker. You should keep these records off site, so they don’t risk get destroyed too.
- Develop and practice a plan – Develop a response plan for when bad weather strikes. This plan should include details on a designated safe place art can be moved to as well as transportation details for moving the art. A safe place could be a number of places – an interior room or a secure warehouse (galleries and collectors could each do these). When it comes to transportation, use professional art movers, if possible, as they have the expertise need to safely transport art. If you are a gallery, a business continuity plan should address all potential threats (weather related or not) to operations and outline the steps to get your gallery up and running post event. In addition, galleries should have all employees go through emergency training so that staff members understand their roles and responsibilities if a threat were to arise, safety routes and general emergency procedures.
- Ensure physical safety – The physical safety of people should always be your number one priority. Once family, employees or colleagues are at safe locations when severe weather hits, your attention can turn to trying to save your collection if safe to do so. You can ensure safety by implementing the plan you created before the event and making sure everyone understands their role in a state of emergency. Draft an email that you can distribute if an event were to happen to remind people of the necessary steps to take so that everyone is in the know. Maintaining communication with all involved parties can help avoid any confusion and keep everyone safe. Follow updates from local authorities to be up-to-date with the most current news and safety advice. Once authorities say the coast is clear you can then revisit the location of your collection.
- Take inventory – Once you are cleared to revisit the site of your collection it is then time to do damage control. A good rule of thumb is not to move a piece unless it is wet or exposed to water. If a piece of art is wet, speed is essential: remove and transport the piece as quickly as possible to a freezer so the piece isn’t damaged further. If the collection isn’t wet, the first thing to do is to take inventory and photos of the damage done to the collection. If you are a gallery, you should call the artists who left their pieces in your control and offer a status update.
- Contacting insurance – Calling your insurance broker or insurance company is vital post event. Do this once everyone is safe and you’ve begun documenting the remains of your collection. They can assist you in the claim process, as their role is to connect you with a fine art claims adjuster to begin the claims process. The adjuster will also arrange for someone to transport the art to a secure place. Remember to move quickly when it comes to finding an adjuster because there are a limited number within each community and following an event they may be in high demand. The adjuster will also typically have connections to conservators. Once connected, a conservator will start repairing the damaged artwork.
There were many lessons to be learned in the aftermath of extreme weather that impacted the United States in 2018—and already in 2019. Whether you are an individual collector or gallery it is important to have a thorough emergency plan, so you can weather a storm. Preparation is vital regardless of industry when it comes to a weather catastrophe. You can’t prevent the event from happening, but you can control the planning prior to.
Diane Jackson is Chief Operating Officer and Director of Finance at Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Inc., a division of Aon, the world’s premier insurance broker. With more than 1,200 museums, 800 art galleries, and some of the largest universities and Fortune 500 companies’ art collections insured, HTB is the world’s leading provider of insurance to the fine art community. For more information, contact Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.862.5305.
This article is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide individualized business, insurance or legal advice. You should discuss your individual circumstances thoroughly with your legal and other advisors before taking any action with regard to the subject matter of this article. Only the relevant insurance policy provides actual terms, coverages, amounts, conditions, and exclusions for an insured.