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This week Charlie writes about protecting unique cultural artefacts.

This week’s bulletin is about an incident that is close to home for me. The historic Mackintosh Library, at the Glasgow School of Art, was gutted by fire. The blaze destroyed some extremely culturally significant artefacts, along with the artwork of students which was being readied for the end of year show. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said that they had managed to protect up to 70% of the contents and that 90% of the structure was viable. There will be some relief that the building can be restored, with the UK government having already said it will contribute to the costs. There is still, however, great sadness at the irreparable damage caused by the fire. The Mackintosh is much loved locally and is also architecturally important, being one of the finest examples of art nouveau in the world.

A few thoughts on this incident…….

1. Mainly in business continuity we are looking at activities which can be transferred to take place in a different location and our plan is built around making sure that the recovery is achieved within the agreed recovery time objective. Usually we are not too concerned about the building, it is the activities carried out within it that are the most important. In this case however the building was also of great importance and needed to be protected.

2. When we have to protect a building we have to look at the threats. In this case a standby generator would not have worked but a sprinkler system would have. They were due to have one installed later in the summer. If fire is your key risk you need to try and find the funding to purchase a fire suppression system or accept the risk of a fire.

3. One of the strategies for recovery in this case was to recreate the building after the fire. They were very lucky in that the interior and the fabric of the building were extremely well documented so they will be able to recreate the interior. This was perhaps not carried out for business continuity reasons but it is a cheap way of providing at least the ability to recreate a building interior after an incident, especially if the content is culturally important.

4. Many of the students lost their work for their degree. I have heard of this happening before where students’ artwork was ready for marking and then was destroyed in a fire. Where you have something that is unique and cannot be recreated easily then take photographs so that at least the photos can be submitted.

5. Having heard a number of presentations by salvage companies it is amazing what can be restored after fire or water damage. It is very important for them to be invited in early after an incident as they can stabilise the item and prevent further damage occurring. Within your business continuity plan you should have details of a salvage expert who can be deployed to the scene of the incident not long after the fire service has arrived. You may get this service with your insurance company. Have you checked that they have the necessary skills to protect your organisation’s property and do you know how to call them out?

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