Emergency salvage planning at Mottisfont

A shelf of plastic boxes containing salvage equipment at Mottisfont, Hamsphire

We need to be ready for emergencies of all kinds at Mottisfont. Here, Conservation Assistant Alissa Tassopoulos explains how the house team are helping the whole property prepare.

I heard someone once say that if you aren’t able to provide a definition of something then you don’t really know what it is. Whether true or not, I remembered this statement when asking myself, "what is an emergency?"

I was preparing to teach my first salvage training course for the property team at Mottisfont. Starting simple, I wanted to begin the presentation with this question. However, at that moment I found myself unable to define it. So I turned to the dictionary for some guidance.

An emergency, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.” 

There are many different types of emergencies – medical, environmental, financial, and even cultural. According to a survey carried out between 2005 and 2006, 30% of museums in the UK had experienced an emergency or disaster in the past five years and 21% had experienced more than one. (Introduction to Emergency Planning (2011-2012))

The types of incidents ranged from fire, vandalism, power outages, and most frequently, water damage (at a historic property such as Mottisfont, water damage can be the result of burst pipes, a burst radiator, snow melt, rain, and more).

Unfortunately, it was also reported that between 2002 and 2006, an average of seven heritage buildings in the UK were lost or damaged each month due to fire (The Cost of History, Fire Risk Management Journal cited in Butler, P., Herrick, J., Hunt, N., Aspiration. Heritage Supplement, 1st Edition, 4). 

So how do we avoid adding to the above statistics? We plan.

In order to mitigate loss in the event of an emergency or disaster, our staff have come up with salvage and recovery procedures to help us feel confident and prepared if such an event occurred.

Labelled items and kits ready in the salvage storeroom
Packaged sets of salvage materials in a store room at Mottisfont, Hampshire
Labelled items and kits ready in the salvage storeroom

Through monthly training sessions, we learn and discuss the ways in which we can best protect our collection and historic interior. We perform exercises, take part in handling sessions, review techniques for the recovery of objects, and much more.

In our most recent sesion in April, we took a look at our newly restocked salvage storeroom, an area dedicated to the necessary salvage equipment. We tried on PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), and discovered what items are stocked and what they are used for. These range from materials to absorb water and contain spills, to Tyvek and polythene sheeting to help protect any salvaged items.

One of our House Conservation Assistants demonstrating how polyester film (melinex) can be used to retrieve a photograph submerged in water
One of the house conservation team demonstrates how to salvage a photograph from water
One of our House Conservation Assistants demonstrating how polyester film (melinex) can be used to retrieve a photograph submerged in water

As one of my favourite books, Cultural Emergency in Conflict and Disaster (Frerks, G., Klein Goldewijk, B., van der Plas, E. (eds.) (2011)) states: “One of the possible framings of cultural emergency is based on the view that culture is a basic human need. Like food, shelter, or health, culture is then seen as indispensable in human existence. Culture connects individuals to their communities and histories and is integral to human identity…”

It is a strange concept planning for something we hope never happens, yet at the National Trust we know just how important it is.