Insurance Issues: Grimes Mill Fire

Insurance is one of the primary disaster preparedness steps any cultural heritage institution can take. Yet a significant proportion of organizations do not believe they need it. Sometimes those in charge of collections believe that since their artifacts are irreplaceable, and insurance typically provides for the replacement of losses, it is not cost effective. To really think this idea through, you need to do a risk assessment. Are the chances greater that you institution’s collections will be a total loss in the event of a disaster or that they will be partially damaged? Many times, artifacts can be salvaged, despite a destructive event.

ChathamCourtHouseThe Chatham County Courthouse Fire of 2010 consumed most of the building’s interior, yet all of its collections were able to be salvaged. Immediate recovery measures involved drying out artifacts that had sustained water damage during efforts to put out the fire. In addition, a number of objects required conservation for stabilization. Proper insurance coverage should provide your organization with the funds to accomplish this crucial phase of disaster recovery.

photo by Landrum Kelly

photo by Landrum Kelly

The Historic Salisbury Foundation, which owned Grimes Mill, did not insure the property. In the wake of the January fire, trustees are still grappling with the financial consequences of that decision. Given the dangers involved in trying to save a huge 1896 roller mill, the Foundation had a mutual understanding with the Fire Department that if a significant fire ever occurred at Grimes Mill, firefighters would not be sent inside. The uniqueness (i.e. irreplaceable nature) of the roller mill was one factor that dissuaded the Foundation from obtaining insurance. But cost was the ultimate deterrent, and the structure was especially vulnerable to a fire disaster. Its dust, old growth lumber, and difficult configuration (with 14 rooflines and countless windows), as well as the sheer size of the building, all increased insurance costs exponentially.

Although the reasons behind not securing insurance coverage are logical, the result is an even bigger headache in the fire’s aftermath. Clearing the land of the mill debris generated by the fire is a huge and costly undertaking, which the Foundation is required by law to accomplish. Board members hope that by selling some of the metal remnants as scrap, they can eventually generate the funds necessary to recoup most of the clean-up costs.

In contrast, the Belmont Historical Society is an all-volunteer organization that spends approximately 25% of its annual $7,000 budget on specialty insurance.  Leaders of this 501(c)(3) recognize that museum property is held in the public trust and prioritize insurance as a way to protect the Society’s collections and other assets, as well as visitors to their site. A recent webinar participant recommended Huntington T. Block Insurance as affordable for small museums. Can you offer our cultural heritage community any other advice regarding insurance?


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on March 12, 2013, in collections management, disaster preparedness, fire, historic sites and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Speak with a local insurance agent who can help you find an appropriate policy. For most museums, fines arts coverage is probably the most appropriate policy. This allows for items to be valued at the time of loss, up to the maximum coverage. This eliminates the need to value every item in the collection at the time the policy is written.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: