Monthly Archives: June 2014

What Is ICS and Why Use It?

C2C Disaster Prep. Coordinator, Lyn Triplett, functions as the Incident Commander during fire recovery workshops.

C2C Disaster Prep. Coordinator, Lyn Triplett, functions as the Incident Commander during fire recovery workshops.

During hands-on practice at our fire recovery workshops, we try to implement the Incident Command System (ICS) and assign section chief and team leader roles to coordinators and participants. To explain why it’s an important structure for cultural heritage practitioners to understand, we’ve posted some excerpts below from archivist David W. Carmicheal’s great book, Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level: A Handbook for Libraries, Archives, Museums, and other Cultural Institutions.  The Connecting to Collections online community also featured this topic in a webinar last spring. Click here to view the archived version.

ICS is of particular interest to libraries, archives, and museums because any disaster can have disproportionate consequences for cultural institutions. ICS provides a standardized way to manage incidents, regardless of how large or small, even if responders approach the incident from many different jurisdictions and disciplines.

In simple terms, what ICS does is create an organization chart that supersedes the organization charts of all the responding agencies. Instead, the people who respond fill positions that don’t exist in their normal day-to-day administration; positions such as Incident Commander, or Operations Section Chief, or Liaison Officer. Each ICS position has clearly defined responsibilities, meaning that if someone who is conversant with ICS arrives at the scene of the incident and is asked to assume the role of Planning Section Chief, she—and everyone else—knows exactly what her responsibilities and authority will be. ICS has spelled them out in advance.

In addition to positions, ICS spells out facilities that will be used to respond to the incident—places like the “Incident Command Post” and “staging areas.” All the responders who have been trained in ICS arrive on the scene already knowing that the building with the symbol on it is the Incident Command Post, and they know what is going on inside that building. They already know, too, how to fill out the forms that will be used during the incident. They know how information is distributed, and they know that they should report certain information to their supervisor alone and no one else. ICS is important for those who work in cultural heritage repositories to understand because it is:

  • Standardized – Everyone learns to operate within the same structure; one that supersedes the hierarchies and plans that the responding teams bring with them. No matter what their day-to-day management structure looks like, all responders understand how assignments, resources, and information flow within the ICS, and they adopt that structure until the crisis passes. Because ICS is standardized, everyone discards acronyms and “insider” lingo for the duration of the response. Everyone needs to speak the same language. And because it is standardized, anyone can learn ICS: firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, even librarians, archivists, and museum curators.
  • Scalable – The ICS can be applied to incidents large and small, from hurricanes that carry a multi-state wallop down to a single broken pipe that floods one level of a collections storage area.
  • Used “on scene”– Management of the incident takes place as the crisis unfolds, right at the scene of the incident, or very close to it. Managers have timely information on which to base decisions. Commands don’t come from bureaucrats operating from Washington, D.C. or the state capital.
  • Multi-jurisdictional – ICS provides a single management  structure for responders from multiple jurisdictions (different fire districts, counties, or states, for instance) and, as a result, is effective at managing a response by people who report to different bosses, have different equipment, or possess different skills. This means it works when response must be coordinated across multiple departments on a college campus, for instance, or among several divisions within a museum.  In addition, it eases coordination between the staff of the affected museum and those who may respond to the incident from outside the institution, such as firefighters.
  • Applicable – It is effective for not only fires, floods or terrorism but for all hazards, natural and human caused, large or small, urban or rural.

As soon as an incident occurs and the response is initiated a command structure begins to grow, beginning with the Incident Commander and unfolding downward. The ICS has its own rigid hierarchy, and a unique feature is that ranks and responsibilities within ICS may differ markedly from familiar hierarchies. During a crisis, the day-today way of doing things must give way to special management. Not only does knowing ICS make interaction with outside responders easier, ICS also helps a cultural institution break out of its own hierarchy during times of crisis, a step that may be essential to success. ICS starts at the top, with the Incident Commander.

Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level is available for purchase or via inter-library loan from the State Library of NC. It explains how libraries, archives, and museums can adopt ICS as a temporary management structure whenever ‘business as usual’ won’t get the job done. ICS is a proven tool that helps safeguard lives, property, and priceless collections. Familiarize yourself with it for the benefit of your repository.


Building History Day Partnerships

Today is smack in the middle of the National History Day contest in Washington, DC and a great time to think about the reasons and the ways you and your site could become more involved in this event for 2015 and beyond.

an exhibit project from the 2014 state competition

an exhibit project from the 2014 state competition


  • Reaching out to students through the NHD program can help your organization engage important family, student, and teacher subgroups with its collections and other research resources.
  • A focus on the local and the personal can help the past become more meaningful for many students.
  • Student projects regularly involve detailed and poignant oral histories relating to significant issues with local connections. These student-generated primary sources could become contributions to your institutional research materials.
  • NHD is a great way to further your organization’s likely mission of promoting state,  local, or topic-focused history to the public.

One teacher’s award nomination attested, “two visits to the Western Archives and a warm welcome by Jeff Futch and Heather South” showed students “that resources reach beyond the internet and in fact, are alive in their own backyard of Western North Carolina.”

NCDCR Director of Archives & History, Kevin Cherry, motivates a student audience to participate in NHD.

NCDCR Deputy Secretary of Archives & History, Dr. Kevin Cherry, motivates a student audience to participate in NHD.


  • Contact Laura Ketcham, Outreach Coordinator for the NC Department of Cultural Resources and NHD coordinator at the state level, to gather the contact information for participating teachers in your area. Invite teachers and students for a tour of your site, while introducing them to primary sources and possible research topics relating to collections.
  • The 2015 NHD theme (to which all successful student projects must relate) is “Legacy and Leadership.”  By brainstorming connections between this theme and the resources your institution can offer beforehand, your meeting with teachers and/or students can be even more effective.
  • Contact the appropriate NHD regional coordinator and volunteer to serve as a judge for the regional contest. (If interested in serving as a judge at the state level, and traveling to Raleigh is manageable, please let Laura Ketcham know.) Judging is a great way to introduce yourself to the a range of NHD project types and quality, to familiarize yourself with the regional educators involved in this event, and to bask in the glow of youthful enthusiam for learning.

In the words of one of this year’s 8th-grade participants, NHD was a valuable experience because, “I was able to take a subject that interests me and learn about it in depth. I was able to find people in my community who had personal experience with my topic and I would never have found them or talked to them if not for NHD.”

The NHD program, with its competition and deadlines, coaxes students to delve into a topic more deeply and explore it more broadly than they would likely do otherwise at the middle and high school levels. Please consider joining them on their exciting journeys of historical discovery.


Melting Plastic

courtesy, Frankie Hayden

shelving unit, post-burn: courtesy, Frankie Hayden

PlasticComparisonLast week our C2C team conducted our 4th fire recovery workshop. The Western Carteret Fire & EMS station executed a controlled burn of the mock museum we had previously installed in their training building. Although plastic (polypropylene) storage boxes have made it through previous controlled burns just fine, this time one completely melted. In one of our earlier burn tests, plastic boxes protected the contents as well as microchamber boxes and better than regular archival boxes. However, we have always placed them at the low or mid level of shelving areas. This time we were more deliberate about a control and test for plastic placement. We staged 4 similarly sized boxes (2 cardboard and 2 plastic) with nearly identical contents. Each contained a book, a shell, a small crocheted textile, a wooden figurine, a copper vessel, a brass vessel, a slate writing board, and a record disk. BoardBoxfromTopThe fire chief on duty estimated that the fire reached a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, somewhat hotter than past controlled burns, which were recorded at 700 degrees. The fire destroyed both the cardboard and the plastic boxes on the top shelf, although the charred cardboard retained much of its form (see right). The plastic box melted and wound up as a glob with shimmery strings dangling down. The same box on the lower shelf came through the burn intact, with a layer of soot on the outside. [See above right for a direct comparison of the two boxes that were identical before the fire.]





What about the objects the boxes contained? Most–including wood, metal, and textiles–were covered in soot and ash but could still be salvaged with much conservation work. The plastic items inside the boxes (a record disk and a frame for a small print), however,also melted. Globs of melted plastic adhered to some of the materials, but in most cases, could be pried loose. Objects in both the cardboard and the plastic boxes were not well protected from the fire on the top shelf. In contrast, the same boxes 3 shelves below protected their contents just fine from the film of soot and ash that covered all surfaces. PlasticMelt2Are plastic boxes a bad choice for disaster mitigation? No. They do offer protection from leaks and pests and on lower levels of shelving, present little additional fire risk. On upper shelves they are more likely to melt and pose a greater risk to artifacts. However, at a heat intense enough to cause melting, all artifacts will be severely damaged, regardless of container type. Melted globs of plastic will add to a salvaged object’s conservation needs. These globs may come from other objects as well as from melted polyethylene foam that is a standard shelf liner in most museum storage areas. Above is a view of the foam liner residue, which melts into a brown lacy layer, and the melted remainder of the lid and sides of the plastic box. Upcoming posts will address additional aspects of this workshop including the Incident Command System, the simple triage system we used, and rapid treatment techniques we practiced.

Museums: Niceties or Necessities?

Earlier this spring our C2C team attended the North Carolina Museums Council’s annual conference. The session “Hot Topics: Difficult Issues for Museum Interpretation” was among the worthwhile presentations. Coordinator B.J. Davis, Education Section Chief for the NC Museum of History, and panel speaker Emlyn Koster, Executive Director of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, urged participants to think about essential ways that museums can serve their communities. Their promptings echo those of other leaders in the museum field who contend that being “nice” is not enough and that museums must try to fill a need in their communities or (perhaps less ambitiously) to become addictive for their participants. They warn that our institutions will not sustain themselves by merely satisfying the occasional desires of a relatively small portion of the public.

credit: Duke University Library collections

credit: Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

Both Davis and Koster argued that museum leaders should be proactive about positioning their institutions as a 3rd place in their communities—one that provides a regular forum for civil exchanges about controversial issues. The speakers also suggested that the topics of museum-facilitated debates can be even more powerful when they relate to the institutional mission. Would public programs and/ or special exhibits about the series of controversies involving tobacco use be a good addition to the Reynolda House’s offerings, for instance? This was one of Davis’ provocative questions. Taking a cue from the Reynolds company, how can museums package their offerings so that participation becomes addictive?

There are several ways museums can inject disparate perspectives into presentations on controversial issues. Perhaps the quickest and least expensive to implement are public programs. Possibilities include:

  • Lecture series
  • Panel discussion with oppositional viewpoints
  • Town Hall format discussion

Exhibits cost a great deal more to install but can allow both serious and casual visitors to stumble upon thought-provoking ideas across many months (or more permanently).  Examples include:

Can you think of other examples where institutions have successfully promoted civil exchanges about controversial issues? How is your institution striving to become a necessity or an addiction in its community?