The first seven days

Sergiou Bercovoci

Lecture outline

By Dipl. Ing. Bercovici Sergiu




My lecture deals with the first seven days immediately following a disaster. These disasters can be broadly divided into natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a tsunami, or human-made disasters (also known as Anthropogenic hazards) such as radiation leakage events due to a serious failure of a nuclear reactor in close proximity to our Museum area. The implications of such disasters are not only limited to the direct and explicit damage to the museums, but perhaps more importantly to human lives;  with high probability, such events often inflict a large number of casualties simply due to the high concentration of people in such sites.

The lecture is based of information and studies of recent natural disasters, the Chernovil and Fukoshima disaster and my personal experience in Security and Emergency Services Department of Haifa’s Municipality.

This lecture will outline possible threats in the context of museums, and provide the tools, methods and processes necessary to proactively mitigate them. Naturally, human life takes precedence before anything else.




The Japanese Ministry of Education, Science and Culture said “The earthquake and the tsunami on 11/03/2011 (9.0 Magnitude) caused damage to 511 Cultural Institution including 4 national treasures and 70 historical sites.

At the beginning of my talk, I also mentioned the tsunami that took place in the Indian Ocean back on December 2004 (9.3 Magnitude) killing over 230,000 people. Another incident took place in Chile, February 2010 (8.8 Magnitude), killing 5600 people.


The tsunami is created by the movement of the tectonic plates in the Ocean water. The move generates waves can travel at a speed of 1000Km/h and, reaching a height of  about 30 m. The energy of such a tsunami is equivalent to that generated by 23000 atomic bombs similar to the ones dropped on Hiroshima.

(US geological Survey)


In the first day:


1.  The water wall produced by tsunami destroys everything standing in its



2.   Each area lying below the wave level would suffer a devastating damage.

      The wave, weakened by obstacles, will cause only a flooding of large      



3.  The water retreats to the sea level, carrying not only the people but also

      any object (including, among others, the museums items).



From the Fukoshima case we can have the following conclusion:


  1. In Rikuzentakata Sea and Shell Museum, five people from the museum staff lost their lives and one was declared missing.


  1. The strong structures of Museums/libraries and other cultural buildings were stable, however the doors and windows were not able to resisted the massive force produced by the water.


  1. Everything in the museum and the open areas was washed out, forever lost.


  1.  In the first (maybe two weeks or more) days after the tsunami there will be no evaluation of the situation in the museum or rescue due to the following reasons:


4.1    Staff absence for personal reasons related to family status.


4.2    Lack of communication.


4.3    Blocking/destroying the access roads to the museum.


4.4    Lack of transport.


4.5    Lack of electrical energy.


4.6    The authorities can't give any priority to the museums, because the main objectives are: actions to rescue, people care and repair the infrastructure to return to normal life.


  1. With the return of proper operation of energy sources, communications systems and removal of the barriers from the roads, it will be possible to start the rescue operation. The first steps must be:


5.1    Recruitment of staff.


5.2    Recruitment of volunteers.


5.3    Recruitment of additional security personal (through private companies, police or even the army)


5.4    Ask for help from the authorities.


5.5    Require examination of the structure by engineers.


5.6    Require removal of structural elements that may endanger people.


5.7    Entry of people into the affected area is subject to:


5.7.1     Approval from the authorities that manage the disaster.


5.7.2     Approval of the engineers who examined the museum.


5.7.3     Removal of all hazards by professionals.


5.7.4     People will be equipped with personal and rescue equipment and will receive training shovels.


5.7.5   Place security personnel 24 hours a day to prevent looting.


5.8    Reconnect the museum to energy sources, and if this is not possible seek temporary alternatives to energy sources.


5.9    Seek assistance from undamaged museums:


5.9.1     By sending specialists.


5.9.2     Send means for packaging


5.9.3     Allow the transfer items for and/or temporary storage.


5.10     Drain or pump water accumulated in lower areas.


5.11   Don't use heat sources in the affected area.


5.12     Divide and mark the searching areas.


5.13     Choose a safe place for storage and handling of the exhibits close to the museum and set permanent security personnel. For instance, the place can be a school.


5.14     Marks each object found.


5.15     The main target is to rescue and care for the items affected by the water, professionally.


The conclusion is that in the event of natural disaster due to a Tsunami, it is practically impossible to do anything in the first seven days.




While the Tsunami damage is concentrated near the coastline and adjacent areas, the damage generated by an earthquake poses a greater risk to life and property. For instance, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 caused 227,000 deaths.  For museum, earthquake are actually not as bad. A tsunami either destroys or displaces items beyond reach; the same is not true for earthquakes, where these items are actually buried under the rubble. Naturally, in these situations, there is a reasonable chance of salvaging them.


Earthquakes do not differentiate between victims or structures it harms. For example: Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (9.5 magnitude in 1960), N. Iorga Museum, Romania (7.2 magnitude in 1977) and the museums from Port du Prince (7.0 magnitude in 2010).

The main source of damage stems from issues related to the construction of buildings; the ratio of engineers and economic considerations of entrepreneurs determine how well the buildings will withstand earthquakes. New buildings that take earthquakes as part of their design requirements save both people and property. Two main scenarios should be considered: the museum is operational (day time) or the museum is close (night time).


1.  The museum is open (staff or staff and visitors):


 1.1  Requires effective evacuation outside the museum area or evacuation towards intended areas designated for protection under this case.


1.2  Treating the casualties.


              2.  The museum is closed (No or limited staff):


                   2.1  Listen to media.


                   2.2  Contact the authorities.


                3.  Severity of the incident will determine the next steps.


                     3.1  If the earthquake occurred during hours of operation and caused many



                            3.1.1 Must communicate with the security forces, passing complete

                                     information pertaining to the situation.


                            3.1.2  Attempt to save individuals who are trapped, and in parallel, treat

                                      the injured people.


                            3.1.3  In case one cannot contact the authorities and there is no way to

                                      leave the museum area, organize accordingly for a prolonged stay.

                                      ( Getty Museum)


                           3.2  If the earthquake occurred during non-operation hours (i.e. museum is



                                   3.2.1  Try to get to the museum if the roads are free and will not  

                                             endanger your life.


                                    3.2.2  If you can’t get to the museum and it can take days or weeks,

                                              follow the recommendations mentioned in the tsunami chapter.


                           3.3  The museum is susceptible to plundering and you have placed guard   

                                  (private company or security forces)


                           3.4  Login processes related to the entrance to the buildings require

                                  engineers authorization.


                           3.5  A small team will convene to evaluate the situation.


                           3.6  Based on the status assessments, the museum can decide to transfer  

                                  the museum items that were not damaged in other rooms or in other  

                                  places; recommended to other museums


 The first seven days are critical for the prevention of looting, rescue and damage reduction.


Recommendations on how to reduce the damage from tsunami/earthquake


Preparing a damage prevention plan is the first and foremost important step towards brining the institutes to a state of readiness to a tsunami or earthquake events. This preparation is essential in order to provide institutes with the ability to provide the right answers for any event, and in real-time. A threat-assessment should first identify, and then quantify the potential risk. Preventive measures may minimize and even completely prevent harm to both people and property.


Prevention plans include:


  • Hazard identification and assessment
  • Preventive procedures
  • Answers to possible scenarios
  • Feedback loop re-checking for vulnerabilities


1. Make a survey with the main questions.


    1.1  Is your museum located in an earthquake designated area? (Find in

           the earthquake area map)


    1.2  Is your museum is located in an area susceptible to tsunamis?


           1.2.1  How much above the sea level is the museum located?


                 1.2.2  Is your museum located in a flooding area?


          1.3  Is your museum close to a water dam?


          1.4  Is your museum building resist to earthquakes, in accordance with  

                 relevant standards?


1.5  What are the safety-designated places in museum?


1.6  Does your museum have an emergency plan for earthquake and/or  



1.7  Is your museum ready for a rapid response immediately following

       a large earthquake and/or tsunami?


1.8  Does your museum poses an emergency plan and trained staff?


1.9  Does your museum have an emergency kit? (Rescue tools, first aid,

       communication device, emergency power  supply, water, food, etc.

       - see the preparation of Getty Museum)


            2.  Place the important items close to a thick concrete wall.


            3.  Reinforce the furniture to the walls.


4.  Fixed the object that can break to a solid base with museum wax.


       Remember: "The first seven days are critical for the prevention of

                          looting, rescue and damage reduction."


Nuclear event


From my point of view, this chapter will refer not only to the consequences of an atomic war but also a disaster due a technical failure of equipment which uses nuclear energy. For the purpose of this talk, I will use the Chernovil case from 1986 and the Fukoshima case from 2011. In this scenario, the first seven days referred to throughout this talk, will turn out to be the most critical, with implications that will last for decades. Until today, the areas around Chernovil’s  nuclear power plant, there is a prohibited area of 30 km radius. (now, after 26 years, there is no civil activity).


After the Fukoshima nuclear power plant failure, the prohibited area has a radius of 20Km. The Japanese government released a road map for clean-up activities, which predicted the full clean-up taking "only" 40 years.


The first seven days recommendation in case of nuclear event:


  1. 1.    The first and the most important step is evacuating the people under safety conditions.
  1. 2.    Close non-important electrical circuits and inflammable materials supply.

3.   Shut down the air-conditioning or ventilation system.


4.   Close the rooms’ windows and doors.


5.  Collect from the museum’s valuables and store them in a safe place. You must prepare a priority evacuation items list.


6.   Turn on the security systems and close the museum.


7.   Direct people as well as saved artifacts to the nearest decontamination



8.   Immediately contact the authorities for additional information and orders.


9.   Request the help and support of the authorities in the decontamination

      process of both the museum and to the items removed from the

      contaminated area.


10. Remember, the emergency plan for nuclear event must be available, and the staff should be trained accordingly.


11. You can avoid the "Black out" effect if you make sure to share the emergency plan with the museum’s staff.