After the Fire

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.

In This Issue

After the Fire: Advice for Salvaging Damaged Family Treasures  
Small Museum Pro!
Instructor Spotlight
Featured Course
April 2017 Online Courses
May 2017 Online Courses
June 2017 Online Courses
Conferences and Meetings
After the Fire: Advice for Salvaging Damaged Family Treasures
FEMA Fact Sheet
Cherished family heirlooms that survive a fire are often covered with soot and ash, requiring prompt and gentle attention to avoid further damage. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a coalition of 42 national organizations and federal agencies co-sponsored by FEMA and the Smithsonian Institution, offers these basic guidelines from professional conservators for those who are searching for, and finding, family treasures amid the ruins.
The 2015 Butte fire in California scorched 110 square miles of public and private property, including this single-family home. Over 549 homes were burned down to the ground as a result of fast-moving wildfires that were catastrophic to this community.  Photo by Adam DuBrowa/FEMA

After a Fire
  • Call your insurance agent as soon as possible to file a claim.
  • Personal safety is always the highest priority when entering buildings damaged by fire.
  • Check for structural damage before re-entering your home to avoid being trapped in a building collapse.
  • Never attempt to salvage belongings at the expense of your own safety.
  • Wear protective clothing-especially gloves (nitrile or latex are preferred over cotton), face masks, and eye protection.
  • Avoid breathing in or touching hazardous materials. Risks in fire-damaged areas can include particulates, exposed asbestos, lead-containing building materials (such as glass and lead paint), and chemical residues.
  • If water has been used to put out the fire, mold may also be an issue and should not be inhaled.
  • Take photographs of your damaged items for insurance purposes.
General Handling Advice
  • Even though you will be sorely tempted, it is important to reduce the amount you handle or touch damaged items. The very fine particles in soot stick to everything, and every touch will grind it further into the item you are trying to save.
  • Soot and ash are very abrasive and will further damage items through scratching.
  • If your items were exposed to both heat and water, they will be even more fragile.
  • Lift your objects carefully and avoid weakened areas; for example, support ceramics from the base rather than lifting by handles.
  • Wear nitrile or latex gloves when handling objects as the greasy residue in soot can be permanently fixed to absorbent surfaces by skin oils.
  • Avoid placing pressure on blistered or lifting surfaces, such as on paintings or photographs.
  • Place items in supportive boxes or plastic containers until you can obtain further advice or are ready to begin cleaning.
  • Keep in mind that the longer the soot remains on the item, the harder it is to remove.
Some Simple Cleaning Tips
  • Do not use water-or any other cleaning solution! Water will drive soot and ash further into the surface of your item, and they will become impossible to remove.
  • As soon as possible, vacuum the soot and ash off your item.
  • Do not vacuum wet or damp items--wait until they are dry.
  • It is preferable to use a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner.
  • Use the vacuum on the lowest setting, or insert smaller plastic tubes into the main tube to reduce suction.
  • Do not use a brush, and do not allow the nozzle to touch the surface.
  • Vacuum all exposed surfaces before opening out folded items such as textiles or books.
  • If you want to remove further residue, soot sponges can be carefully used if the item is robust enough. Cut small pieces of the dry sponge for more accurate application and economic use. The dirty surface of the sponge can be cut off to expose a new cleaning surface. These sponges, often called dry cleaning sponges, are available at local home improvement stores.
Some Important Considerations
  • Shelved books may be charred on the outside but intact inside. Vacuum the edges before you open the books--don't worry if some of the charred bits come off.
  • Photograph albums may be stuck together--do not try to open them by force. You will need to take them to a conservator for advice.
  • Heat can make glass, ceramic, and metal items very brittle--remember to handle carefully.
  • Fabrics in particular might look intact but may fall apart without very careful handling.
  • Supports that you can slide underneath your belongings (sheets, boards, plastic) will enable you to safely carry more fragile items.
  • You have now essentially done all you can to stabilize your items. It is likely that they will need further attention from a qualified conservator as they may be in a fragile state. Please keep in mind that, while things might look irretrievably damaged, there may well be treatments that will salvage these items. Do not despair, but please seek conservation advice.
Contact a Conservator
Recovering items damaged by a fire is challenging. If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator may be able to help. To locate a peer-reviewed conservator, click on the "Find a Conservator" box on the home page of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC),  Also, you could contact the conservation/preservation department of a major museum, library, or archives for advice or contact the National Heritage Responders (formerly AIC-CERT), the specially trained team of the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation.

Beware of Increased Flood and Mudslide Risks
One of the lesser known but critical considerations following a wildfire is the increased risk of floods and mudslides, even in areas far away from the fire. Properties directly affected by fires, as well as those located below or downstream of impacted areas, are most at risk, including many properties not previously considered as having a moderate or high flood risk. Residents in areas susceptible to flash or winter flooding, or in areas of extensive wildfires, need to prepare in advance for possible flooding.
Advice by Phone
A number of organizations offer free telephone advice following an emergency or disaster:

The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation's emergency response team, the National Heritage Responders (formerly AIC-CERT) offers a 24/7 emergency hotline: 202-661-8068

Regional Alliance for Preservation (RAP) is a national network of nonprofit organizations with expertise in the field of conservation and preservation. Individual member organizations offer free emergency advice, many on a 24/7 basis. Click on the link to locate your nearest organization.
For More Information
After the Fire! Returning to Normal. FEMA FA-46/ August 2012. 

Soot and Ash Segment from the Field Guide to Emergency Response video. Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation. A short video walks you through salvaging items damaged by soot and water.

Fire . Chicora Foundation.

Rebuilding After a Wildfire. FEMA Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration Fact Sheet.

Worker Safety During Fire Cleanup . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
FEMA and the Smithsonian Institution co-sponsor the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a partnership of 42 national service organizations and federal agencies created to protect cultural heritage from the damaging effects of natural disasters and other emergencies.
To download the PDF of this FEMA Fact Sheet click here.
Small Museum Pro! Online Courses in 2017
Northern States Conservation Center is please to host American Association for State and Local History's Small Museum Pro! online courses in 2017
Collections Management
Instructor:Dyani Feige
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
March 20, 2017 - May 15, 2017
This eight week course will introduce participants to the professional principles and practices in the management of museum collections. Topics will include collections development, registration and record keeping with an emphasis on the development of Collection Policies and Procedures and what it means to be intellectually and physically responsible for museum objects. By the end of the course, participants will:
  • Develop a detailed draft of a Collections Policy
  • Develop of identify a collection of objects
  • Develop a standardized set of registration records and forms including inventory, catalog, accession, and loans
  • Learn about various registration numbering systems and how to mark objects appropriately
  • Discuss issues related to collections strategies, mission, purpose, and scope of collections
  • Develop a broader understanding of legal and ethical concerns of managing collections
To learn more visit:

Caring for Museum Collections
Shandong Museum, Jinan, China
Wikimedia Commons

Instructor:Samantha Forsko
April 3- March 31, 2017

This eight week course will deal with the physical care and preservation of your museum collections. This practical course will cover how collections age and deteriorate, handling collections, storage requirements, environmental considerations, housekeeping, and risk management.
By the end of the course, participants will:
  • Know the major causes of deterioration for museum objects and how to use that information to enhance long-term preservation.
  • Know how to handle objects in the safest way.
  • Know how to examine and document the condition of objects in your collections.
  • Know how to display your collections in a way that prolongs their life.
  • Know how to store and house your collections in the way that best preserves them.
  • Understand the importance of environmental control for the preservation of your collections.
  • Know the best ways to clean your museum.
  • Know how to perform a risk assessment of your museum and use it to write a disaster plan.
To learn more visit:

Museum Education and Outreach
Instructor: Tanya Brock
Trowulan Museum, East Java
June 5 to July 31, 2017
At their heart, regardless of type or size, museums are educational organizations. This course is about how we can facilitate visitors' meaningful and memorable experiences in the informal environments of museums.
At the end of this course you will be able to:
  • describe the characteristics and learning needs of various museum audiences
  • summarize what we know about learning in museums
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of interpretive techniques and program approaches
  • utilize a system for planning, operating, and evaluating museum educational programs
  • access resources to assist you in future development of effective learning experiences 
To learn more visit:
Instructor Spotlight:
Sarah Kapellusch

Sarah Kapellusch is the Registrar at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin. She has a MA in Public History and Museum Studies and a BA in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She serves as the Vice President of the Wisconsin Federation of Museums and is a task force member for the American Association for State and Local History's Nomenclature Committee. Sarah's experiences include museum collection administration and management, metadata, PastPerfect and database management, Nomenclature 3.0, collection moves and museum start-up projects.

Sarah Kapellusch teaches our MS214: Collections Management Databases course starting April 3, 2017.  If you are interested in learning about the many databases that are available for documenting museum collections and/or need to choose one for your museum, join Sarah for this informative course!
Early Bird Discounts Available for Full Length Courses
An Early Bird Discount is available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from 30 days prior to the start of that course.  
Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and save $100.00!
For our course list or to sign up:  
To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at

The Early Bird Discount deadline for May 2017 courses is April 1, 2017 
The Early Bird Discount deadline for June 2017 courses is May 20, 2017 
Featured Course: Archives Management

Archives include flat paper, photographs, bound pamphlets, books, small
National Archives storage 
3-dimensional objects, and magnetic media. The Archives Management course covers an introduction to the materials found in archives and typical use of these materials including use patterns, retrieval needs, finding aids, handling and exhibition. The last half of the course details optimum storage options for archival materials. Storage includes furniture, storage techniques, standardized and specialized housing such as folders and boxes and custom-made housings.

Join Jennifer Edwards
for this interesting and very informative course MS234: Archives Management beginning May 1, 2017. 
April 2017 Courses
April 10 to 14, 2017
Instructor:  Diana Komejan
As we march boldly toward the 22nd century, artifact collecting includes that most fragile of materials - plastic. Not only is it in our collections, but it is used to house our collections, too. What problems have you seen? What problems have others seen? What materials are best? What can we, as caretakers, do to minimize long-term damage? Join Diana in this mini-course for discussing care and deterioration of plastics. Bring any questions you have about plastics in your museum.
April 3 to 28, 2017
Instructor:  Helen Alten
Every museum professional needs a solid foundation in preservation principles and techniques. Introduction to Collections Preservation provides an overview of current preservation issues from environmental monitoring to collection cleaning, exhibit mounts and storage furniture. Participants learn about every aspect of the modern museum and how the building, staff and fixtures affect preservation. Subjects include the agents of deterioration, risk management, object handling and transport, object labeling, exhibit lighting, security, emergency preparedness, materials for storage and display, storage and exhibit philosophies, and condition assessments.
April 3 to May 12, 2017
Instructor:  Kimberly Kenney
Acquiring and holding collections impose specific legal, ethical and professional obligations. Museums must ensure proper management, preservation and use of their collections. A well-crafted collections management policy is key to collections stewardship. Collections Management Policies for Museums and Related Institutions helps participants develop policies that meet professional and legal standards for collections management. Collections Management Policies for Museums and Related Institutions teaches the practical skills and knowledge needed to write and implement such a policy. The course covers the essential components and issues a policy should address. It also highlights the role of the policy in carrying out a museum's mission and guiding stewardship decisions. Participants are expected to draft collections management policies.
April 3 to 28, 2017
Instructor: Sarah Kapellusch
A collection database is a necessary tool for accurate and efficient collections management. In Collection Management Databases you will learn what characteristics distinguish one database system from another; how a database can be used to manage inventory, conservation, pest management, and other aspects of collections management; as well as how to prepare your collection and documentation for entry into a database.
April 3 to May 12, 2017
Instructor:  Fiona Graham
Outdoor sculpture, silver tea service, gold jewelry, axe head, wheel rim - metals are found in most museum collections and may be stored or displayed indoor or outdoors depending on the object. Learn how to identify different types of metal and their alloys. Gain an understanding of how and why metals deteriorate and methods for preventing deterioration from occurring or continuing. The pros and cons of different popular treatments will be covered along with recommendations for the least damaging approach to treatment. Care of Metals provides a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of metals, explaining the importance of the galvanic series and electrochemistry in care strategies. Starting with an overview of the history and function of metals and how they are made, the course will cover guidelines for handling, labeling, exhibiting and storing metals. An overview of treatments, including cleaning, used on metals and how appropriate they are for the long-term preservation of the metal object will help students make care decisions when consulting with conservators.

May 2017 Courses
May 1 to 12, 2017
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter
Self-guided brochures, exhibit labels, docent led tours, guest speakers, and audio tours are only a few of the methods available to guide visitors through an exhibit. Explore the strengths and challenges of many different methods and garner resources for further information. Learn how to determine which method works best with which exhibits and how to provide variety to enhance the visitor experience.
May 1 to June 9, 2017 DATE CHANGE
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter
Nearly every museum develops exhibits, but how can we improve communication with visitors while taking care of our objects? Exhibit Fundamentals explores exhibits from idea to final installation in a variety of settings. Topics include exhibit theory, the role of the museum's mission, creating a timeline, accessibility and script writing. Also covered are design elements, installation techniques, object safety and security, visitor safety and evaluations. Each student develops an exhibit plan for his or her museum.
May 1 to June 5, 2017
Instructor:  Sue Near
Sound business practices are critical for a museum to fulfill its mission. Sounds like vegetables, right? Museum management is complex. A museum exists to preserve collections and educate, but it is also an institution that must employ sound business practices while being accountable to the public as a non-profit organization. Instructor Sue Near teaches participants how to administer a successful museum efficiently and effectively. Participants will engage in discussions about the changing cultural climate and its effect on museum operations.
May 1 to June 9, 2017
Instructor:  Ernest Conrad
The museum's brick exterior wall is crumbling. The powder coated metal storage shelves have active rust under the foam padding. Objects in fur storage are covered in mold. It is raining in the exhibit hall. This is the damage that occurs to museum buildings or collection when staff do not understand preservation environments. Preservation Environments is essential knowledge for any collecting institution. Everyone should understand how humidity and temperature are controlled by a building and its mechanical system. For museum staff considering a new building - and any institution planning to expand or rebuild an existing one - Preservation Environments provide important information for calculating whether the proposed improvements will actually improve the environmental control of your protective enclosure. Participants learn the advantages and disadvantages of numerous methods of temperature and humidity control. Preservation Environments does not try to turn museum professionals into engineers. Rather, it arms them with the knowledge they need to work with engineers and maintenance professionals. And helps explain why damaged occurred and how to keep it from happening again.
May 1 to 26, 2017
Instructor:  Ann Coppinger
Caring for textiles demands an understanding of how and why they deteriorate. This course offers a simplified explanation of the origin and structure of textile fibers as well as the finished textile object; be it either a piece of whole cloth or a finished garment. Care of Textiles teaches students to identify fibers, fabric structures and finishes, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to various fabrics both in storage on exhibit. Topics include preparing textiles for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with textiles, and three dimensional supports.
May 1 to 26, 2017
Instructor:  Diana Komejan
Caring for furniture and wood artifacts demands an understanding of how and why wood deteriorates. This course offers a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of wood as well as the finished wooden object; be it either a totem pole, plow or a French polished table. Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts teaches students to identify woods, finishes and furniture styles, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to wood both in storage and on exhibit. Topics include preparing wood artifacts for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with wood artifacts, housekeeping techniques for furniture and large objects on open display, basic repairs and three dimensional supports for storage or exhibit.
May 1 to 26, 2017
Instructor:  Jennifer Edwards
Archives include flat paper, photographs, bound pamphlets, books, small 3-dimensional objects, and magnetic media. The Archives Management course covers an introduction to the materials found in archives and typical use of these materials including use patterns, retrieval needs, finding aids, handling and exhibition. The last half of the course details optimum storage options for archival materials. Storage includes furniture, storage techniques, standardized and specialized housing such as folders and boxes and custom-made housings.
June 2017 Courses
June 19 to August 4, 2017
Instructor:  Gawain Weaver
Photographic materials cover a diverse range, everything from the daguerreotypes and wet plate negatives of the 19th century to the gelatin silver, chromogenic and inkjet prints of the 20th and now 21st century. Care of Photographs offers a broad introduction to the history, technology, identification, and care of these and other photographic materials. Topics include environmental monitoring, the effects of temperature and relative humidity, and the importance of cold storage for certain photographic materials. It is intended to help those caring for photographic materials to gain a better understanding of their collections and how to care for them.
Conferences and Meetings
California Association of Museums, Sacramento, CA
March 29-31, 2017
Texas Association of Museums, Abilene, TX
April 4-7, 2017

Museum Store Association, Pittsburgh, PA
April 21-24, 2017

Museums Association New York
Museums, Saratoga Springs, NY
April 2-4, 2017

Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums, Boulder, CO
April 20-22, 2017
American Alliance of Museums, St. Louis, MO
May 7-10, 2017
Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums, Rochester, NY
June 9-13, 2017
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Denver, CO 
June 18-24, 2017

Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, Eugene, OR
June 22-26, 2017

Society of American Archivists, 2017 Annual Meeting, Portland, OR  
July 23-29, 2017  

American Association for State and Local History, Austin, TX
September 6-9, 2017

Southeastern Museums Conference, 2017 Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA 
September 11-13, 2017 
International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, New Haven, CT
September 17-20, 2017

Western Museums Association, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
September 20-23, 2017

New England Museum Association, 2017 Annual Conference, North Falmouth, MA
October 25-27, 2017
National Association for Interpretation, Spokane, Washington
November 14-18, 2017

Society of American Archivists, 2018 Annual Meeting, Washington, DC
August 12-18, 2018

Western Museums Association, Tacoma, WA
Dates TBA 
Southeastern Museums Conference, 2018 Annual Meeting, Jackson, MS
October 8-10, 2018
National Association for Interpretation
Dates and location TBD
November 2018
National Association for Interpretation, Denver, Colorado
November 12-16, 2019

Submissions and Comments
How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:  
If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to .  
We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month. 
Have a comment or suggestion?   
Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.
Helen Alten, Director
Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager