Judith's on-the-road diary - June 2014 

Some recent museum updates from the South
In April, the historic West Coast Runanga Miners’ Hall lost its roof in the large storm that hit the area. The hall is a Category One Heritage NZ registered building. Paul Kearns, Runanga Miners’ Hall restoration project co-coordinator, says the hall is now watertight and they are waiting on further council consultation and decisions about its future. Fundraising for a feasibility study is underway. There has been extensive support for the hall under the banner 'United We Stand' and Paul is optimistic about a good outcome.

Paul McKay, Museum president, contacted me with news that the Awarua Communications Museum building has now been completed and is just waiting on final sign off. Development of exhibitions is well underway. The museum is just off the main highway on the plains between Bluff and Invercargill in an area known for very clear skies. The museum, on the original site of The Awarua Marine Radio, aims to tell the story of Awarua Radio, to detail the history of telecommunications in Southland and to preserve material associated with Awarua Radio. Awarua Radio was New Zealand's main receiving and transmitting station, providing worldwide Morse code communications with ships at sea. It was operational from December 1913 until 1992 and had an important role in both World Wars. 

Ashburton Museum and Art Gallery staff are busy are closing for relocation to their new building which will open in the spring on a more visible site, right on the main road through Ashburton. They have a fundraising campaign called ‘Inside the box’, and are seeking donations towards additional fit-out of spaces.

Invercargill’s Anderson Park Art Gallery staff have moved their collection out while their building is closed and work is planned to strengthen the building. Their very beautiful large neo-Georgian building sadly does not meet current minimum building standards. National Services Te Paerangi was able to provide some advice and packaging materials for the collection move.

Congratulations to Wallacetown Early Settlers Association and Te Hikoi Southern Journey, Riverton, who made it to the finals of the Museum Awards for their Taonga Toki Project. The volunteer group achieved a great project to be very proud of.  In a 2012 Expert Knowledge Exchange, Russell and Ann Beck worked with museum volunteers to reconnect the collection of adzes back to area, researching, labelling, and packaging and eventually developing an exhibition. They entered in the Best Museum Project category against larger organisations, and were only one of the smaller museums to make it into the finals. This is a fantastic achievement. Congratulations to all the winners.

The fire risk
While adverse weather and earthquakes have directly affected many museums in the south over the last few years, fire can also be associated with these events and is a major risk for museums. Together fire and demolition threat carry the most risk for museums and historic buildings in New Zealand.

Southland Museum identified a possible fire risk from their polystyrene sandwich construction pyramid roof which, although considered innovative and affordable when installed, is highly flammable and toxic if ignited. The material would not now be considered the best for a collection store roof. However, New Zealand Fire Service Southern Fire Risk Management officer Michael Cahill said ‘it was unlikely fire would spread into the roof because of safeguards being put in place’ (Southland Times 12/05/2014).

One of the measures Southland Museum has in place is a sprinkler system.

The Museum Association Security Committee is the security committee for the American Alliance of Museums. Their website has in-depth information and links about all aspects of security in museums including fire. This is what they say about sprinklers:

‘Sprinklers could have saved nearly every museum and historic building that burned to the ground over the past century.  It is a myth that when a sprinkler head is damaged the entire system discharges. Only the damaged head discharges and there are ways to install a sprinkler system that prevents any water discharge when damage to the discharge head occurs.’

A good news story about sprinklers
‘Sprinkler systems are being credited with saving the award-winning Matakohe Kauri Museum from extensive damage after a generator accidently sparked off a fire yesterday…Staff breathed a sigh of relief when sprinklers contained the fire to a storage shed and stopped it spreading to the main part of the museum where thousands of artifacts representing Northland's history are stored’ (Northern Advocate 7/1/2012).

Luckily for the museum, Chief Executive Betty Nelley, after she was appointed in 2010, quickly became aware of the high risk of fire in the remotely-located museum. She had experienced a fire in her own home, and to her it was very clear the whole museum was at risk. Betty and the Board took advice from the New Zealand Fire Service and began investigating installing a sprinkler system.

Read the whole story

Sprinklers usually control fires within a few minutes of being activated. They save lives, minimise fire damage, and reduce the destruction that can be caused by fire fighting. Like all systems they need maintenance. Check out newer sprinkler systems that can operate with tank water. This system is achievable for marae and museums in more remote locations. Never rely on one system alone. Consider your overall systems and how they support each other if one system fails. Get good advice. The Fire Service is always willing to help.

Knowing your fire risks and when your risks are heightened helps you to mitigate risk and is essential for all museums and collections. To do this effectively you need to prepare a fire safety plan: 

  • Identify who is responsible for fire safety and clearly delegate and support those who need to take action
  • Identify the risks
  • Take action to prevent your risks
  • Be prepared
  • Train everyone in the museum how to prevent, respond, and recover from a fire.

Read a full explanation of risk assessing and a useful checklist provided by the New Zealand Fire Service

There are affordable, immediate measures you can take to prevent fire and keep people safe:

  • Talk with your local Fire Service and invite them to visit your museum to see the building layout and your collection areas
  • Make sure everyone in your team is trained to understand your museum systems and how to activate alarms and evacuate buildings safely, and knows how to use fire equipment
  • Write an evacuation plan
  • Clearly sign fire exits and keep them free of obstructions
  • Avoid using hallways, stairs, and access ways for temporary storage
  • Inspect all fire equipment regularly and ensure it meets regulations
  • If installing any fire safety equipment take advice from qualified and registered technicians and ensure installation meets building, health and safety requirements
  • Check equipment safety and condition often, and make sure circuits aren’t overloaded
  • Use fire safe materials
  • Never leave appliances on when not in use, and don’t use portable heating appliances
  • Practise good housekeeping
  • Keep flammable rubbish, boxes and skips well away from the outside of your museum building and sources of heat
  • Remove rubbish daily
  • Seal rags used with oils, flammable liquids and solvents firmly in air tight containers
  • Keep flammable liquids and fuels needing to be stored in an area well away from collections. Use a locked, metal fire-rated hazard cupboard
  • Have security checks and induction routines for all staff and contractors

Many museums use offsite storage. Fire systems and security for items in storage should be at least the same as conditions in the main museum. Because these areas are often not staffed, may be remote, not designed for museum collections, or considered temporary, conditions there can be neglected. Regular inspections are needed.

Be aware there are times when risk of fire is higher: during electrical storms, drought conditions, special or unusual events at the museum, during building and renovation, when contractors are present or when buildings are unoccupied. 

Look out for a new National Services Te Paerangi security resource covering all aspects of security in museums later this year.

These resources also provide guidance on security: 

He Rauemi Resource Guide 6: Minimising Disaster
He Rauemi Resource Guide 7: Emergency Procedures
New Zealand Museums Standards Scheme