If a fire breaks out at the Victoria memorial, how does the fire brigade douse it? How do rescuers retrieve artworks and exhibits if an earthquake brings down a part of the museum? Rescue forces cannot douse flames with water as it will ruin priceless artefacts, while earthmoving equipment would destroy any exhibit that might have escaped an earthquake.
“(After the Nepal earthquakes in April and May,) priceless artefacts and valuable exhibits, which were kept in museums, remained buried under the debris as the people watched helplessly, not knowing how to retrieve them. You can’t just bring a crane, remove the rubble and pull out the exhibits. It would ruin whatever could have been salvaged,” said National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Kamal Kishore.
Taking a cue from the Nepal earthquakes, where many iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites and the Patan museum were reduced to rubble, the NDMA has tied up with the ministry of culture to develop a disaster management plan for museums across India.
“A six member committee, comprising officials from museums, the ministry of culture and the NDMA, was formed in September to prepare a guideline for museums across the country on how to fight disasters. The committee has already met once and is expected to come up with the guideline by 2016,” said Jayanta Sengupta, director-in-charge of Indian Museum in Kolkata and a member on the committee.
Kishore will chair the six-member committee. Experts from a Delhi-based consultancy firm, which has expertise in dealing with restoration and maintenance of museums, have also been roped in for the same.
The guidelines that are being formulated would touch upon both natural and man-made disasters, ranging from an earthquake to a fire. While first priority is being given to minimize loss of human lives, saving and retrieving the artefacts would also form an important part of the guideline.
“The Victoria memorial draws around 40,000 people every day on an average. But what if a fire breaks out? The panic would lead to a disaster unless we have some specific plan on how to evacuate the people. Next comes the question of saving the artefacts in case a disaster strikes,” said Sengupta.
“We have already written to the state fire services department to conduct mock drills in the museum and Victoria memorial. While on one hand, we have to conduct the drill when the footfall is maximum to test our efficiency, we must also keep in mind not to harass visitors during the drill,” he added.