Protecting Your Art Collection When a Natural Disaster Strikes

Elysian Koglmeier | August 7, 2018

Disasters happen. It's a fact of life. You can't avoid natural disasters so being prepared is the next best thing. 

When a natural disaster hits, you and your family will be top of mind. You'll then consider the things you’ve spent a lifetime building up and collecting, like your art, collectibles, antiques, and jewelry.

Here are some helpful tips for preparing your art collection, the best you can, for a natural disaster.

Protect yourself in advance

It’s not hard to find a cautionary tale when it comes to the topic of natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, etc.. There is nothing you can do after the fact to protect yourself, so the first and most important step is to be proactive.

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works says that “Emergency preparedness complements collection care by prioritizing resources to address the highest potential risks and ensuring your treasures get the care needed if disaster strikes. You can reduce risks through assessment, planning, and ongoing preventive efforts.”

Work with your insurance agent to ensure you have the proper coverage for Acts of God and Man. An Act of God is usually something considered outside of human control, like a hurricane or a tornado, whereas an Act of Man might be considered a riot, burglary, or defacement.

Each piece in your collection needs to have coverage that is appropriate for the medium, value, merit and should be based on a recent appraisal.

If your artwork is in your home, add a few items to your disaster kit for your collection. A dehumidifier, large self-sealing plastic bags, and access to storage crates can go a long way in a time of need.

If your pieces are on display or in art storage, make sure to ask the organization about their disaster plan and insurance coverage. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions about their dedication to the care of your pieces, while another facility may have a plan and the insurance, the Center for Art Law explains that these don’t always seem straightforward during a disaster or aftermath.

Most importantly, keep an up to date inventory of all the pieces in your collection with Artwork Archive.

With art collection software, like Artwork Archive, you can keep all your relevant documents (insurance, appraisal, photographs) and a list of emergency numbers (broker, conservator, storage facility) safe in the cloud so you have access whenever you need it.

Be prepared when disaster strikes

As much as you care for your collection, please make sure you and your family are safe before considering anything else.

In some cases, like a hurricane or a forest fire approaching urban areas, there might be time to move your collection physically out of the path of destruction. Contact your storage facility and arrange to have your pieces picked up and moved out of harm's way. Don’t have a facility nearby? Rent a truck and very, very carefully package and move them.

But beware!

Improper storage and moving methods can cause damage too! Equip yourself with the proper tools by reviewing this article on proper storage.

If the flood waters are rising and there’s no time to remove your collection, wrap them up safe and sound and move them to high ground. In a pinch, the highest, driest spot in the house, away from windows or exterior doors, will work.

What to do when the skies clear

Hopefully, you’ve heeded some advice and you were prepared. While this might not calm your nerves after such an event, it will keep things more straightforward in the aftermath.

Access your Artwork Archive account and find your insurance information and emergency contact list.

Call your insurance company right away. Your claims specialist will walk you through your policy and give you a to-do list to get your claim underway.

Take an inventory of your artworks and document any damage as best you can with photos or video. Do not throw anything away, create a safe space for your damaged works and keep them until your insurance company tells you to dispose of it.

Call your conservator and make arrangements to have your collection checked over, even if it doesn’t appear that any damages were incurred. Sometimes the most long-lasting damage is invisible.

Continue to protect your artwork with these art protection tips from museum professionals.

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