JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 6 (pp. 77 to 83)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 6 (pp. 77 to 83)




In disasters such as earthquake, flood, hurricane, and fire, conservators recognize the need for a disaster plan as a crucial step in the prevention of major damage. But when they have to face human-induced disasters like riots, war, or terrorist action, there is no ideal disaster plan. Such disasters are unpredictable and involve the deliberate destruction of culture and people.

During the tumultuous events of the Los Angeles riots, the LACMA conservation department staff watched the television reports with anxiety and disbelief. We worked hard to stay calm, communicate effectively, and make wise decisions. The combined effort of conservators, collections manager, curators, curatorial assistants, and volunteers was fundamental to the successful completion of this rescue operation. Teamwork was critical, and teamwork made it possible to save the artifacts. Each person who was part of the team was clear about his or her responsibilities in a chain of command that had been clearly defined before the emergency.

The following are some of the successful aspects of our disaster response:

  1. Because LACMA's standard guidelines for off-site storage required that all artwork be crated, water damage to the textiles was minimized.
  2. Several factors aided the efficient evacuation of objects. These were:An emergency coordinator was designated, and the chain of command, critical personnel, and other duties were defined.A “phone tree” was used to contact personnel because any other way of communication was not fully reliable.Rescue activities were coordinated among the affected departments.The National Guard was contacted before acting.Each object could be found quickly because registrarial records included the location of every object.The damaged objects were treated efficiently because a recovery team was formed and a recovery work area prepared. Emergency staging areas were established.During initial examination, the textiles were categorized, and treatment priorities were determined.


This article represents the efforts of all the staff and volunteers who worked hard to rescue these artifacts. The team included textile conservators Cara Varnell, Catherine McLean, Nina Cole, and Emilia Cortes and collection manager Kaye Spilker and her assistant, Alice Wolf. The author would like to thank Pieter Meyers, head of the Conservation Center at LACMA, for his interest and support. She would like to thank her teacher, Catherine McLean, for helping to edit this paper and for all of the knowledge that she shared generously during the author's preprogram internship in the LACMA textile conservation laboratory.

Copyright 1995 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works