Creating a Disaster Response Kit

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Creating a Disaster Response Kit

By: Megan Narvey | Conservation | December 21, 2021

Imagine that overnight, a pipe bursts in your collections storage room. You get to work in the morning, and one of your shelving units is soaked. You make sure everyone is safe, turn off the water, and activate the call tree described in your collections emergency plan. Thankfully, your emergency plan has detailed instructions on how to salvage and dry out the wet collection items! But first, you’re going to need to find some polyethylene sheeting, towels, blotting paper, a spare table, a clipboard, a pencil, nitrile gloves, a mop, a fan, and a flashlight. How quickly are you going to be able to gather your supplies?

Response speed is essential when salvaging collections materials in a water-based emergency situation. Very few types of materials in museum collections are immune to water damage. The longer something is wet, the worse the staining or bleeding dyes will be, and the more likely things will become warped, corroded, or moldy. Personal safety must always come before collections are salvaged, but once the situation is safe you will want to act promptly.

The first step to take to reduce the impact an emergency will have on the collection is to develop a collections emergency plan. After you have your emergency plan, the next step is to create a disaster response kit.

What is a disaster response kit?

A  disaster response kit is a collection of tools, equipment, and other materials that can be used to respond to a collections emergency. The kit should include enough supplies to fully respond to a small emergency, or to adequately respond to a larger emergency until more supplies can be purchased. It may be stored in a fixed location, such as a supply closet, or it may be mobile so that supplies can easily be moved to the needed location. The kit might be a small one for use in a single storage space; a larger one for your entire organization; or an even larger one to be shared between multiple organizations in a region.  

The contents of the kit should be specific to the needs of your organization. If you live in a flood prone area, you may want to focus efforts on preparing for that situation. Similarly, if your collection consists mostly of books and paper items, then your kit should be aimed at the needs of these materials. 

What does a disaster response kit contain?

Your disaster plan should help you prepare the contents of your kit by answering the following questions:

  • Which emergency situations are the most likely to occur? 
  • Which emergency situations would have the biggest impact on my collection? 
  • What materials in the collection are most at risk in an emergency situation?
  • What techniques and materials would be needed to recover the affected collections?

In general, a disaster kit should contain the following key components: a container, documentation materials, instructional documents, personal safety equipment, tools for scene/environmental control, collections salvage supplies, and other tools. Here are some examples of what you could include in your kit.


  • Backpacks
  • Wheeled crates
  • Plastic storage bins
  • Milk crates
  • Mobile trash can
  • Cabinets with doors/wheels
  • Push carts

Documentation Materials

  • Name tags
  • Clipboard
  • Notepads
  • Mechanical pencils, Sharpies, grease pencil, pens
  • Tape measure
  • Tie-on labels (paper or Tyvek)
  • Adhesive labels
  • Disposable camera

Instructional Documents

  • Emergency Salvage Wheel or other salvage guidelines
  • Copy of disaster plan
  • Floor plans
  • Gallery case access guides
  • Priority object locations
  • Loan agreements
  • Object damage reports

Other Tools

  • Wrench
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hatchet
  • Utility knife and blades
  • Nylon or polypropylene rope
  • Cable ties
  • Scissors
  • Crow bar
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Waterproof extension cord/power strip
  • Wet vac
  • Fans
  • Dehumidifier
  • Portable generator
  • Folding tables

Personal Safety Equipment

  • Safety goggles
  • Disposable apron
  • Hard hat
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Reusable respirators or N95 masks
  • First aid kit
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Work gloves
  • Drinking water

Scene/Environmental Control

  • Temperature and relative humidity spot checker
  • 6-mil polyethylene sheeting
  • Garbage bags
  • Duct tape
  • Caution tape
  • Mop and bucket
  • Door wedges
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Walkie talkies
  • Head lamp with batteries
  • Work lights and extra bulbs

Collections Salvage Supplies

  • Polyethylene zip top bags
  • Cotton string
  • Nylon monofilament
  • Plastic wash tubs and trays
  • Paper towels
  • White cotton rags
  • Unprinted newspaper
  • White cotton terry cloth
  • Wax paper
  • Freezer paper
  • Reemay
  • Mylar
  • Corrugated plastic board
  • Screens
  • Clothes pins/plastic clips
  • Clean brushes
  • Wood blocks or similar for stacking and propping things off the ground

More considerations

  • Disaster response kits require upkeep and maintenance. 
  • Some components of the kit will expire (nitrile gloves, first aid kits, batteries, etc.) 
  • Kits should be regularly inventoried to ensure that all the tools and materials you expect will be there when needed.
  • Many (not all) of the materials are consumables and will need to be replaced after use.
  • Ensure that your organization has a strategy to keep your kit sustainable over the long term. 
  • The creation of a disaster response kit can be funded with a Minnesota History and Cultural Heritage Grant! Read more about these grants at this link, and by watching the video below.   

More resources

MNHS Grants Manual - see page 71 for specific details about creating a disaster response kit.

Connecting to Collections Care webinar: Collections Emergency Kits

Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts: Emergency Supply Kits

Conserve O Gram: Emergency Cart for Salvaging Water Damaged Objects

MNHS: Disaster Response and Recovery Resources