INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FORCULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
Reposted from CIP Association
The use of artificial intelligence holds promise in helping avert, mitigate and manage disasters by analyzing swaths of data, but more efforts are required to ensure that technologies are deployed in a responsible, equitable manner.
According to UNDDR, about 1.2 million lives have been lost worldwide and more than 4 billion people affected in disasters that took place between 2000 and 2019.
Faster data labelling
Cameron Birge, Senior Program Manager Humanitarian Partnerships at Microsoft, says their work in using AI for humanitarian missions has been human-centric. "Our approach has been about helping the humans, the humans stay in the loop, do their jobs better, faster and more efficiently," he noted.
One of their projects in India uses roofing as a proxy indicator of households with lower incomes who are likely to be more vulnerable to extreme events like typhoons. Satellite imagery analysis of roofs are used to inform disaster response and resilience-building plans. A simple yet rewarding avenue of using AI has been around data labelling to train AI models to assist disaster management.
One challenge, he noted, has been around "unbiased, good, clean, trusted data". He also encouraged humanitarian organizations to understand their responsibilities when making use of AI models to support decision-making. "You have to ensure you sustain, train and monitor these models," he advised. Microsoft also wants to promote more sharing of data with its 'Open Data' campaign.
Precise decision support
AI is becoming increasingly important to the work of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Supercomputers crunch petabytes of data to forecast weather around the world. The WMO also coordinates a global programme of surface-based and satellite observations. Their models merge data from more than 30 satellite sensors, weather stations and ocean-observing platforms all over the planet, explained Anthony Rea, Director of the Infrastructure Department at WMO.
AI can help interpret resulting data and help with decision support for forecasters who receive an overwhelming amount of data, said Rea. "We can use AI to recognize where there might be a severe event or a risk of it happening, and use that in a decision support mechanism to make the forecaster more efficient and maybe allow them to pick up things that couldn't otherwise be picked up."
Understanding the potential impact of extreme weather events on an individual or a community and assessing their vulnerability requires extra information on the built environment, population, and health.
"We need to understand where AI and machine learning can help and where we are better off taking the approach of a physical model. There are many examples of that case as well. Data curation is really important," he added.
WMO also sets the standards for international weather data exchange, including factors such as identifying the data, formats, and ontologies. While advocating for the availability of data, Rea also highlighted the need to be mindful of privacy and ethical considerations when dealing with personal data. WMO is revising its own data policies ahead of its Congress later this year, committing to free and open exchange of data beyond the meteorological community.
'Not a magic bullet'
Rea believes that AI cannot replace the models built on physical understanding and decades of research into interactions between the atmosphere and oceans. "One of the things we need to guard against in the use of AI is to think of it as a magic bullet," he cautioned.
Instead of vertically integrating a specific dataset and using AI to generate forecasts, Rea sees a lot of promise in bringing together different datasets in a physical model to generate forecast information. "We use machine learning and AI in situations where maybe we don't understand the underlying relationships. There are plenty of places in our area of science and service delivery where that is possible."
Rakesh Bharania, Director of Humanitarian Impact Data at Salesforce.org, also sees the potential of artificial or augmented intelligence in decision support and areas where a lot of contextual knowledge is not required. "If you have a lot of data about a particular problem, then AI is certainly arguably much better than having humans going through that same mountain of data. AI can do very well in answering questions where there is a clear, right answer," he said.
One challenge in the humanitarian field, Bharania noted, is scaling a solution from a proof of concept to something mature, usable, and relevant. He also cautioned that data used for prediction is not objective and can impact results.
"It's going to be a collaboration between the private sector who typically are the technology experts and the humanitarians who have the mission to come together and actually focus on determining what the right applications are, and to do so in an ethical and effective and impactful manner," he said. Networks such as NetHope and Impactcloud are trying to build that space of cross-sectoral collaboration, he added.
Towards 'white box AI’
Yasunori Mochizuki, NEC Fellow at NEC Corporation, recalled how local governments in Japan relied on social networks and crowd-behaviour analyses for real-time decision-making in the aftermath of 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami.
Their solution analyzed tweets to extract information and identify areas with heavy damage and need for immediate rescue, and integrated it with information provided by public agencies. "Tweets are challenging for computers to understand as the context is heavily compressed and expression varies from one user to another. It is for this reason that the most advanced class of natural language processing AI in the disaster domain was developed," Mochizuki explained.
Mochizuki sees the need for AI solutions in disaster risk reduction to provide management-oriented support, such as optimizing logistics and recovery tasks. This requires “white box AI” he said, also known as ‘explainable AI’. "While typical deep learning technology doesn't tell us why a certain result was obtained, white box AI gives not only the prediction and recommendation, but also the set of quantitative reasons why AI reached the given conclusion," he said.
Webinar host and moderator Muralee Thummarukudy, Operations Manager, Crisis Management Branch at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), also acknowledged the value of explainable AI. "It will be increasingly important that AI is able to explain the decisions transparently so that those who use or are subject to the outcome of these black box technologies would know why those decisions were taken," he said.
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Reposted from Security Management Magazine
Never before has the need for security professionals to be involved in business continuity efforts been as prevalent as it was in 2020. From deciding how to handle COVID-19 to natural disasters to civil unrest to cyberthreats, executives have turned to their security teams to help keep businesses—and employees—safe while remaining productive.
To help provide best practices for these teams, ASIS International gathered a group of experts to update its Business Continuity Guideline, says Robert Carotenuto, CPP, PCI, PSP, director of security at The Shed and chair of the guideline committee.
“We understand that the pandemic is on everyone’s minds, but it’s not the only emergency and crisis situation,” Carotenuto says. “There are political crises, rioting, global climate change with fires in California, and hurricanes, so we understood that the guideline needed to address the survivability of your organization in terms of facing many threats that are known, unknown, or infrequent.”
The guideline, planned for publication in spring 2021, will update the existing guideline—written in 2005—providing recommendations for a business continuity management program that enables users to identify, develop, implement, and monitor policies, objectives, capabilities, processes, and programs to address disruptive incidents and crisis events that could impact the organization. The guideline will also provide a framework for organizations to use to prepare for—and successfully manage—critical business functions during and after a disruptive incident or crisis.
There are 27 members on the guideline committee, and many of the discussions during its monthly meetings demonstrated how the understanding and concept of risk has changed throughout the course of COVID-19; how the long-off threat of a pandemic has impacted planning for unlikely but potentially catastrophic risks, Carotenuto adds.
“Risks that develop over time—we as humans are not really good at assessing that. Things that take a long time to develop, over years, people tend not to see as imminent,” he says. “They don’t feel the need to take immediate action.”
But when it comes to risks like pandemics and climate change, organizations and security professionals need to scan the horizon to prepare themselves.
“It’s taking the long-term view, seeing a risk that develops slowly over time that you need a long-term strategy for,” Carotenuto says. “That’s the challenge, to come up with a solution for a risk that slowly erodes stability and resilience over many years.”
Reposted from AAM
Last week the Alliance released TrendsWatch: Navigating a Disrupted Future. The opening chapter of this year’s forecasting report addresses the need for museums to join with all sectors of society in redressing the systemic inequalities of wealth and power that have resulted from the entrenched racism that disfigures the US. Throughout the coming year this blog will feature stories of museums engaging in reparative practice, beginning with today’s guest post by Bill Martin, Director of the Valentine Museum in Richmond, VA.
At a time when agreement is in short supply, I think we can all agree we are living in historic times. As museum professionals and leaders, how can we help the communities we serve face a challenging present and an uncertain future? How can we use our collections, exhibitions, and programs to address the modern-day impact of the history we share? Here at the Valentine, we are endeavoring to use all the tools in our curatorial and programmatic toolbox address public concerns about racial inequality while confronting our own institution’s history.
And it begins with a café.
I’ve served as the director of the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia, for over 25 years. The Valentine is one of the oldest museums in the city – we opened our doors in 1898. This small, non-profit museum is committed to collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond stories, using our past to inform the present and shape the future.
In recent years in Richmond, that past has come into even sharper relief. As the former capital of the Confederacy and the home of Monument Avenue, which until recently was lined with monumental examples of Lost Cause iconography, our city has been at the center of a nationwide reevaluation of our history – both the aspects we have chosen to remember and those stories we have chosen to forget.
The questions on my mind and the questions on the minds of museum directors across the country were undoubtedly the same: what is our role? Dedicated as we are educating the public and confronting the uncomfortable, how can a museum do the most good when responding to a movement calling on institutions like ours to reconsider and reimagine our work?
At the Valentine, we took time to do just that, albeit in our own way: we reconsidered the relationship between the museum and our restaurant space, rethought upcoming exhibitions, and began to reimagine the Valentine Sculpture Studio, another space central to our museum since its founding.
Nestled on the museum campus in the Valentine Garden is a small building used by a variety of food vendors over the years. Vacant for nearly a year, our senior staff decided the museum could use the space as an actionable, concrete response to the ongoing concerns about race-based wealth inequity, while also forming meaningful relationships with minority-led organizations.
Thus began The Main Course: A Valentine Museum Restaurant Competition. Partnering with the Metropolitan Business League (an organization that supports small, women and minority-owned businesses across the Richmond region), the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience and Hatch Kitchen RVA, we sponsored a competition for local, minority-owned restaurants, food trucks and caterers. The grand prize would be two years of free rent in the café, memberships to the partnering organizations, and preferred vendor status with the Valentine.
Following collaborative press outreach, a coordinated social media push, community input, and one afternoon of tasting conducted by a lucky panel of judges, the winner was announced on December 14. The Valentine will now begin working with Brandi Brown, owner of Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar, a local business specializing in juices and smoothies, for a grand opening in the café space in the spring of 2021.
The Main Course Competition was unique to the Valentine’s specific situation, but the lesson is applicable across museums and culture institutions. Thinking outside the box, we were able to use a traditional space in a non-traditional way, adapting our available resources as a small history museum to support a Black-owned business.
We have applied this same approach to exhibitions. The windows of the Wickham House, the historic home on our campus where enslaved people once lived and worked, now hosts an external exhibition focused on powerful images of Black hair. Curated by local artist and academic Dr. Chaz Antoine Barracks, DONT TOUCH MY HAIR rva fills windows up and down the museum block with oversized images that explore diverse African American experiences through stories of Black hair.
At the same time as we celebrate our present, we are working on bold new ways to contribute to our community’s understanding of our past.
Right across the walkway from where Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar will reside stands another space ripe for reimagining: Edward Valentine’s Sculpture Studio.
Edward Valentine was one of the museum’s founders and as a working sculptor played a central role in creating Lost Cause iconography – the same kind of iconography that remains a focal point of ongoing protests and calls for racial equity. We determined that in order to explore both the legacy of the Lost Cause as well as our institution’s complicity in its growth, the studio must be completely reinterpreted and reimagined.
Working with a committee of historians, activists and local leaders and through a series of community focus groups, this major project will provide visitors a space to confront and reckon with the painful history of Richmond’s and the Valentine’s early role in the development and spread of the Lost Cause myth.
One of Valentine’s works, a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, had stood on Richmond’s Monument Avenue since 1907 before protestors pulled it from its pedestal earlier this year. We are seeking to acquire the statue from the City of Richmond for eventual display in this newly renovated space, covered in pink paint and damaged from recent protests. In his current form, the Davis statue now tells both the story of Jim Crow intimidation in the 20th century and the story of public outcry against those same forces in 2020.
Taken together, the restaurant competition, exterior exhibition, ongoing studio project, and other efforts reflect the Valentine’s commitment to responding not only to community needs, but listening to community voices. Not only reconsidering our approach, but being willing to change our approach in order to better serve the city we call home.
During a time when success is measured by an ability to adapt, we hope that our work, and the work of our fellow museums, reflects the enormity, and possibility, of this moment.
Reposted from The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore’s two largest art museums are raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour for their lowest-paid, full-time employees, including the security guards who protect priceless artworks by Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin.
The change affects about 50 staffers at the Baltimore Museum of Art and 31 full-time employees at the Walters Art Museum. Thirteen part-time workers at the Walters will receive a pay bump to $13 an hour.
That means that nearly 30% of the staffs of both museums will see a boost to their take-home pay. Before the raise, the minimum wage at the BMA was $13.50 an hour. The minimum wage at the Walters was $14.25 an hour for full-time staff members and $12.25 an hour for part-time employees.
Both arts institutions would have needed to raise the pay for these workers by 2025, when Maryland’s minimum wage increases to $15 an hour for companies with more than 15 employees. But the museums’ leaders decided they couldn’t wait that long.
”The time to achieve a diverse and equitable environment was years and years and years ago,” said Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s director. ”Taking our time and moving methodically is not in alignment with where the country is right now. The imperative to move fast is enormous.”
The BMA announced the salary hike Thursday as part of a package of $1.5 million in gifts it has secured from local and national philanthropists to fund diversity initiatives. The raises took effect Feb. 1, a few days before the museum reopened to visitors by appointment.
The Walters announced in January that it had received donations to raise the pay for its lowest-paid workers when the museum resumes welcoming visitors in mid-March.
“This commitment is not just a one-time pay increase,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, the Walters’ executive director and CEO. “It is a civic initiative and part of a larger conversation nationwide about the need for a real living wage, notably in the museum field.”
Thursday’s announcement by the BMA is the newest development in Bedford’s months-long campaign to find the money to pay for a slew of diversity initiatives during a global pandemic.
The BMA became embroiled in a nationwide controversy last fall when the board of trustees voted to deaccession (or sell) three paintings from its collection by the modern masters Andy Warhol, Clyfford Styll and Brice Marden.
At the time, Bedford said he hoped the sale would generate $50 million for an endowment that would, among other things, raise salaries for the lowest-paid workers to $20 an hour — a goal he remains committed to — and eliminate fees for special exhibitions. (General admission has been free at the BMA and Walters since 2006.)
A group of art lovers asked Maryland’s attorney general to stop the sale, and the resulting firestorm put the BMA in the spotlight nationwide. The sale was called off less than three hours before two of the paintings were scheduled to go under the gavel at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York.
Though Bedford’s path was blocked, he didn’t give up.
The BMA announced Thursday that it secured a $350,000 gift to open the museum one night a week, tentatively beginning in the spring of 2022. The announcement also included a $1 million gift from Los Angeles-based philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton. Half will be used for the endowment, and the remaining $500,000 will pay for a comprehensive series of internal diversity workshops at the BMA.
“With the exception of weekends, we are open only on the hours when a normal working person cannot attend the museum,“ Bedford said. “To be the accessible museum we want to be, we had to change our own schedule.”
The Walters, in contrast, has remained largely out of the limelight. But behind the scenes, Marciari-Alexander has worked to accomplish many of the same goals.
The Walters was open Thursday nights from 2012 to the onset of the pandemic; Marciari-Alexander said she plans to reinstate evening hours as soon as possible. Unlike the BMA, the Walters does not charge for special exhibitions.
And the pay raises have been in the works for years; Marciari-Alexander said that $15 an hour is merely the first step.
”We’ve had a longstanding commitment to reaching a $15 an hour floor for full-time positions,” she said, “and we remained steadfast in pursuit of that goal. We are grateful to our donors, whose financial support has enabled us to make this investment in our employees and our community.”
Reposted from The New York Times
It is the most ambitious move in the history of the Louvre — a five-year project to transfer a quarter of a million artworks to an ultramodern storage site 120 miles away in northern France.
For more than 16 months, a stream of trucks has quietly hauled treasures from the museum’s central Paris basement, and other sites, to the Louvre Conservation Center, a fortress of culture set up in the town of Liévin, near Lens.
Already 100,000 works have been moved — including paintings, carpets, tapestries, grand sculptures, small figurines, furniture and decorative pieces — dating from antiquity to the 19th century.
With museums in France closed because of the pandemic, Jean-Luc Martinez, the director of the Louvre, has time on his hands. On Tuesday, he took a small group of reporters on a tour of the newly operational site, which is intended to become one of Europe’s largest art research centers and to welcome museum experts, scholars and conservators from around the world.
The Louvre sits on low ground along the banks of the Seine. In 2016, flooding in Paris was so severe that the museum itself was threatened, prompting a round-the-clock, emergency operation to wrap, crate and haul thousands of art objects out of underground storage and onto higher ground.
The conservation project in Liévin, costing 60 million euros, or about $73 million, began in late 2017 as a necessary response to the river’s unpredictable, inevitable rise.
“The reality is that our museum is in a flood zone,” Mr. Martinez said on the tour on Tuesday. “You can’t just pick up and move marble sculptures around,” he noted. “There was a danger that the sewers would back up and that dirty, smelly wastewater would damage the art. We had to find a solution. Urgently.”
The Louvre considered, then rejected, the idea of building a site close to Paris: too expensive and impractical. Instead, it chose Liévin, a 10-minute walk from the Louvre’s mini-museum outpost in the adjacent town of Lens, which opened in 2012.
This pocket of France, once a prosperous mining center, has never recovered economically from the bombing it suffered in World War I and the collapse of the coal industry. Local authorities were so eager to expand the Louvre’s presence — and to draw visitors — that it sold much of the land for the Conservation Center for the symbolic sum of one euro.
The glass, concrete and steel structure, which opened in October 2019, looks like a Bauhaus-style bunker partially buried into the landscape.
A subsoil of chalky sand above chalk bedrock absorbs excess rainfall. A special German-made leak detection system double-waterproofs the roof. Complex security systems protect against terrorist attacks and fire. Bright green lighting fixtures hanging throughout the facility trap and kill dangerous enemies like the common furniture beetle.
Trucks move the artworks into a garage where they are unloaded and placed in a temporary chamber to acclimate them to their surroundings and eliminate contaminants. Six concrete-walled storage vaults — each focusing on a different type of object — stretch over almost 2.4 acres. There are spaces for artisans, restorers, researchers and photographers from the Louvre and eventually for those from other museums as well. The Louvre hopes the site may one day provide a haven for art in danger of destruction in countries facing war and conflict.
Touring the vaults with their soaring ceilings, fluorescent lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows, Mr. Martinez stopped in one where chunks of marble and stone were wrapped in plastic and stacked in wooden crates on heavy metal shelves.
“In a storage facility that is well done, there is not much to see,” he said, a hint of apology in his voice. “Everything is wrapped up tight.”
Suddenly, on a high shelf near the ceiling, he spotted an intricate work in marble, sculpted by Bernini and intended as the base for a famous ancient statue in the Louvre of a sleeping hermaphrodite. And then, on a lower shelf, he pointed out a 1,300-pound chunk of stone that was once part of a building near the ancient Greek site of the “Victory of Samothrace,” another treasured sculpture from the Louvre collection.
“A researcher could ask to see the Bernini, or say, ‘I want to see the piece from Samothrace!’” he said.
In a nearby vault, Isabelle Hasselin, a senior curator, examined and cataloged more than a dozen small terra cotta figurines of the Roman goddess Minerva, found in Turkey. Ms. Hasselin lifted one, which showed two women, arm in arm, from a drawer of a metal cabinet, explaining how it had been badly restored with glue and a metal pin in the 1960s.
“We are able to do deep research here, away from the hustle and bustle of Paris — and away from the worry of flooding,” she said. “What a relief.”
With 620,000 works, the Louvre’s collection is the largest in the world. Only 35,000 of them are on display in Paris; another 35,000 are shared out around regional museums in France. More than 250,000 drawings, prints, and manuscripts — too fragile to be exposed to light — will stay in storage in the Paris Louvre, on a high floor safe from flooding.
The basement is not the Louvre’s only refuge for unseen artworks. Some are hidden in other storage areas throughout the museum; others are kept in secret locations around the country, where they were moved for safe keeping over the years. By the end of December, 80 percent of the works in the most vulnerable flood zones had been moved out, according to Brice Mathieu, the Conservation Center’s director.
In the process, curators have made some surprising discoveries. A forgotten wooden crate turned out to be filled with 6,000-year-old ceramic fragments from the ancient Persian city of Susa; restorers pieced it together into a vase. Another find from Susa was a stone shoulder that belonged to the museum’s 4,000-year-old sculpture of the goddess Narundi.
As Mr. Martinez wandered the halls of the center with Marie Lavandier, the director of the Louvre-Lens museum, they came upon an 18th-century leather box decorated in gold fleur-de-lis that probably once held a crown. Ms. Lavandier took a photograph on her cellphone.
“I see an object like this, and I say to myself, truly, we are protecting all the treasures and the sophistication of the museum throughout its history,” she said. “It moves me to the core.”
Reposted from Xinhuanet
After a couple of spectacular heists in Germany, the government announced Thursday it would launch a program to help cultural institutions expand security measures so as to better protect national art and cultural treasures.
For this purpose, the German government would provide up to 5 million euros (6.1 million U.S. dollars) this year. Cultural institutions, such as museums, archives and exhibition halls, could apply to fund the installation of structural, mechanical or electronic security measures against burglary and theft.
"Our museums house art treasures whose material and immaterial value can hardly be measured. They are formative for the cultural identity of our country," said Monika Gruetters, minister of state for culture and media, in a statement.
The German government would cover up to 50 percent of eligible expenses. Funding was conditional on a security concept that would be coordinated with the relevant state criminal investigation office or the criminal investigation advisory service.
At the end of November 2019, thieves had entered the Green Vault, a famous museum in Dresden, through a window and stole many historical pieces including priceless diamond jewelry.
Almost a year later, police in Berlin arrested the first suspects. According to the Dresden public prosecutor's office, there was still no trace of the stolen jewelry from the 17th and 18th centuries.
"Spectacular break-ins and thefts in museums in recent years have shown that the security situation in German cultural institutions has changed," the German government said. The threat became "more complex in view of the violence and the highly professional approach of the perpetrators."
Last September, the German Museums Association invited museum experts, criminal investigators, security specialists and representatives of the insurance industry to the first nationwide conference on museum security.
The discussion focused on "current challenges" for burglary and theft protection in Germany' museums and how institutions could protect their exhibits while remaining accessible to the public
Reposted from NIST.gov
On a brisk November morning in 2018, a fire sparked in a remote stretch of canyon in Butte County, California, a region nestled against the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Fueled by a sea of tinder created by drought, and propelled by powerful gusts, the flames grew and traveled rapidly. In less than 24 hours, the fire had swept through the town of Paradise and other communities, leaving a charred ruin in its wake.
The Camp Fire was the costliest disaster worldwide in 2018 and, having caused 85 deaths and destroyed more than 18,000 buildings, it became both the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, two records the fire still holds today.
What made the Camp Fire so devastating? And what lessons can we learn to prevent another disaster of this scale? Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have begun to answer these questions by investigating the conditions leading up to the fire and meticulously reconstructing the sequence of events describing the first 24 hours of its progression. A new report containing the timeline identifies areas where more research is needed to improve life safety and reduce structural losses. It also offers a detailed look at how a large and deadly fire advances — information that will become increasingly valuable as fire seasons continue to intensify.
“The information we collected on the timeline is extremely powerful by itself, not only for Paradise but for other similar communities, to help them understand what they may encounter and better prepare, wether it is at a community or at the first responder level,” said NIST fire protection engineer Alexander Maranghides, who led the timeline reconstruction.
To piece together the puzzle of the Camp Fire, the team carried out discussions with 157 first responders, local officials and utilities personnel who were present during the fire. The team documented sightings of fire or smoke and efforts to fight the fire or evacuate, as well as insights into community preparedness and weather conditions.
The researchers sought to back up observations made during the fire with additional data sources before adding new puzzle pieces to the timeline. With the help of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), Paradise Police Department and others, the team gained access to and reviewed large data sets, including radio logs, 911 calls, dashboard and body camera recordings, and drone and satellite images. They also looked to images in social and news media to corroborate the sightings of discussion participants.
By the end of the painstaking process, the authors of the report incorporated more than 2,200 observations into the timeline, which is broken up into 15 separate segments to capture concurrent events throughout different sections of Butte County.
The team’s investigation revealed several conditions throughout Butte County that, taken together, created favorable conditions for an inferno. On the day the fire broke out, wind gusts were powerful, blowing up to about 48 kilometers (30 miles) per hour, and were almost exclusively pointed southwest, toward Paradise and the smaller communities of Magalia and Concow. The 200 days of drought preceding the fire had also transformed much of the region’s lush terrain into combustible ground.
And perhaps counterintuitively, Maranghides said, the relatively large distance between the fire’s origin and the edge of Paradise (about 11 kilometers, or 7 miles) contributed to the massive, 3.2-kilometer (2-mile)-long fire front that crashed into the town.
“If a fire starts far away, upwind, then it has time to develop and expand. By the time it hits the community it is so large and so powerful that it could wipe everything out,” Maranghides said. “But if it ignites closer, the fire can be so much smaller. It takes a much smaller bite out of the community, and people may have a fighting chance.”
The report indicates that town officials in Butte County went to great lengths to prepare for fires, having cleared vegetative fuels near critical infrastructure and bolstered emergency communications in the weeks and months prior. However, dense vegetation had still accumulated throughout Paradise — a factor enhanced by the nearly 100 years the town had gone without experiencing a wildfire.
The researchers learned that, although Paradise made resources available for residents to remove trees, many did not take the city up on its offer. One participant in the reconstruction noted that residents were often attracted to the lifestyle of “living in the forest” provided by the town.
With a gamut of unfavorable conditions at play, a spark in the wilderness quickly became a raging inferno.
The fire’s siege on Paradise, which ultimately destroyed 85% of the town’s buildings, began before its front line reached the city limits. Showers of burning debris were carried by the wind ahead of the main fire into town, where the embers ignited buildings and vegetation, riddling the town with dozens of smaller fires that ate up precious firefighting resources.
Propelling the Camp Fire’s structure-destroying spree were fires that spread within and between plots of land, or parcels, rather than from the fire front. Sources such as burning sheds, plants, vehicles and neighboring houses caused many buildings to catch fire, either through direct contact with flames or embers generated in parcels.
Paradise’s defenses quickly fell once the fire front reached town. The incident commander leading the emergency response recognized the fire’s speed and intensity and ordered his personnel to abandon all firefighting efforts just 45 minutes after the fire arrived. “Save lives, keep evacuation moving,” the incident commander said over the radio.
Although the focus of emergency response narrowed on saving lives, evacuation efforts were stifled by burnovers — life-threatening events in which residents or first responders are overrun by flames, cutting them off from escape routes. Across Paradise and Concow there were 19 burnovers at least, some of which involved downed power lines or flaming vegetation that blocked off roads, causing gridlock and putting lives in danger.
In the past, recorded burnovers were sparse, with reports attributing few or none to most fires. Hardly any have been scrutinized as heavily as the Camp Fire, however, which could partially explain the event’s high number of documented burnovers. Another critical contributor was likely Paradise’s heavily wooded nature, Maranghides said.
The abundance of burnovers during the Camp Fire may not be an isolated event, but part of a larger trend, particularly for communities where vegetative fuels have built up over many years.
“The significant activity we've experienced in the last few years may indicate that burnovers are becoming more frequent than they used to be,” said CAL FIRE chief Steven Hawks, a co-author of the report. “My sense is that because fires are burning so fast now, there is more potential for people to become trapped.”
With this report, NIST has shone light on the many aspects of the Camp Fire’s multipronged attack. Research into these threats could fill critical knowledge gaps, paving the way for science-based codes, standards and practices that could help communities outsmart fires.
What’s urgently needed, the authors write, are methods of capturing the severity of burnovers and a better understanding of how they occur in the first place. Studies in this area could make way for guidelines on reducing their likelihood and protecting evacuation routes.
As for buildings, there are already two known options for increasing their chances of surviving a wildfire. The first is to make sure combustible items within a parcel (plants, sheds, etc.) are not too close to a structure, and the second is to increase the fire resistance of a structure’s materials. But striking a cost-effective balance between the two is difficult with the limited information on how various fuel sources threaten buildings.
“We need to improve our understanding at the parcel level because it's the parcel-level exposures that drive the building’s survivability,” Maranghides said. “You cannot just look at the building in absence of what's around it.”
Once researchers can put numbers to the behavior of embers and combustibles in parcels, it may become more clear what a particular building needs in terms of spacing and hardening to hold up to a wildfire.
City officials could use the report’s timeline for emergency planning as well. By having a detailed description of events such as burnovers in front of them, members of city councils or public works departments in wildfire-prone regions could evaluate their own emergency plans and potentially identify vulnerabilities.
There is currently no standard method of comparing the wildfire hazards of communities. So, although the researchers could draw individual similarities between Paradise and other communities in Northern California, they were unsure how the town compared as a whole. The team aimed to bridge this gap by developing a framework in the form of a document encouraging city officials to record specific information on fuels, population, emergency notifications and other aspects of the community.
If adopted and employed statewide in California and in other wildfire-prone areas, the framework, which appears in the report, could reveal areas most at risk and worthy of attention and resources, Maranghides said.
In the hands of first responders, the new report could become valuable training material. Using data on how quickly and intensely the fire grew, commanders could build tabletop exercises to practice deploying firefighting resources to counter its spread and save lives.
An event on the scale of the Camp Fire makes it clear that action is needed at all levels to protect communities from wildfires, Hawks said. And that need is perhaps more urgent now than ever.
“Going forward, there’s no reason to believe that fire activity and severity is going to lessen anytime soon,” Hawks said. “We're never going to get rid of wildfires, natural or human-caused. But we can learn how to live with and work together to mitigate them.”
The full report is now available, along with several maps portraying the fire spread. The timeline of fire progression will form the basis for subsequent reports on evacuation and emergency response during the Camp Fire that the NIST team plans to publish in the coming months.
Reposted from KSAT
The Witte Museum installed a state of the art HVAC system in 2017 with the “New Witte” expansion. This HVAC upgrade installed by Shafer with the new air purification system is improving the H-E-B Body Adventure, making the visiting space safer during the coronavirus pandemic. Now the entire Witte campus is upgraded.
Museum officials on Tuesday said the new system can reduce 99.4% of COVID-19 air particles within 30 minutes of use.
It was installed by Shafer Services Plus in the Twohig House and the H-E-B Body Adventure building, as the New Witte “already has excellent filtration systems,” the museum said in a news release.
“The air purification systems use ionization and UV light to reduce virus particles, making The Witte Museum one of the city’s most advanced attractions and cultural institutions as far as pandemic health precautions,” the release states. “These systems also assist with the reduction of allergens and bacteriophage.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend air purification systems, along with masks and hand sanitizing, to help reduce the spread of the virus.
Reposted from AAM
This year has exposed the vulnerabilities of so many critical systems in the US, including health care, education, and the social safety net. In the latest edition of TrendsWatch I profiled many ways museums are caring for populations damaged by failures in these systems—serving as COVID testing sites, as food banks and community gardens, and sharing their space with local schools. Now the power grid joins the growing list of fragile systems that have faltered under pressure. As extreme cold gripped the country last week, nearly 3 million families lost power in Texas alone, coping with burst pipes, scarce resources, and buildings ill-equipped for sub-zero weather. I’m proud (but not surprised) to find museums rising to this challenge as well. Today’s guest post is by Claudia Martinez Gray, Director of Education at the International Museum of Art & Science in McAllen opening its doors to neighbors dealing with extreme cold and power outages.
Download your free copy of TrendsWatch: Navigating a Disrupted Future and use the comments section, below, to share more stories of museums caring for the most vulnerable in this difficult year.
–Elizabeth Merritt, VP Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums.
Millions of Texans are shaking ice off their boots, homes and cars while recovering from Winter Storm Uri, a rare winter occurrence that blew through the entirety of the state. The International Museum of Art & Science (IMAS) is located in McAllen, a fast-growing city nestled in Deep South Texas. While we did not receive the snowfall of North & Central Texas, thousands in the area were without power and water for many days due to an overwhelmed power grid and frozen pipes. You may be wondering: how did a winter storm shake up a small museum along the US-Mexico border? I pose, instead, this critical question: how did a museum pivot to serve its community during a weather crisis?
During the week of February 13-17, 2021, many Texans sat in cold darkness, anticipating the sun to peak out from the grey clouds as they struggled to keep warm in the record-breaking temperatures and piercing gales up to 20 mph. Living in South Texas, I never thought the community would need to worry about frozen pipes, cold-burnt crops, and lack of cold weather gear (or stunned sea turtles). We are accustomed to mild, dry winters. In fact, infrastructure in Texas is built to stay cool and most utilities are not winterized. Luckily, the museum never lost power or water and, understanding how fortunate we were, the team decided there was only one thing we could do.
The IMAS quickly transitioned itself into a daytime warming center. We waived admission for three days, February 18-20, to welcome neighbors without power. To keep within CDC guidelines, we prepared to meet 50% capacity, and, per our usual policy, we asked visitors to practice physical distancing and wear face masks when on the museum campus. Staff quickly turned our out-of-service-due-to-COVID-19 hands-on areas into charging stations with spaced out lab tables and extension cords. A supply station offered hand sanitizer and writing tools for any folks who made use of our public Wi-Fi for school or office work. While we did not have the resources to offer warm food like many local businesses, we did have a stock of unopened cocoa mix from a cancelled event. When life gives you a winter storm, you make hot chocolate. Visitors were able to take the hot drink to-go to keep warm.
Each day, the marketing team waited for confirmation of power (as there were rolling blackouts) to announce on social media that we were free and warm. We did wonder if folks would get the message in time, but those concerns were quickly dismissed. Our first announcement was shared nearly 300 times within 30 minutes of posting on Facebook. Interestingly, some visitors were families who did have power but were seeking some respite from cabin fever. Later, one patron commented on the post, “Thank you! We felt so inspired by the colorful exhibits!”
Our education team was prepared to host several virtual fieldtrips that week. However, these were postponed since the local school district cancelled classes. Instead, Educators assisted Visitor Services and floated around helping guests and giving impromptu tours. In our science lab, we host a variety of Ambassador Animals, from reptiles to bugs. The children were so happy to see and learn about how our cold-blooded Ambassadors keep themselves warm during the winter (you’ve got to love an unexpected learning moment!) and pick-up free activities and resources courtesy of our local public utility.
Over 250 visitors sought warmth at the IMAS in the days following the storm, more than double the usual weekend attendance since reopening our doors in June 2020. When our community was in need, we provided for our neighbors and this is how they will remember us. It will be a bright memory amongst the dark days that made up the historic winter storm of 2021.
As climate change becomes more volatile and unstable, it is important for institutions to be open to innovative solutions to unforeseeable crises when developing emergency preparedness plans. Certainly, they should also consider the positive actions they can take to support the community in times of crisis. The practice of becoming a warm spot was surprisingly doable with limited time and with a small team.
While we cannot control external systems, we can control our preparedness and response to unexpected events. From a global pandemic to climate change to economical shifts, it is clear museums are not short of challenges to consider. Using strategic foresight, it is possible to have a plan of actions that are taken to have positive outcomes. I believe this experience and our response to it will influence our new strategic plan that is currently being developed. Take it from this half-thawed out Texan, it should not take a crisis to start addressing potential problems at your organization, like not having a backup generator or an emergency plan for exhibit care.
Reposted from The Art Newspaper
The Vatican Museums has been criticised for its lax Covid-19 security procedures by visitors trapped in overcrowded galleries last Saturday.
Museumgoers took to social media to complain about the institution’s failure to implement effective social-distancing measures in some of its most popular spaces last weekend, in particular those decorated with frescoes by Raphael and his workshop.
Vincenzo Spina, a tour guide who led a group through the museum on Saturday afternoon, said they were stuck in the Hall of Constantine, the first of a sequence of four Raphael rooms, “surrounded by people” and unable to move for 15 minutes when a museum guard “who appeared utterly confused” temporarily stopped access to the following room. It was “like the metro in rush hour,” Spina wrote on Facebook.
Another visitor who took a 2:30pm guided tour of the museum on Saturday afternoon described the crush in the Raphael rooms as “scandalous” on the travel website Tripadvisor. Yet another said there was a “total” failure to respect Covid-19 guidelines.
Spina told La Repubblica newspaper that his visit to the Raphael Rooms descended into “chaos” because the crush of visitors was so bad that no-one was able to move “either forwards or backwards”.
In an open letter to museum management posted on Facebook, he added that he was “deeply ashamed” and “embarrassed” that he had led a group of unsuspecting tourists into a situation which he likened to “Dante’s inferno.”
“There was no social distancing, no organisation”, Spina said, which left visitors “shocked and afraid” and even led to some instances of “individual and collective hysteria”, according to the tour guide.
“It is hard to understand how this could have happened [because] the Vatican Museums has had months to prepare for its reopening,” Spina said.
It is unclear why museum staff was unable to control the flow of visitors.
When asked to comment, the Vatican Museums sent The Art Newspaper a statement prepared by director Barbara Jatta for the Italian press agency ANSA. In it, she dismisses reports of overcrowding.
“I was in the museum myself last Saturday guiding some visitors through the galleries and the situation was not as dramatic [as reported on social media]. I find the controversy stirred up by some guides quite silly. First they complained that the museum was closed, then, after 88 days of forced closure, they complain when we reopen,” Jatta said.
The Vatican Museums reopened to the public on 1 February after three months’ closure during the second, national pandemic lockdown in Italy.
Visitors are now required to book timed tickets in advance and, once inside the museum, they must wear masks; “maintain an interpersonal distance of one metre”, and “avoid gatherings” according to instructions on the Vatican Museums’ own website.
Although all major museums in Europe are predicting drastically reduced visitor numbers when they reopen after long lockdowns, the Vatican incident shows that things can still go wrong fast if the flow of visitors to popular galleries or works of art is not managed effectively.
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