THE MAGAZINE

Security in Motion

By Andrew Turk, CPP

Host-museum assessment. Before an exhibit leaves its home museum, a thorough threat assessment should be conducted that takes into account the likelihood of theft and damage. At the American Museum of Natural History (the author’s former institution), exhibits are given a ranking of low, medium, or high risk. For example, the valuable and sought-after precious gem and jewelry collections are rated high risk. When an exhibit like the jewelry show is loaned to another institution, the museum thoroughly evaluates the host location to ensure that its security is at or above the level found where the exhibit is permanently housed in New York.

Facilities report. The first step in the process is to request a facilities report from the hosting institution. The facilities report is a standard report designed by the American Association of Museums. It details everything about the museum, including size, age, fire protection equipment, and security equipment.

This report is a narrative that requires detailed explanations by the reporting museum. For example, the report does not simply ask whether CCTV cameras are present, it asks the type, brand, quantity, positioning, and method and frequency of monitoring.

Once the completed report has been received by the American Museum of Natural History, a panel of subject-matter experts, including engineers, security experts, and technicians, reviews the document. In the process, the panel  will consult with others as needed. Security department personnel, for example, will often call the CCTV manufacturer to get a better understanding of the CCTV environment at the prospective hosting facility.

They will evaluate the age of the system and how it functions within the security environment. The integration, or lack of integration, between the security cameras and alarms will also be taken into account. The result is an initial assessment of the prospective hosting museum’s security plan.

Site visit. After the subject matter experts have reviewed the facility report, a team of representatives from the security department will visit the prospective host museum to verify the information in the facility report and to offer suggestions for security improvements. This step is a vital part of the process because, while the museum may have adequate protection for its own permanent exhibits, it may not meet the higher-level of security requirements for the traveling show. In addition, because the level of detail in response to the questions on the facilities report may vary from location to location, an on-site observation is necessary to ensure that the site matches the description in the report.

The level of security that the team will demand will depend on the risk rating of the exhibit being loaned. A low-security-level exhibit, such as photographs that are reprints of the originals, may be sufficiently protected by roving patrols and CCTV cameras. High-level exhibits, however, require much more intensive and complicated security that often includes round-the-clock guards, sophisticated alarm systems, specialized exhibit enclosures, and CCTV surveillance. 

Testing. Most traveling exhibits from the American Museum of Natural History include wireless sensors, which are installed and monitored at the host site. The site visit is a perfect time for the evaluation team to test the system’s reliability in the host museum’s specific environment.

A transmitter and receiver are set up in the gallery that will house the exhibit, and a special tool is used to measure the level of frequency broadcasting between the wireless transmitter and the receiver. If the frequency level is low or disrupted, typically due to very thick walls, the security department will supply the host museum with special repeaters that will boost the wireless signal and make it functional. (More on this later.)

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