Risk Assessment

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This content is excerpted from Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage (2019), Elkin and Norris, eds.

Chapter 4: Collection Risk Assessment

Robert Waller, Protect Heritage Corp., Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, and Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

Preservation is one of the three major subsystems within a collection management system. It is a forward-looking subsystem. It needs to anticipate what might go wrong resulting in failure to preserve. Because preservation requires identification and control of specific causes of harm arising in the future it must be managed in as omniscient and exacting a manner as possible. The theories and practices to achieve this challenging task are most developed within the fields of risk and safety assessment, management, and analysis. It is from those fields, merged with traditional preventive conservation that this chapter is developed.

Preservation is best achieved when planned as a project and not simply dealt with as a process. It is a project of importance to society as a whole. A failure of preservation results in permanent and irrecoverable loss of heritage resources. Given these facts, preservation warrants comprehensive and effective preplanning. That planning requires an understanding of the preservation system context, goal, and scope that is both clear and shared by the diverse professionals involved in collection care. The steps involved in risk assessment and management are standard and involve defining the context, risk identification and quantification, analysis and reporting of results, development and implementation of risk management strategies, and continuous monitoring and communication. Bringing these stages together within a comprehensive risk analysis model enables clear understandings of responsibilities and accountabilities throughout the preservation system.


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