Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The evils that beset mineral collections: 8. Large-Scale Disasters

In light of recent events in Japan, this entry may be timely. The original title (back in August 2010) was "natural disasters," but human-caused events such as nuclear meltdowns should also be considered.

So which disasters are relatively likely?
  • Fires
  • Floods, including tsunamis and hurricanes
  • Wind damage, including tornadoes
  • Earthquakes
  • Building settling and collapse
  • War
  • Volcanoes, nuclear power disasters, and other things requiring rapid mass evacuation
  • World-destructive scenarios: asteroids, all-out nuclear war, etc.
First, your collection is not the most important thing in case of emergencies. Take care of yourself, your family and your pets before you worry about your collection.

Second, prepare in advance for likely hazards. Consider collection insurance. Have off-site backup of your collection information. Consider storing your least replaceable/most valuable specimens in a fire safe or off-site safe deposit box. Take pictures of your most important pieces and store these off-site.

The likeliest disaster anywhere in the country is a fire. Mineral specimens are more susceptible to fire damage than one might think. Many will melt or shatter. Labels and associated information can be destroyed. Smoke damage may take a competent professional to remove. Consider fire-proof cabinets for your most important specimens. Have a plan for local (in-home) fires, and follow your city, county and state guidelines for regional fires. (If you live in a fire-prone area, you may want to pack some of your favorites in a bag to go.) Fire extinguishers and water can also damage specimens, so consider extinguisher types if you have an extensive collection. A final thought is that specimens-plus-fire can pose a hazard to firefighters, especially if they decompose to create poisonous fumes.

Floods occur along seacoasts, along riversides, and inside buildings with sprinkler systems. Water damage causes specimen dissolution, label disintegration, and mold hazards. Often agitation and unplanned movement accompanies water damage, so labels may be separated from their specimens, or even reduced to unreadable pulp. Labels and soluble specimens can be protected by keeping them in sealed waterproof envelopes and containers. Regional flooding may cause everything to be swept away, so consider solid rust-proof cabinets.

Wind, earthquakes, and building collapse are all primarily movement problems. Storage and display cases should be chosen with these factors in mind. Heavy cabinetry helps against windstorms, although roofs and nearby trees are more important factors in overall safety. In earthquakes, however, the ground moves out from under you; so unsecured heavy cabinets become "loose cannons." And don't make your cabinets too heavy for your floors! Additional considerations are drawer slides that "catch"; safety glass for display cases; raised shelf edges in earthquake country; and museum wax to secure specimens.

In a war, volcano eruption, or other event when you may have to evacuate for an indefinite period, there is no guarantee your collection will survive if you leave it behind. Consider an evacuation plan for your collection in advance if your circumstances warrant it, and the collection is that important to you.

If the world ends, your collection is on its own.

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