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The fine art of museum security.

THE 1980s PRODUCED AN INflated art market with record-breaking sums paid not only for works by well-established artists but also for works by new talent. Possibly spurred by the speculative auction prices, the biggest art thefts ever to besiege American institutions have occurred in the last five years. The rising risks and resulting costs have focused attention on the need for museum security, with an emphasis on access control.

Yet the nature of a museum--to provide an environment for the public, students, and scholars to experience works of art as the artist intended--appears to run counter to a successful access control program. The difficulty of controlling public access to the museum's collections is just part of the challenge. While the fundamental tenets of access control may be adopted, the application of these controls to the unique organizational structure, physical characteristics, and singular scope of each museum's mission may vary widely.

Museums connected to a college or university tend to place a strong emphasis on teaching and scholarship in art history. Such museums usually employ a large temporary student staff. Fine arts faculty members, who often are not part of the museum administration, view the museum's holdings as a resource tool much like books in a library, and they may consider that works of art, like books, can be readily retrievable at a moment's notice. Faculty members are not schooled in museum security concerns and, therefore, are not prepared for the inconvenience of having to work through the layers of controlled accessibility to the collections.

The Indiana University Art Museum (IUAM) is such an institution. With three permanent collection galleries and one special exhibition gallery, this moderately sized museum houses notable holdings of ancient jewelry, the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collections of Pre-Columbian, Oceanic, and African Art, as well as a vast number of prints and drawings from the Renaissance period to the present.

The galleries, totaling 30,000 square feet, are equipped with CCTV coverage to monitor the collections and the public's activities. In addition to motion sensors, door contacts, and other electronic sensors, alarms have been installed on individual exhibition cases.

A recent development for the protection of vulnerable displays is the use of an active infrared (AIR) sensor to create a security curtain. Unlike the commonly used passive infrared (PIR) sensors that detect intrusion by temperature, AIR uses a laser light, which detects intrusion when the beam of light is interrupted.

Magnetic tape applied to the floor around the area to be segregated maintains the laser beam within the security curtain and provides a fairly narrow protective field. This application allows the public to stand at a comfortable viewing distance from each work of art, while providing a protective barrier without stanchions. The system is especially useful for narrow passageways where stanchions can be cumbersome.

Multiple AIRs can be used for displays in the middle of the gallery to provide a protective barrier around the display. An audible alarm attached to a relay gently reminds the public to keep a distance from the paintings, while signaling the officers on gallery post and at the central station. Museum curators are reluctant to place protective glazing over oil paintings, as this is counter to the original intent of the artist. AIR, therefore, offers a compromise for the security, curatorial, and conservation departments.

Special events. Museums are increasingly used for special event receptions--community and university related. Special events hosted at museums around the country increased by 26 percent from 1987 to 1991, according to a survey of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). Cultural events at museums escalated 87 percent during this same period. Concerts, lectures, poetry readings, and films have become part of the normal calendar of events.

Museum administrators were at first wary of making the shift to hosting special events, but this role is likely to continue. No longer is an art museum viewed as merely a repository for art treasures. It is a cultural, social, and political center, embracing a large community with diverse interests.

Although special event receptions generate revenue for the museum, they also create an access control dilemma, especially since these private events frequently occur after hours. Special events should only be allowed to occur in a museum facility when extra security staffing can be provided. A museum's security concerns must be part of the initial planning, and security should never be compromised.

IUAM has hosted many university functions as well as community affairs. Additional security precautions are taken with all the caterers and guests for these events. All details are under the control of the security department. The names and social security numbers of all the caterers and delivery personnel are collected and sent to security prior to the event. The museum's events coordinator and the security manager work closely with outside contact persons to confirm the caterers' arrivals, deliveries, and pick-up schedules.

The identities of delivery and catering personnel are verified by security before they are allowed to enter the facility. These individuals are then escorted by security officers through the loading dock to the reception's set-up site. Extra security officers are usually required, and the caterer and other delivery personnel have to allow extra time for the museum's security personnel to carry out standard operating procedures to safeguard the facility and its assets.

Access control is also necessary at the entrance for guests. A guest list is forwarded to the security department. To gain entry, each guest must provide a printed invitation or his or her name must appear on the guest list.

Some museums have auditoriums well suited to public gatherings, but other areas, such as the galleries, are frequently being co-opted for staging special events. Security managers need to plan access controls carefully and investigate any clauses in the insurance policy that may render an area unsuitable.

Storage areas. Controlling and safeguarding crowds during special events and protecting the exhibitions does not complete the bounds of access control in museums. Storage facilities must also be secured. A museum's art storage rooms may hold as much as three-fourths of a museum's collection. The need for more stringent access control procedures in these areas gained worldwide notice with the case concerning the notable scholar of Chinese Export porcelain, John Quentin Feller.

For eighteen years Feller was given unescorted access to the storage rooms of numerous museums around the world. Unfortunately, the temptation to steal from these facilities proved to be too great. He stole more than 100 cups, saucers, and plates from museums, in part to upgrade lesser collections at other institutions. In an interview with Scranton Times-Tribune reporter John Hambrose, Feller explained that since only a small percentage of a museum's collection is ever on display, he felt the objects were being abused and believed that they should be in a place where people could see and appreciate them. Feller is now serving an eighteen-month prison sentence after pleading guilty in federal court to two counts of interstate transportation of stolen property.

While there are no firm figures on the number of thefts and other types of losses that take place internally in museums, the risk is real. Access controls designed to mitigate the potential for loss must be balanced with the need for curators and other authorized staff members to retrieve works of art from storage for study by students, faculty, and scholars.

At IUAM, study rooms are carefully monitored by authorized museum staff, and records are kept of the visitors using the facility to study individual works of art. Copies of these records are sent to security. The museum's registrar department, which maintains all records concerning the museum's collections and administers the movement of all works of art into and out of the museum, also notifies security about changes in collections.

Every museum has an arrangement regarding its storage facility and its accessibility to staff. While card access is the standard in most industrial and private security applications, museums traditionally have lagged behind the latest technological advances. Since many museums operate on a not-for-profit basis, the lack of resources has inhibited them from upgrading to the latest access control technologies. Proprietary locks and firm key control policies are useful for the majority of museums that have not had the resources to upgrade to card access systems. A computerized database for maintaining information on current and historical key usage is one low-cost solution.

In addition to the tight key control policies for IUAM's restricted rooms, storage drawers holding valuable prints, drawings, and ancient jewelry have been individually alarmed with fiber-optic technology. Universities, colleges, and even corporate sites have been using fiber-optic lockdowns on individual computers and whole computer clusters. If the fiber is severed, an alarm signal is triggered at the central control station.

With the addition of a keypad and an access code for authorized museum staff to bypass the alarm signal, the fiber-optic technology has brought inexpensive additional security to the museum's art storage areas. A computerized audit trail and alarm log of all of the activity occurring at the alarm point is maintained by security. Additional alarming devices, such as motion detection and CCTV, are installed in all storage areas and monitored at the central station.

The curatorial staff has been pleased with the storage drawer alarms, as the arrangement has saved valuable time that was once wasted on the labyrinthine pattern of key retrieval through both the security and the registrar's departments.

The museum's security staff also provides graduate assistants, who aid the curatorial staff in monitoring small classes and individual scholars, with several hours of training in security practices, as well as emergency and evacuation procedures. While these individuals are in no way a replacement for security personnel, the graduate assistants become trusted adjuncts to the security program.

Personnel control. While technology and good policies are critical to any successful security program, hiring honest, professional staff members is the first step. The IUAM's security officers are in plain view of the public. They assist with crowd control for the more than 300 public school tours that visit the museum annually. In each of the exhibition galleries, officers help visitors while maintaining a constant vigilance over the collections.

To provide the security service that the museum requires, security personnel undergo an initial 32-hour training program, which is supplemented throughout the year with ongoing training and computer tutorials. Basic security officer duties, such as report writing, parcel control, and access control, are covered in these training programs. A strong focus is placed on public relations skills and a preventive, rather than reactive, approach to solving problems.

Many university museums use graduate students in adjunct situations, such as the arrangement described at IUAM. The staff often includes interns and volunteers as well. Candidates for these positions must undergo a background investigation, as do any other museum professionals or security officers who may handle or come into contact with the collections, important keys, money, or proprietary information. While an investigation on the student staff is time consuming, especially as a student may be employed for only one semester, it is a necessary precaution.

Before implementing a policy for pre-employment screening and background investigations on museum employees, the security manager should consult with the museum's attorney and human resource manager to determine what kind of investigation is permissible under state guidelines. Many public records are available to employers, but accessing these files takes time.

An invaluable resource tool for security and human resource professionals is The Guide To Background Investigations. This guide is available from National Employment Screening Services at 8801 South Yale, Tulsa, OK 74137, or by calling 800/247-8713. It compiles all of the available resources for accessing criminal conviction records, workers' compensation claims and histories, motor vehicle reports, and educational credentials.

An applicant's fingerprints should be checked through the FBI and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) as part of the screening procedure. Fingerprints should be retained in the employee's file. For security managers working in a university setting, the campus security department can run NCIC and fingerprint checks at no cost.

All employees should fill out a job application, even if a resume is submitted. Personal histories, past addresses, and social security numbers should be verified by the employer. Credit histories should also be checked. Before the museum accesses any of these records, the employee must sign a release authorizing the employer to conduct a background investigation. The museum should take precautions to ensure that this information is kept confidential and not filed with the employee's other employment records.

The university museum is also a part of the microcosm of the university on which it is dependent for its physical facilities, building services, campus police, and other services. The university faculty and other nonmuseum management personnel may have little training in or concern for museum security. This situation requires thoughtful planning and diplomacy by the security manager to manage the terms of entry and limitations of access.

Access for facility personnel should be controlled as though they were outside contractors. They should be escorted to restricted areas, with precautions taken to protect the artwork from accidental damage. They should be instructed to abide by the same access control procedures as any other visitor who visits nonpublic areas, including the prohibition from signing out important keys.

With campus security providing the necessary back-up response for signaling alarms, careful attention should be paid to managing the police response. Many campus security divisions use first- and second-year cadets who have had little or no training in the specific concerns of museum security.

Technology has broadened the scope of applications for museum security; but at the same time, the sophistication of art thieves has also grown, increasing potential risks to the collections. Despite the downsizing of museum staffs, a dedicated security force and its manager are still the most important ingredients needed for the successful implementation of a security program. No definitive blueprint is available for the organizational and operational structuring of a museum, and hence, a formulaic application for all museum access control programs is impossible.

While few common denominators encompass the security operations of all art museums, university and college art museums pose unique challenges not found in other public institutions. The museum security industry has grown into an involved and sophisticated operation. One factor, however, is a constant in the museum community, and that is the spirit of cooperation and dedication with which museum professionals undertake their activities in spite of diminishing resources. This cooperation extends throughout the museum security community. It includes an open networking of security managers and the dissemination of information on solutions to the problems and the risks that threaten their collections and the world's cultural heritage.

Anita Bracalente is protection manager at the Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington, Indiana. She is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Museum Security
Author:Bracalente, Anita
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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