The journalist was not having it. He tailed the museum director out the door. “Are you looting the museum for your own personal means?” he demanded. “I totally saw you slip something into your car earlier today.”
Obviously, the emergency evacuation of the state museum of “Smithsonia” was not going according to plan.
This scene played out at the Smithsonian on a recent Wednesday afternoon, during an exercise in which a group of cultural-heritage professionals and emergency responders tried to evacuate the fictional Smithsonia museum after a pretend cyclone. They had all come to Washington, D.C., for the weeklong Heritage Emergency and Response Training, or HEART, hoping to learn how museums can plan for natural disasters or even war.
The HEART organizers did not make it easy: The museum’s collection was scattered and uncatalogued, the staff were largely absent, the aforementioned reporter was snooping around for dirt, and the museum’s director was, well, you already know. To successfully evacuate the museum, the team would have to navigate egos, bureaucracies, and public opinion—plus move dozens of fragile objects.
These included a cabinet of ceramics (to be individually Bubble Wrapped), several framed drawings (also to be Bubble Wrapped), and a giant, crumbling flag (to be carefully rolled up and supported atop a bed of cut-up boxes). All of these had to be lifted down a set of stairs, through a narrow tunnel, back up the stairs, out the door, down an outdoor path, and back into another building. All in an hour.