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Writing an Emergency Response Plan

All those who look after heritage assets have a responsibility to ensure an effective and proportionate emergency response plan is in place. This is an important part of heritage management.

Emergency Response Plans document the actions to take during an emergency. The aim is to ensure salvage operations are undertaken safely and that damage and long term deterioration of the building and its contents are minimised.

The plan should be easy to understand and accessible to any authorised person who needs to use it. Documents should be presented in the order they are likely to be used and contain only those documents you will need during an incident.

One copy of the salvage plan should be kept in a secure location on site and another securely held elsewhere on site or off site by a responsible person.

These Emergency Response Plan templates can be downloaded free of charge. They are, mostly, simple Word documents and tables. They provide a basis on which you can prepare an emergency plan which suits your needs. Advice on completion can also be downloaded, free.

Emergency Response Plan Templates

Download the templates as word documents or as PDFs with directional notes. These directional notes give help in red text as to how you can adapt the template for the needs of your organisation.

For Houses

Download House Templates (4.5 MB .ZIP)

How to adapt the templates: House templates with directional note (2.7 MB .PDF)

For Churches

Download Church Templates (21.6 MB .ZIP)

How to adapt the templates: Church templates with directional note (3.7 MB .PDF)

Notes on how to write an emergency plan

The Historic England emergency plan template is intended to provide procedures and guidelines most likely to be used in an emergency situation.  Please be aware that Historic England cannot be held responsible for the adaptation of this template which must be tailored to your own situation, checked, tested and maintained by you.

The emergency plan

In its simplest form, an emergency plan is just a collection of contacts, instructions and guidance aimed at supporting response activity in what could be a challenging environment. It involves:

  • Compiling an emergency contact list
  • Making decisions about prioritising objects in collections
  • Ensuring locations of those key objects are clearly recorded

The Fire & Rescue Service may undertake some object salvage on your behalf so the inclusion of site and room plans is another key element.

An emergency plan should highlight locations where salvaged objects might be recovered to, and who might undertake emergency object treatment.  Once a plan has been established, further consideration must be given to plan maintenance and training.  It is important to ensure that the plan is kept up to date and that those who use the plan know how to deal with emergency situations.

This template is presented in three sections,

  1. The first, 'React', is the most important.  This section contains the relevant details needed to undertake initial response to an emergency and, as such, needs to be easily accessible at the front of the plan.  It should follow a logical order, for example evacuation procedures followed by a contact list and then a site plan pin-pointing utility shut off points and hazards to Fire-fighters.  
  2. The second section, 'Handling & Treating Objects' offers basic guidance on initial treatment for objects according to material type.  
  3. The third section, 'Guidance and Reference', provides a selection of documents users can refer to whilst undertaking incident response activities. These range from incident management structures to object documentation guidance and how to secure salvaged objects. These can be tailored to your site by adding, removing or altering the documents according to your needs.  You can also move some or all of these documents to the "React" section, if you want to. 

Plans will vary in scope and detail according to the size and complexity of the premises concerned. 

Smaller establishments may only need a contact list and a room plan. 

Large premises such as museums, historic houses and art galleries will require detailed plans. This could include:

  • The personnel responsible for salvage operations
  • A contact list for management teams
  • Service providers
  • Site and building plans
  • Salvage priorities
  • Salvage procedures for the removal of items (grab sheets)
  • Specialist facilities for the temporary storage and emergency treatment of objects according to their material
  • Arrangements for the longer-term storage or treatment of salvaged material. 

There are many ways to present priority object information such as in list format, large scale floor plans with object information added. Choose which ever works best for your organisation. 

Grab sheets

Historic England suggests preparing individual grab sheets for each priority object. This ensures objects are rescued in the correct order, with, if the incident allows, those of the highest significance first.

The grab sheet consists of:

  • A floor plan with the room of the priority item highlighted clearly along with a close up of the exact location within the room. 
  • A photograph of the item is added along with details of how to remove the object, including manual handling instructions and equipment requirements.

To help salvage teams identify objects quickly, a simple description is sometimes more useful than the proper object title; for example (see image) we refer to the Gray Teal (Anas gracilis), simply as a taxidermy duck, which is what most people would identify with. If a room is filled with similar items all of significant value, however daunting the task may be, it is still worth sorting them into an order of removal.

Items may be prioritised according to their ownership, historic significance, rarity or size and ease of removal. If a priority item is too large or heavy to move, or if the very fabric of the room is important, such as a hand painted wallpaper, then the grab sheet would indicate to divert threats away or protect in situ. It may be helpful to keep detailed photographic records of in situ objects so that should the worst happen and they are damaged, they can be repaired. The example below shows the front and reverse of a typical two-sided salvage grab sheet.

Historic England suggests laminating all documents in the Emergency Response Plan. You may need to use them in adverse weather and this helps make the documents more hard wearing.

Pages from a response plan grab sheet labelling an object's location and appearance
A grab sheet used to quickly identify priority items in a salvage operation © Historic England

Training and Testing

A plan will need to be maintained once it is written, and one of the best ways to do this is by testing it. Regular training exercises aid this process and ensure that the people using the plan are familiar with it. Training which is practiced under simulated conditions using the emergency plan, often provides the most realistic feedback in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of the plan. Desktop or practical training exercises could include reading plans, using grab sheets, manual handling and carrying out emergency treatment to damaged mock objects. These practices should also periodically include a joint exercise with the Fire & Rescue Service, if possible.

Please contact EmergencyPlanning@historicengland.org.uk should you require further help with building your plan.

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