ICOM's International Committee for Museum Security
Le Comité international de l'ICOM pour la sécurité
dans les musées (ICMS)
considerations for museum security
Chairperson of ICMS,
Security advisor of Austrian federal museums, Vienna, Austria
good news is: security is not expensive when you take the
time to analyze risks and to think about security. When
discussing security in museums, the first question is nearly
always how to install an electronic alarm and fire detection
System, and what special type to get. But these electronic
Systems only detect, alarm and announce that something happened
or is happening: they don't actually protect or prevent
a crime or a disaster on their own. A security survey is
the first step when evaluating the protection of col- lections
in a museum. Here, we have to think about protection and
discover how best to implement it - to analyze or survey
it personally, and when possible, professionally. Protection
that is self-sufficient and most effective requires the
thinking and cooperation of everyone. Every staff member
should be expected to provide every cultural object with
at least a minimum level of conservation and protection
care. Museum security and protection are closely linked
with conservation, registration, facilities operation, exhibition,
and public programs. Basic risk management and protection
management analyze risks and dangers to the institution
in order to evaluate risks and dangers to: the area surrounding
the building and its perimeter grounds; physical security
barriers such as for the perimeter of the building, the
exhibition and the storage rooms; management and handling;
and staff and visitors.
should evaluate the security risks and dangers of, or to:
area surrounding the building and its perimeter grounds:
it isolated or located together or near other houses? On
a busy or a quiet street? Near taller structures or places
that people frequent after hours? Is it known for vandalism
and other crimes? (The location of a museum determines much
of the level of security required.)
The perimeter grounds of the museum: Is the edge of the
property protected completely by a fence or high wall ?
Do trees or other small buildings nearby compromise the
barrier? How strong are the perimeter doors or gates ? How
effective is the control of people and objects through that
door or gate ? Are there internal compartments ? Open-air
museum structures covering a large area are museum objects
similar to buildings and open-air exhibits on a large property.
(We remember that perimeters are only as strong as their
weakest points. For example, when there are large, thick
walls and a tiny door, we cannot forget to evaluate the
security strength of the walls.)
don't forget that any perimeter is only as strong as the
weakest point. Because all exterior openings are risks,
it is cheaper and better security to have as few as possible.
Every gate, door, window, utility space, ventilation duct,
chimney and skylight should be closed to entry permanently,
or locked. Exterior walls and fences must be free of vegetation
for climbing, and overhanging trees or wires, which should
be checked regularly. Every fence or wall should have a
height of at least 2.5 meters or 8 feet. Exterior wall and
fence security can be improved aesthetically with glass
on the top of walls and lighting that can attract a passerby
to notice someone who does not belong, and in unseen, more
dangerous places, with barbed or razor wire.
property lines that are clear of other activities should
carry signs declaring no entry during closed hours, and
can be equipped with microwave detection exterior lights
that turn on only when something approaches.
The physical strength of the building exterior on all sides
and top: Is it a strong, solid construction ? Are doors,
windows, and other openings, including above and below,
closed, locked, and checked or equipped with an alarm? Are
the openings and walls of similar strength? How effective
is the control of people and objects through doors and gates
? (Almost any opening can be weakened, enlarged, and penetrated
by a small person.)
many areas, every opening in a wall, roof or basement larger
than 620 sq cm or 96 sq in, with at least 15cm or 6 in on
one side, is considered vulnerable to entry. Exterior doors,
gates and entry drives should be easily watched from a distance
and clearly indicate that they are closed and locked. Doors,
windows, gates and hatches in areas that are not easily
seen require higher security. Some fire brigades permit
an electronic delay unlock on emergency exit doors so that
a guard can inspect before the door opens. Window openings
require locked closure everywhere they can be reached by
climbing. Opening windows can be closed and locked with
key-controlled plungers, turn screws, or a simple pin or
screw. Wood or glass shutters require bars or grilles of
steel inside the opening. Windows not easily seen should
be reinforced with steel bars or alarms. The greatest security
problem for windows is that staff forget to close and lock
them. Museums must have control of all keys used there:
every extra key not known about or accounted for is a hole
in the museum's security perimeter. The most important exterior
door key belongs only to the director, the person who opens
each morning, and sometimes the police or fire brigade.
Any keys not signed to staff should be accounted for and
kept in a keybox that is locked and controlled by the museum
protection officer. High security keys such as storage room
keys should be locked in the museum keybox each night and
signed out each day by an authorized staff member only.
local physical security barrier standards and prepare to
comply with them for your building when making repairs,
carrying out restoration, renovation or new construction.
all exhibit objects under personal guard, under glass cover,
or out of reach (59 in\l m) by rope, railing, no-step sub
surface area, platform or elevation ? Are all work or construction
areas separated from the public? Are all exhibit areas patrolled
regularly and thoroughly during public times ? Are there
instructions and requirements for immediate response to
exhibit alarms? Is there control of the maximum number of
visitors to each area? (Innovative physical separation of
objects from reach by plants, collection tables and chairs,
or decorative construction can reduce security glass requirements
to almost nothing.) Security alarm system checks are reviewed
in an article by Serge Leroux, so here we will only discuss
how everyone must be a security guard in one way or another.
We, the directors, scientists and other museum staff generally
think more about presenting exhibition items to the public
in the most aesthetic and interesting form and combination
possible, with a popular catalogue. We seldom fully consider
the full product that the museum visitor experiences, nor
do we fully prepare the staff to serve them: the docents,
volunteers, guards, and shop staff. Museums can give twice
as much of a positive impression if their service staff,
including guards, are prepared to represent the museum as
competent, well dressed, informed and friendly people. But
we must accept and compensate for the fact that service
staff, who include guards, are human beings whom we generally
pay the least in the museum. We pay the guard the least
to do the most varied and critical things, from giving first
aid, evacuating people from the building, saving paintings
or other objects during emergencies, extinguishing fires,
and risking personal life to stop violence and theft.
large museums and a few consultants have developed "customer
service" training programs and manuals for guard staff.
ICMS is encouraging these to serve more institutions and
is promoting the development of a guard training program
on CD-ROM with our French colleagues for the guards of Direction
des Musées de France. Some museums employ their own security
staff and some museums trust a security company for guard
staff, often for economical reasons. Good security from
either one requires that the museum controls who works,
that everyone who works there has been investigated first,
and that guard staff services provide good security and
represent the museum very well. Security company services
require more precise definition, legal responsibility, and
supervision. Security staff are more effective when they
consider themselves appreciated and accepted by all staff.
An effective security staff with low pay and much responsibility
requires a motivating compensation other than money: including
them in museum meetings, plans, and benefits; respecting
their duties and responsibilities to check staff and visitors;
and treating security staff as the loyal stewards of museums
that we want them to be.
storage and other high value area perimeters:
these perimeters complete on the sides, top and bottom with
barriers, locks and alarms? Are collection storage and other
high value areas devoid of water and sewer pipes? Are these
areas away from exterior walls ? Are locks, keys and personal
entry restricted to the fewest persons ? Are "other visitors"
required to have an escort at all times? Are the high security
keys kept in the museum at all times under control? Are
records maintained of keys, personal entries, and object
removals? (Accurate, regular collection inventory and inventory
checks are the most effective prevention of internal theft.)
As almost everybody might guess, the risks to a museum and
a collection increase along with the threats. There is a
relationship between the risk of burglary and the value
of an object: it naturally depends on different points of
view. In low income countries, a higher risk will be taken
for a lower value than in countries where people earn more
money. A smaller and more ex- pensive specimen will be stolen
more quickly and easily than a larger, cheaper one. A local
expensive object is a better target for a thief than a well
publicised and well-known one )(1).
Hoare's 1990 British booklet Security for Museums,
is fundamentally sound risk management. It is as strong
as it is simple, sup- ported by the Area Museums Council
and sponsored by local insurance sources, suggesting that
we should "think like a thief".
Are the collections worth stealing?
How would I enter the building at night - what are the
weak points [of the structure] ?
Will anyone hear\see me ?
How long will it take?
Are the objects I want easy to remove ?
How easily can I escape?
Can I overcome any alarm system (if there is one); how
quick is the police response [if I set off an alarm] ?
Is it easier to steal items by day or by night?
like a burglar"
of entries and exits is one part of perimeter security,
with barrier protection and checking by guards and alarms.
is important when we open all protection doors each day,
and struggle to make objects on show as open and accessible
to every visitor as possible. "Open to the public" must
involve controlled access, measured carefully by the museum
you have control of persons at the entries and exits,
legally and physically? Where can one check bags and other
luggage for visitors ? How or who checks objects leaving
through each entry? (Anyone can, and somebody eventually
will, attempt to bring into your building every possible
thing from weapons to explosives to criminal theft and
Do you take special measures to protect high value exhibits
which are physically unprotected and small enough to be
carried out easily, such as small statues not fixed by
screws to walls or pedestals; paintings fixed only by
normal hooks; coins or gems shown in unprotected showcases
or those with very old locks which are easy to open? (Any
small object that can be hidden on a person should be
fixed firmly to walls or pedestals, or put into well closed,
Are exhibitions sufficiently protected from touch and
removal: Are uncovered objects out of reach? Do showcases
prevent a person from entering with a wire to remove objects?
Are showcases strongly built, locked and without vulnerable
hinges or sliding doors ? Does the showcase glass prevent
smashing for theft removal? Are keys controlled and their
issue recorded on paper? (Any professional thief can identify
your exhibition case lock by its appearance and return
with keys or devices to open it.)
For outside exhibitions in sculpture gardens, open-air
museums and parks:
Are there adequate alarm and guard checks in all areas
of concern? Are visitors guided by psychological barriers
such as doors, walls, and glass, and controlled by physical
barriers such as ropes, railings and landscape that discourages
walking? Can vandalism and fire be discovered quickly?
(Psychological barriers that keep an object beyond the
reach of a hand, when rein- forced by other security measures,
are much more pleasing to visitors than glass. Examples
include flower-beds, water without a simple or clear bottom,
historically recreated fences, less valuable objects in
front at a lower level, even simply mud) (2).
like a burglar or thief, you could ask yourself:
Are there exhibits in dark corners or rooms . without guard
2. Are they easy to pick up and remove ?
3. Would they fit into a small bag or under my coat?
4. Where is there an unsupervised, quick exit?
5. Is there an inconsistent security check at the exit?
questions by burglars or thieves are also questions for
museum protection managers and different members of museum
staff to ask, answer, and correct, in order to make security
everybody's business in as economical a way as possible
for every museum. Internal theft is one of the saddest facts
that we have to face up to and address: this is theft by
curators, other staff, researchers, volunteers and even
by directors and trusted board members. Statistics and analysis
show that there is more risk from trusted staff than from
is totally impossible to have all staff consciously and
unconsciously 100 % honest at all times, without their being
fooled into dishonesty or deceived into defrauding. Nearly
every museum in the world has bad experiences in this matter.
It can happen in large as well as in small museums.
saying in German, Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle ist besser,
which means Being confident is good, but being in control
is better, lends itself well to museum security interests.
Even when there is no suspicion of internal loss, unannounced
controls in storage rooms should be started. Storage room
entrances should be restricted to the least number of persons.
Regular museum goods and activities do not belong in storage.
should be a voluntary signature register book next to the
door, preferably next to a closed-circuit television (CCTV)
camera which is monitored and recorded in color. It is better
to discover irregularities early, before they grow, than
to regret loss or crime later.
a personal example, it came as a big surprise to the staff
of a well known European coin collection about fifty years
ago when their director died suddenly and they found out
that some of the coins had been reported stolen years before.
The police had carried out investigations without success.
Some of the coins were found in the director's desk, and
others were traced to his dealings from time to time on
the black market. It should not surprise the reader that
this also happens today, in many places in the world. When
this happens in a museum where the only cultural heritage
of the country is stored in the same place as its documentation,
then both the objects and the documentation will be lost,
fundamentally, forever. Sometimes personal influence and
political instability increase the risk to this danger,
where museums are affected by those looking for financial
influence or money itself.
and scientists can be as devastating to collections as staff.
While volunteers do not have much museum responsibility
where they are working or helping, they know the places
where museum valuables are stored, and the circumstances
governing them. They know the common practices of the staff,
and they can find out very easily where the keys are kept,
what cabinets are not locked, and which pieces are not inventoried
researchers or scientists who are given access to work with
collection materials should have their credentials checked
before they arrive. Some "collecting" thieves establish
their own titles, offices and credentials.
trusted staffer should telephone, fax or email several of
the references given rather than only the last one, or what
seems to be the most important one. Many thefts by researchers
and scientists from study collections in museums, libraries
and archives are not discovered for years because of a failure
to check at the start. Years ago the Vienna Coin Collection
was visited by a so-called "researcher" who introduced himself
as a specialist on early coins from Belgium and the Netherlands,
declaring that he wanted to publish a new book about this
period. When he arrived, the staff learned through discussions
about the material that he was actually a numismatist specializing
in this material. Little did the staff know that he was
also a specialist in exchanging coins. After his visit,
we found that unique and very rare coins in our collection
had been replaced by well-known coins of the region. At
that time our security practices were in their infancy,
with a simple signature register, where we found the same
name as the one he had given in his letters. We informed
the local the police because the researcher had already
returned to his home country. But we informed the police
about specific stolen objects, as well as details of the
theft and the thief himself. We learned through the police
that he had also stolen from coin collections in Denmark
and Germany. He was caught, tried in a Viennese court and
was condemned to two years prison, but the coins were never
then, we only allow researchers and others to work with
our material after completing a questionnaire and showing
their passports. Then they are only allowed to work at a
special table, where they are not allowed to bring bags
or other belongings, and where they are recorded by CCTV
camera with tape recordings.
Further perimeter evaluations and integrated security applications
can be found in the 1995 ICMS text on "Thinking like a thief",
Museum Security and Protection - A Handbook/or Cultural
Heritage Institutions from Routledge Publishing, an
Further perimeter evaluations and integrated security solutions
appear in the 1995 ICMS text Museum Security and Protection
- A Handbook for Cultural Heritage Institutions from
Routledge Publishing, an ICOM publication.
sécurité dans les musées ne consiste pas seulement en dépenses
coûteuses, elle englobe des mesures très simples, telles
que l'évaluation des risques et des dangers à l'extérieur
et à l'intérieur d'un bâtiment ou d'une zone spécifique,
le contrôle du bâtiment, de son environnement, des espaces
d'exposition et des réserves. Outre ces contrôles externes,
il importe d'effectuer des contrôles internes, tels que
la surveillance des accès du personnel et des visiteurs
aux espaces privés du musée. Il faut également toujours
garder à l'esprit qu'être confiant c'est bien mais garder
le contrôle c'est mieux. Ce sont les principales considérations
et questions qu'il faut respecter avant de penser aux équipements
électroniques, tels que les alarmes automatiques ou les
systèmes de vidéo-surveillance....