How do I protect my art from damage caused by natural disasters?

South Africans are blessed to live in an environment where we are seldom threatened by natural disasters. We do experience veld and forest fires, flooding, hail storms etc, but have mostly been spared the damage from tsunamis, tornado and hurricanes.

Our friends in the US are often threatened with these natural disasters and several programmes on television have alerted us to these threats captured on camera by tornado chasers etc.

It would be appropriate at this time to learn from our friends and colleagues in the insurance industry in the US on how to best protect ourselves from these natural disasters. With the severe impact from Hurricane Irene projected for coastal areas from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to New England including Richmond , Washington , D.C., Baltimore , Philadelphia and New York, insurance companies have alerted clients to the importance of proper insurance.

One of these insurers is AXA Art in North America. Axa Art has offered important recommendations to their clients in a Hurricane Disaster Plan and we would like to share these recommendations.

Christiane Fischer, President and CEO of AXA Art’s North American operations advises art owners that “Maintaining a loss prevention plan of action to be implemented during tropical storms and hurricanes can help to deter damage or loss of prized art and collectible and can prepare collectors to deal with damages should they occur.”

In light of the threat from Hurricane Irene we would like to share the recommendations from a checklist provided by AXA Art.

Checklist to protect Art from Natural Disasters

  1. Secure a list of emergency telephone numbers which includes those of your insurance agents/brokers, insurance company (note your policy number), conservators, art storage facility and local freeze dry facilities. Keep an extra copy with your insurance agent.
  2. Secure your list of fine art inventory with images of each work, name of artist or maker, title, dimensions, media and year. This should include invoices for each of your valuables.
  3. Protect your documents by securing important papers in water- and fire-proof safes or storage boxes. In addition, keep a copy of all documentation at a separate, secure location.
  4. Consider a hurricane evacuation plan for your art collection. Contact local art storage facilities that could potentially provide secured storage space prior to the arrival of the Tropical Storm or Hurricane. Alternatively, you may wish to build a storm closet within your home.
  5. In the absence of a hurricane evacuation plan, install a HVAC climate control system with a back-up generator, which can protect against rising humidity levels that can damage artwork.
  6. Prepare your home by adding protective hurricane shutters and roof hurricane clips.
  7. Make sure you have supplies to be able to bolt down outside furniture before the storm approaches.
  8. Prepare a stock of emergency supplies to include flashlights, fans, dehumidifiers, hurricane lamps and oil, matches, battery-operated AM/FM radio with extra batteries and coolers. If you have an emergency generator, make sure it is above possible high water levels. Include a waterproof instant camera to use to document any damage.
  9. In preparation for potential evacuation of an approaching storm, each household member should have a backpack ready and include a change of clothing, bottled water, nonperishable food items such as granola bars, as well as an up-to-date list of any medications with dosage information. Include all doctors’ names and phone numbers. Also include contact and meeting information for the household, child care supplies or special care items.

It will always remain important for the insured client to be prepared and not to expose the insured art or insurable interest to unnecessary risks. Best advice will be to communicate with your insurer and to hear what your obligations might be and what might be required from you not only in securing your art, but also in the unfortunate event of a claim for damages or loss suffered!

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