Loss of Power | Art’s Nemesis Post Hurricane

Posted October 23, 2015
Image © EUMETSAT 2015

Image © EUMETSAT 2015

As the people of Mexico brace for the strongest hurricane on record, I thought it might be a good time to review windstorm facts and preparedness strategies for art collections.  Even though the actual disaster will not hit the shores of the US, a storm like this can send torrential rains into the Southern states, causing significant flooding.  While many collectors are prepared for the physical battering of a storm – most damage is actually caused by the after effects.

During hurricanes, the majority of personal art collections are unharmed by wind and debris damage.  For the most part, collector’s homes withstand the brunt of the force due to our awareness of good design, proper construction, and location.  But no matter how well a home is built, it can have other weaknesses that we are often less mindful of.

In the subsequent weeks following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the number one cause of loss to art and collectibles was lack of environmental control.  In the wake of super-storm Sandy, over 100,000 homes had standing water in their basements and lack of power.  The storms and flooding debilitated the electrical grid, turning off air-conditioners and water pumps allowing high temperatures and humidity to give mold growth free reign, and high waters to infiltrate homes, soaking their contents.  Even collections stored in art warehouses and museums were susceptible.

Making matters worse, catastrophic storms and severe hurricanes warrant massive evacuations – meaning that after the storm has passed there are few people left to turn on generators, relocate objects to higher ground, or help restore the home so that it can maintain it’s internal environment.  Disastrous events also block roads, destroy bridges, and make the general prospect of returning home difficult. With the assumption that your beloved collection may be on it’s own for a while, preparations should be made in advance.

Having spent over a decade helping art insurance clients, I have pulled together some recommendations to specifically address the perils of water intrusion and mold growth.


  • For major hurricanes, contract with an art warehouse to relocate sensitive and high value objects to their facility, making sure to only use facilities with independent, self-sustaining back-up generators. Having a generator that requires diesel fuel when there are no people to fill the fuel tank will not be of much help.
  • For items left in a secured home, install a back-up power, natural gas generator with automatic relay, capable of powering your environmental controls, water pumps, the security system, and minimal lighting. In some regions, a solar panel array may be useful.  The goal is to reduce humidity levels, and minimize standing water.
  • Take advantage of the ability to monitor environmental controls through your security system. Technology allows homeowners to see in real-time what is happening inside their home and know for a fact that the electricity went out, the generator kicked-in, the HVAC is circulating and/or cooling the air, and ideally that humidity levels are being maintained at tolerable levels.
  • Maintain a separate set of important documents and contact numbers. Make use of the “cloud” for some document storage – it can be very secure and doesn’t require physically carrying the information as you evacuate.  Also consider hard copies of crucial documents to take with you, or are accessible in another state.
  • Try not to rely exclusively on third parties to maintain copies of your keys or access information, even for contracted storage facilities: many times facility staff are part of the evacuation and access can be limited.
  • As part of your contacts list, have qualified resources outside your region. These are the companies and people who will most likely be available and able to help with personal property issues once the response to human rescue and safety are managed. Disaster response teams such as those from the Conservation Center in Chicago are trained and ready to enter catastrophe zones all over the country in order to protect and save valuable collections.
  • Remember: your insurance broker, insurance company, and art advisors are here to help you. They often have additional referral sources and contracted resources prepared to enter a catastrophe zone in the case of a claim.  Chubb Personal Insurance maintains a vetted network of specialist vendors to refer to policyholders, and other companies will have their own resources.

For guidance on caring for your collection or preparing protection strategies, contact BMS Art.