Thomas Schuler


The Web.
An efficient tool after the flood catastrophe

(Revised version, 2004 / Jan / 01)

Our special website on floods became - unexpectedly for us – a key factor in communicating after the floods as well as in organizing help. The “Saxon Museums Association” started this service already on August 17th; since September 7th an English version is available. Every evening these pages were updated.

Like all other actions during these dramatic days, our web service was not planned and we had no pattern that could be copied. There was no time to cooperate with web professionals; an emergency site has to be produced immediately and with simple means. In trying to cope with an unexpected catastrophe we just had to react and to find out day by day what is needed most. According to the changing needs we quickly developed this site and added many new elements. 

The potential and advantages of web communication changed as well during different periods of crisis.

1) How it began: breakdown of communication

Communication within Saxony had become extremely difficult. When floods came mail service had to be stopped, but very soon phones and computers run into difficulties, too. As power failed, telephone installations with extensions (and fax) and computing systems could no longer operate. Rising water sooner or later has put single phones (and even complete area nets) out of service as well. 

Cellular phones were a very limited help, because some relay stations were flooded or without power. The cellular nets operated above capacity; therefore authorities instantly asked the public not to use cellular phones, because emergency and rescue services needed the remaining facilities. And when phoning you had to make it short, because people in flooded areas could not recharge their storage batteries - a fact that limited strongly the use of  mobile computers, too.

2) Re-establishing communication

A "communication society" is quite helpless, when all sophisticated systems brake down. When we tried to get first information on the state of museums in flooded areas, we had to call the very busy emergency lines of town or district administrations. In order to get into contact with museum people, we had to find out, who is living in a non affected part of the town; moreover we looked for nearby living relatives, friends or colleagues, who could meet personally one of the museum staff.

When all attempts had failed, we resorted to drastic measures: We sent a "scout" (with "credentials" of our association), who had to try to pass the police road barriers protecting the devastated towns from thieves and catastrophe tourists.

Under these conditions e-mails were helpful for several reasons:  As most people were helping and working outdoors, e-mails were the best way to send them longer messages. Only few museum colleagues could receive fax messages at home, and museum offices were situated in flooded town centres. For many days therefore exchange of texts was possible only via e-mail attachments.

3) First support

Libraries and bookshops in flooded towns cannot be used. So if  museum professionals need information, web sites are the best available. Especially if you have to cope with a problem you never before had to deal with, you are glad to get very detailed advice. Some associations of  archives and libraries permanently offer on their sites special pages on "first aid" for books, paper documents and photos as well as checklists for emergency situations and rescue operations; other institutes quickly supplied the most needed information including addresses of specialists and firms. As time is a very important factor, when you try to rescue soaked books or files in a hot summer, this service was extremely helpful.

The main networks and mailing lists reacted quickly as well. H- Museum and provided topical information and link lists.

Our site informed on partnerships between museums. So every museum wanting to help could see which museum is still without a partner. (Fortunately it soon went the other way round: We had far more museums ready to help than museums in need.) We also compiled and published a catalogue of damages, so everybody could see what kind of help is needed at the different museums.

4) Spreading information

Watching horror pictures on TV, museum professionals all over Germany were very worried about their colleagues in Saxony. Therefore a listing of affected and not affected museums was one of the first sections in our site. In the beginning this list was dominated by question marks, but they disappeared day by day. 

Later on we decided to present the most damaged museums. Unfortunately the official Website "Museums in Saxony" with its "Guide to Saxon Museums" as well as the website of Dresden State Art Collections was not available in the first weeks, because their Dresden based server (Ministry of Science and Art) was out of service. As substitute we collected basic information on the 20 most damaged museums. Because many people, museums and associations in Germany asked, how they could help with direct donations, we added donation accounts of all damaged museums. As we noticed, that tourism in Saxony is heavily declining, we collected and published the date of reopening of our museums.

Federal Republic and some national cultural foundations developed schemes for financial support. As this became a quite complicated and constantly changing matter, we supplied precise information on this vital issue for the affected museums.

When we had solved our main information problems in Saxony, we turned our view across the border and compiled information on museums in Sachsen-Anhalt, Brandenburg and the Czech Republic.



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