Prevent Heists With ASIS’s Museum Security Standards

By Daniel Young | March 21, 2024 | 3 min read
Museum security

There’s a reason the museum heist is a staple of adventure stories. Movies often portray thieves using acrobatics and gadgets to circumvent sophisticated security technology and well-trained personnel in order to steal priceless works of art. The reality is much different.

Take the example of Stéphane Breitwieser, who stole an estimated total of $2 billion in art from almost 200 museums in Europe between 1994 and 2001. Breitwieser was caught in 2001, after having stolen 239 pieces of art. His thefts happened during museum hours, while security officers and other museum personnel were at work and other visitors were on site. The reason he was able to steal so much? Breitwieser targeted small museums with relaxed security; he was able to remove paintings from frames and artifacts from cases and walk out with art hidden under his jacket.

Museums are vital cultural sites for all communities.They are incredibly important when it comes to educating the public and preserving information and experiences that might otherwise be lost. To preserve this shared culture, it’s critical that all museums, regardless of size, adhere to best practices for security.

Is there a standard for museum security?

The most important document for museum security is currently the Suggested Practices for Museum Security, created by ASIS International and the American Association of Museums. The Suggested Practices aren’t a true regulatory standard. Instead they are a list of recommendations for museums and cultural sites created by the top experts in the field of museum security.

The recommendations are voluntary because museums are so diverse; a museum can be an historic house or site, a library, or a gallery, so not every recommendation will apply to every site. Additionally, museums are funded differently, and not every site is able to fund the same level of security, or has enough staff to implement every guideline.

The challenges with assessment at smaller museums

Small museums with few resources do use the museum security guidelines, however, we’ve discovered that many institutions are using spreadsheets to conduct the assessments as well as to track their risk and vulnerabilities.

While this is understandable — spreadsheets are inexpensive and provide a do-it-yourself approach to security for small and underfunded organizations — there are several issues with using a spreadsheet to track risk.

For example, spreadsheets are vulnerable to errors, especially if the whole staff has access to the document. Colleagues can accidentally change formulas and affect the entire organization with a single mistake. Or worse, multiple versions of the same document might be created, causing confusion.

For small cultural sites that need to track risk, it might be best to skip the spreadsheet and explore another kind of remediation tool.

Using digital remediation tools to track risk

Museums, like other organizations, are adopting more and more digital tools. It makes sense to digitize the risk assessment process as well.

Circadian Risk’s digital platform enables assessors to evaluate your site on a tablet as they walk your facility, taking pictures and notes synced to your site’s floor plan or map. Rather than writing up a report, the assessment data is then immediately turned into a checklist for remediation. This checklist is a living document, reflecting remediations as soon as they are made, and it is also the single source of truth — there is just one version, securely stored on the cloud.

We are able to turn any standard, including open source standards like the Suggested Practices for Museum Security, into a digital checklist that will help your team assess risk.

What other security standards would you like to see offered on our platform? Contact Circadian Risk and let us know.

Are you ready to improve your organization’s risk management?

See Circadian Risk In Action Now
Schedule FREE Demo