Mad Science Done Sanely

Christina Beargie, floor science manager at COSI in Columbus, Ohio, opened “Mad Science Done Sanely” with a question: “Who does demos where you blow stuff up?” About two thirds of the session’s attendees raised their hands. Beargie responded with a smile, “You are my people.”

And she was right. This session around safety in science demonstrations was excellent for anyone who performs potentially dangerous demonstrations, but it was equally as good for anyone else in a museum setting.

Beargie and the other two presenters, Jennifer Barlup, director of floor experiences at COSI, and Sherry Marshall, VP or education and outreach at the Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, stressed throughout the presentation that each institution is different and science demonstrations vary greatly, so they provided questions to attendees to help guide the planning, organization, and follow through of safety procedures and documentation, as well as crisis management.

Sherry Marshall spoke about the safety in informal science education summit held in September 2015, the idea for which came after an accident involving a fire tornado at a museum in Reno. The organizing group wanted to try to find a way to be proactive as museums to show that the field is serious about safety in our institutions. The summit ultimately produced a list of the top five best practices for safety in science centers:

  1. Create standard operating procedures for every demonstration.
  2. Evaluate personal protection equipment.
  3. Find and understand safety data sheets and symbols.
  4. Have a training plan that includes ongoing training, a plan for new staff, and an emphasis on accountability.
  5. Document everything.

Beargie returned to speak about training and documentation. For training, she suggests that your team discuss the following questions:

  • What already exists? Who is trained, on what are they trained, and who trained them?
  • What laws do you need to follow?
  • What qualifies someone to train someone else?
  • How is training recorded?

For her, some of the most important aspects of safety training are standardizing the process with manuals, checklists, and contracts, and establishing timelines and training schedules. She also reminded everyone to factor training time into the payroll budget!

Beargie suggested these questions regarding logs:

  • How do you log daily or routine occurrences?
  • What kinds of things are you logging?
  • What happens to the logs after they are filled out?
  • Who reviews them and where are they stored?
  • Are there consequences for not complying?

According to her, “If you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen, so record everything.”

Next up was Jennifer Barlup who discussed crisis management plans. She broke it down like this:

Why? The response to a crisis is critical, and the crisis management plan provides team members with a framework for effective communication in the event of a crisis.

How? Make a plan that is easy to use, memorable, and flexible. The response in a crisis needs to be immediate, so there is no time to have to stop and remember who to talk to or where to go.

Who? It is important to plan who takes the initial report of a crisis, who works with first responders, who talks to the media, who contacts leadership, who talks with guests, and who gives the okay to return to normal business. It is also very important to establish a clear chain of command.

Resources from the September summit and examples from the presenters have been uploaded online for anyone to use. You can also join the email list to receive new resources and information about the next summit.