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The Art of Emergency Preparedness by Kerry Parks

Kerry Parks sculpting a glass flower in the Hot Shop of the Coastal Arts Center in Orange Beach, Alabama.

FROM COLLEGE TO THE REAL WORLD

I found a passion for glass art in college and was fortunate enough to begin working at the Hot Shop of the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, Alabama, after graduation. In addition to my responsibilities as a teaching instructor, I’m also responsible for maintaining the equipment. Unfortunately, receiving a BFA in glass from a university did not prepare me to manage glass equipment in emergency situations, so I had to start asking questions and create my own plan of action.

Parks putting the finishing touches on the top portion of a cylindrical vase.

LEARNING YOUR EQUIPMENT

Understanding how your equipment works will help you to better protect it in the event of an emergency. In 2013, we purchased a new glass furnace from Wet Dog Glass, and I got to know the owner, Eddie Bernard. Eddie is a proud supporter of CERF+ and serves on its board of directors. I wanted to learn more about the construction of these particular types of furnaces, so I joined him in a complete teardown/rebuild of the glass furnace in the hot shop at the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina. While we were at Penland, we began to discuss the specifics of my preparedness plans, and Eddie directed me to CERF+’s Studio Safety Guide. It took me several years, but I finally put together a plan.

NATURAL DISASTERS & THE UNEXPECTED

The furnace is the heart of the studio and has to be kept on 24-7 to keep the glass molten. The nature of this piece of equipment requires fast action in a loss of power or gas, as a rapid loss of heat could do significant damage and could be expensive and time consuming to repair. As we are located on the Gulf Coast, our main threats are hurricanes or other major storms that can bring flooding, tornadoes, and high winds that cause power or gas outages. Sometimes we get advance notice of an impending storm and have time to prepare; other times there is little to no warning, and we are forced to act quickly. Natural disasters and storms are obvious threats, but disturbances caused by construction, a car crashing into a telephone pole, or a windy day can easily disrupt the power or gas and wreak havoc on your studio. It’s always best to be prepared and have a plan of action.

Parks adds bits of glass to a jellyfish during a glassblowing demonstration.

HOW TO STAY PREPARED

We use a Sensaphone at the Hot Shop to remotely monitor our glass furnace and alert us of any issues or disruptions of power. My Sensaphone will automatically call our electrician if I don’t answer. We have a portable generator on standby that will run for about twelve hours per tank, as well as backup fuel. Obviously, if you can afford it, an automatic generator for your furnace would be the best option and eliminate any lag time between power outages and restarting the furnace.

In certain situations, such as a mandatory evacuation, it would be best to empty your furnace and begin the shutdown process as soon as possible so you can get to safety in time and minimize the danger to your equipment. Some emergencies are difficult to prepare for, so it’s always a good idea to have insurance if you have expensive equipment in your workspace. If you have a home studio, it’s important to make sure the plan you purchase will cover your losses in the event of an emergency. CERF+’s Studio Protector has an excellent section about business insurance plans for artists.

It’s also a good idea to have replacement parts for your furnace on hand. It’s expensive, but I’ve slowly been purchasing spare parts and putting them aside. Not only are these parts expensive, but they can take weeks to ship and cause significant delays to your operation. Thankfully, there are some ways to get started, even if you don’t have a big budget. CERF+’s Get Ready Grant program awards individual artists working in craft disciplines up to $500 to take actions that will help safeguard their studios, protect their careers, and prepare for emergencies.

No plan is 100% effective, and natural disasters of a certain magnitude can damage even the most prepared studio. The bottom line is that you can never be too prepared. Invest in a solid emergency plan today, and you and your studio will be safer and more likely to weather the storm in the future.

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