March 7, 2012

Smithsonian Institute's National Conference on Cultural Property Protection at The Getty Feb. 27-29

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Conference on Cultural Property Protection was held February 27 through 29 at The Getty here in Los Angeles.

The first day at The Getty Center in Brentwood, which I missed, included presentations titled “Domestic Terrorism” (Jim McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office); “Year-in-Review” (Bob Combs, Director of Security at The J. Paul Getty Trust); “Natural Disasters” (Dr. Lucy Jones, US Geological Survey); “FBI Art Theft Update” (FBI Special Agents Miguel Luna and Elizabeth Rivas); “Fire Protection: Emerging Technology” (fire protection consultant Debbie Freeland & Danny McDaniel, Director of Security at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation); “Priceless: Undercover Rescue of Stolen Treasures” (Bob Wittman, founder of the FBI’s Rapid Deployment National Art Crime Team).

At Monday’s luncheon, JJ McLaughlin, retired Board Chair/Office of Protection Services Director at the Smithsonian Institution, received an award in the memory of Robert Burke, founder and first director of the Office of Protection Services at the Smithsonian Institution.

The second day of the conference, held at the Getty Villa in Malibu on a beautiful sunny day typical in February in California, began with two early morning presentations, “Safe Heritage in the Netherlands” (Hanna Pennock, Senior Specialist of Safety and Security and Programme Manager of the Safe Heritage Cultural Heritage Agency, Amersfoort, The Netherlands) and “Earthquakes: Reducing the Threat” (Jerry Podany, senior conservator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum).

I was able to sit in on a few mid-day presentations which are highlighted here.

“Detection of Deviant Behavior”

Emile Broersma, Director of Security & Safety at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, introduced the work of researchers Dianne van Hemert and Maaike Lousberg in the presentation on “Detection of Deviant Behavior.”

The Rijksmuseum, which has been undergoing a decade-long $600 million expansion, has offered limited access to its 1.1 million art objects. It’s collection of 17th century Dutch paintings range from Rembrandt’s wall size “Nightwatch” to numerous small paintings by Vermeer. The renovated Rijksmuseum is scheduled to open in April of next year.

Broersma told the audience of mostly security management from cultural institutions from Europe and the United States that in 2013 the Rijksmuseum expects 2 million visitors a year, a 40% increase over its neighbor and the most visited cultural institution in The Netherlands, the Van Gogh Museum. Broersma said with the economic crisis in Europe that has impacted funding for cultural centers in The Netherlands, he is turning to “intelligence-based security executed by proactive guards” who are trained to recognize a potential threat in advance and to take appropriate action. “I would rather have 10 well-trained officers than 30 traditionally trained officers,” Broersma said.

The new Rijksmuseum will feature a semi-public atrium similar to the Louvre in Paris where people can move around the space without a ticket. Broersma plans to position guards to observe and respond to all types of behavior in this heavily trafficked area and place fewer guards in exhibition areas. Maiike Lousberg initiated the research with the scientific lead, Dianne van Hemert, PhD, both with the independent research institute TNO ( who conducted scientific research to gather information about museum goers and the qualities sought after in security personnel.

“Deviant behavior is behavior you would not normally expect in a specific context,” Dr. van Hemert explained to the audience. Vandals and thieves may exhibit signs or behavior that might be observed by different people in different places throughout the day, she explained. “We are not going to provide a list because there is no such list, deviant behavior depends on the time, the culture, and the context.”

“It’s never one deviant behavior that indicates something has gone wrong,” Dr. van Hemert said. “It’s a combination of different behaviors.” She explained that flexibility on the part of the security personnel is required to adapt to every situation. “We don’t think of officers as profiling people which is a negative connotation, but as looking for behavior patterns. Vandals will try to hide their behavior but not everything can be suppressed.”

At the same time, observant security guards have to balance the public’s desire to see the collection on display. “All the people have come to look at the collection so it’s easier to see what is normal and what is not normal,” Dr. van Hemert said. She advocated that officers not react so as to intensify the situation, but to engage in “prickling”, or gently approaching the visitor to inquire about intent.

“DHS Resources for Cultural Properties”

William Schweigart, Program Analyst for the Department of Homeland Security Office of Infrastructure Protection, Commercial Facilities Sector Specific Agency, presented “Department of Homeland Security Resources for Cultural Properties.” Mr. Schweigart pointed out free voluntary assessment program and a risk self-assessment tool available at He showed a 4-minute video, “Active Shooter – How to Respond” which will be released shortly. Other sources of information can be found at and Commercial Facilities Training Resources at He said that “Risk = threat x vulnerability x consequence”; “threat depends on adversary capability and intent”, and responsiveness is assessed.

“Security Planning”

Dennis Ahern, Head of Safety and Security at the Tate Galleries in London, spoke on “Security Planning”. Ahern is also on the Board of Directors of ARCA.

“The public display of art and artefacts carries risk!” read the slide Mr. Ahern produced onstage. “We cannot get rid of risk altogether but we can aim to reduce it.”

His first step in developing a risk assessment in regards to damaging or losing the collection was to ask, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Accidental damage from visitors is more common than a heist: malicious damage (Gerard Jan van Bladeren’s slashing of paintings by Abstract painter Barnett Newman at the Stedelijk Museum in 1986 and 1997) and iconoclasm (imposing a green dollar sign on Malevich’s white painting). [You may read further about vandalism and art on]

“Art theft is fairly rare and the incidents are relatively low,” Mr. Ahern told the audience. Theft types can be categorized as “stay behind” (when visitors linger after closing); internal (typically small artefacts that are easy to handle and hard to identify); souvenirs (when visitors take portions of contemporary artworks); artworks in transit; snatches; burglar (after hours theft); metals theft (“becoming a real problem with the roofs of historic buildings”); and armed robbery (“this is becoming more of a risk”).

“All of the major art thefts in recent times has involved organized crime,” Mr. Ahern said. “Having artwork is not as hazardous as weapons or drugs and is a good collateral to be used as currency.”

In security surveys, which answer the question ‘what could possibly go wrong?’, Mr. Ahern likes to think about low tech solutions which can be very effective (such as fixing pictures in place with fishing line) and to create distance from the object.

“Security: Finding Balance”

Jim Lucey, Security Director at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, spoke on “Security: Finding Balance” which covered his interest in security technology (IRIS Scanners, Thermal Cameras, Portable Instate Identity Verification, digital keys, and Behavioral Analytics Video Surveillance) interesting incidents at the National Gallery of Art in 2011 (Susan Burns' banging of Henry Matisse’s  1919 The Plumed Hat in August and the unexpected earthquake on August 23).

On Tuesday afternoon, two concurrent panels, “Creating an Effective Disaster & Emergency Response Plan” (Matthew Andrus, Mark Pollei, and Julie Williamsen from Brigham Young University) and “TSA Certified Cargo Screening Program” (Dave Burnell, Transportation Security Administration), were followed by “Smithsonian Collections Space & Security” (Doug Hall & Bill Tompkins, both of the Smithsonian Institution).

On Wednesday, the conference concluded with panels by:

“International Committee on Museum Security” (Willem Hekman, Chairperson of the Board of the International Committee on Museum Security under ICOM and UNESCO).  The International Committee on Museum Security (ICMS) was established in 1974 under the International Council of Museums (ICOM).  ICMS has over 140 individual members in more than 30 countries and supports museum security staff worldwide with advice and assistance.

“Designing Effective Training Tools” (Getty staff)

“Google Art Project and Google Goggles” (Diana Skaar, a principal on Google's new business development team).  The Art Project is a collaboration between Google and some art museums worldwide to allow users to explore artworks at brushstroke level detail and take a virtual tour of a museum.

“Social Media: Benefits and Risks” (Captain Mike Parker, Los Angeles County Sheriffs Office).