The Art of Collaboration

Dallas museum moves TSA cargo-screening in-house

People who are new to the Dallas- Fort Worth area may be surprised to hear about its burgeoning art scene. It’s true: Dallas is a lot more cultured than one might expect.

And the Dallas Museum of Art has been a cornerstone of the city’s rebirth since it opened in the early 1900s.

Vital to Dallas’ booming Arts District, the DMA includes more than 23,000 pieces of art from around the world and hosts countless events each year. The museum’s monthly Late Night program alone draws up to 5,000 visitors. And recently, it hosted nearly 800,000 people in an eight-month period for its exhibition of King Tut artifacts. With this kind of attendance, securing the art -- and the visitors and staff themselves -- is an impressive feat.

Lance K. Childers, director of security at the DMA, said the museum just took a huge step toward better safeguarding its art by achieving Transportation Security Administration air cargo certification. With this coup, approved DMA employees will be able to scan international art shipments themselves to comply with TSA’s new cargo screening requirements.

Special Attention
In 2007, TSA mandated that 100 percent of air cargo transported in passenger planes must be screened by airlines as part of the 9/11 Bill. For museums, meeting the August deadline creates unprecedented complications.

“Some of those canvases and materials may be 100 or more years old,” Childers said. “We’ve got to preserve it. [Museum employees] package it in special ways. So we’re apprehensive [when] it goes to the airport and they’re going to ship it. I’m sure they use every precaution they could, but the art is really special and needs special attention.”

Often, temporary exhibitions present even more complicated security challenges for the museum. The sensitive nature of the art means much of it can’t be touched or even exposed to too much light. In fact, certain paintings must be covered up for at least 12 hours a day.

But as of April, the DMA is TSA certified to screen its own international art shipments. Becoming a certified cargo screening facility -- a process that took the DMA about 18 months -- enables specially trained staff to inspect and seal each piece of art before it heads to the airport, which helps ensure that the cargo isn’t tampered with.

TSA’s Certified Cargo Screening Program was developed as a solution to help industries reach the new screening mandate. TSA says most CCSP shipper participants have been able to quickly incorporate physical screening into their shipping process, at only a small cost to their operation.

By enabling museums and other facilities to screen their own packages, TSA helps ease the burden of its own employees. Otherwise, it would be a struggle for U.S. airports to meet the 100-percent cargo-screening requirements while also ensuring passenger and staff safety, even when using advanced screening technology and K-9 teams.

Handle With Care
Brent Mitchell, the DMA’s registrar for loans and exhibitions, is one of the museum’s TSA-certified employees. He said by avoiding any third-party handling of the museum’s cargo, the art is better protected. In the meantime, dangers like improvised explosive devices -- one of the most common threats in air cargo security -- are avoided.

Mitchell, along with about a dozen other certified staff members, was required to undergo a background check and receive special training. During the screening process, a staff member inspects the inside, outside and contents of each crate in a designated screening area, which only approved employees can access. After a crate is inspected, it is sealed with tamper-evident tape that features a unique coding system.

“Our main objective is to make sure when we pack artwork at the museum that we’re responsible for -- whether it’s our objects or a lender’s objects -- that all opening and inspection of the crates is done by professional art handlers, such as our staff or contract staff,” Mitchell said.

Museums that are not certified cargo-screening facilities must rely on third-party screeners, such as certified fine-art shippers or packers. In this case, Mitchell explained, museum officials would have to pack each crate on site and send it with a courier to the third-party screener, who would then unpack and inspect it before resealing it and sending it to the airport. Clearly, this process would present a much greater threat to delicate works of art.

Take No Chances
Childers and his team also face special security and safety challenges within the permanent exhibition areas. The main objective is to preserve the art while still providing a meaningful and educational opportunity for guests.

In a museum that features priceless paintings and artifacts, however, guests themselves can be a liability. Some pieces of art are fragile enough to be damaged by people’s breath if they stand too close, and touching a painting can cause even greater harm.

Working with the museum’s curators, Childers determines the security needs of each piece. By using security cameras, lasers, motion alarms and museum attendants -- as well as physical barriers such as raised platforms and ropes -- they ensure that the artwork is as secure as possible from theft and damage.

Learn more about the Dallas Museum of Art -- and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex -- at ASIS 2010, which runs Oct. 12-15 at the Dallas Convention Center. For more information, visit http://www.asisonline.org.

About the Author

Megan Weadock is a communications specialist at Monitronics.

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