How Prepared Is the National Museum of the Philippines in Case of Fire?

These are the disaster preparedness plans of our museums.
by Christa I. De La Cruz
May 29, 2023
Adobe Stock

( The massive fire that broke out at the Manila Central Post Office last May 21 was a huge blow not only to our architectural heritage but also to our rich philatelic history embodied by the structure. Photographs that circulated online in the aftermath showed that not even one vintage stamp can possibly survive the flames that engulfed the pre-war building. This raises the question: How disaster-ready are our heritage structures, especially the ones holding our tangible history?

Fire Prevention Safety and Disaster Preparedness of the National Museum of the Philippines

The National Museum of the Philippines is in charge of national museums all over the Philippines, including the Angono Binangonan Petroglyphs in Rizal, Tabon Caves Site Museum in Palawan, Bicol Regional Museum in Albay, and so forth. Of course, this includes the trifecta of central museums in Manila City: the National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of Fine Arts.


Suffice it to say, this network of central museums, regional museums, and site museums hold our country's ethnographic, anthropological, archaeological, and visual arts collections that reflect our culture and history. The National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) is mandated to not only promote and develop our national reference collections, but also—at the basic level—make sure that our cultural properties are kept safe.

National Museum of Anthropology
PHOTO BY Adobe Stock
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In an exchange with the NMP Communications and External Affairs Section, they told that there are various committees in place for disaster preparedness: Occupational Safety and Health Committee, Emergency Preparedness Committee, and Safety and Work Committee. These groups "prepare and implement plans and programs on prevention/mitigation, response, preparation, and rehabilitation/recovery of the current global crisis." The Facilities Management Division and Security Management Section are also conducting regular monitoring of facilities and buildings as well as risk assessment.

In-house training for the staff of NMP is also held annually in coordination with government agencies like the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Philippine National Police. Annual training includes Fire Prevention Safety and Control; Disaster Preparedness; Orientation and Overview of Incident Command System; Active Shooter and Hostage-Taking; and Bomb Threats Management. They also actively participate in the National Simultaneous Earthquake Drill.

NMP Communications and External Affairs Section added that the museum buildings are equipped with sprinklers and a fire detection and alarm system (FDAS). There's also an argonite fire suppression system at the National Museum of Fine Arts, which houses a number of important artworks: "The Spoliarium" and "The Parisian Life" by Juan Luna, and "Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son" by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo. Dousing these artworks with water should a fire break out would be a huge loss, so the alternative of an argonite fire suppression system—which extinguishes fire by reducing the oxygen content in a room—is preferred.


Preventive Conservation of Heritage Sites

In the aftermath of the Manila Central Post Office fire, Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation—a non-government organization and vocational school that advocates for heritage conservation—suggested that a rapid post-disaster damage and needs assessment should be done immediately at the site.

"We have always advocated that preventive conservation significantly reduces vulnerabilities against the hazards our heritage sites are exposed to. Managing changes within such heritage properties in order for them to adapt and remain relevant to modern needs is essential for them to retain their significance and mitigate risks. Sadly, the value of our built heritage presents itself when disasters such as the fire that consumed the Post Office Building occur," they added.

Also read: What to Do After a Heritage Structure Catches Fire? Escuela Taller Explains