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The Art of Secure Shipping

​CURATORS AT the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) were excited about a new exhibit, The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850–1874, which the museum hosted from February 23 until May 23 this year. It was a landmark exhibit not only for art lovers but also for security aficionados. That’s because it was the first exhibit to be shipped by the museum under the federal government’s new cargo screening regulations and the first test of DMA’s new status as a Certified Cargo Screening Facility (CCSF).

DMA became a CCSF to comply with new requirements for cargo to be screened before it can be shipped by passenger plane. Under rules from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), organizations that meet certain criteria can become CCSFs so that they can screen their cargo, rather than relying on the airline to do it.

DMA officials were concerned because if they didn’t handle the screening, under the new TSA rules, their carefully packed artwork would be opened at the airport and searched by airline employees. “Obviously, there were concerns that items might be damaged,” says Brent Mitchell, registrar for loans and exhibitions at the DMA.

The artists represented in this exhibit included painters Claude Monet and Édouard Manet along with noted photographers of the day. The exhibition included almost 90 works, including photographs, paintings, drawings, and prints along with a selection of photographic equipment from the turn of the 19th Century. No one wanted to risk damaging these priceless and irreplaceable works.

The museum sought CCSF certification last year. The process took about 18 months and involved four main components: background checks, physical security, training, and ensuring the integrity of the chain of custody.

Under the TSA rules, each employee who is involved in packing the artwork for transport via plane must undergo background screenings before becoming involved in the certification program, and they must undergo periodic rescreening for recertification. DMA has 12 employees trained to screen cargo.

To be designated a CCSF by the TSA, the museum also had to have a secure area, called a Designated Screening Area (DSA). Only screened personnel can have access to DSAs, where cargo packing and screening takes place. The DSAs must be equipped with physical barriers that can prevent unauthorized access.

This requirement posed a challenge for the museum because of its open design—most of its space is dedicated to exhibitions and temporary walls are installed to accommodate different types and sizes of exhibits. Museum officials determined that five areas could be most easily closed off with locking doors to serve as DSAs.

These areas are not always closed off, but that is allowed under the rules. The DSAs are temporary, and the restrictions can be removed once the packing is complete. The museum posts signs indicating which areas are DSAs. The signs note that the area is off limits to unauthorized personnel.

Because of the nature of the packing process, artwork is packed individually and by hand. Thus, the art is essentially screened visually as it is packed; as a result, the museum does not need to use any screening equipment. Employees manually search each empty crate before it is packed.

The TSA mandates specific training to teach employees how to do security inspections. The training is provided at varying levels for different personnel. For example, those packing the crates get one type of training, while supervisors get another. The TSA requires annual refresher training and employees are required to undergo a certain number of training hours to maintain their certification.

The process was relatively easy for museum employees to learn, because artwork is already meticulously packed. Employees must be sure that there are no loose items that can damage the artwork on its travels. Now, employees are on the lookout for specific unauthorized items as well, such as improvised explosive devices.

“Our procedures didn’t change much,” says Mitchell. “We just started checking for additional things.”

After crates are searched and packed, they must be sealed with TSA-mandated, tamper-evident tape. The tape is printed with a series of numbers that allows the TSA to trace the crate back to the museum, thus ensuring the integrity of the supply chain.

The DMA must record the number in a log for each crate. The museum then uses a TSA-certified company to drive the crates to the airport. This company provides the museum with a receipt that can be matched to the numbers printed on the TSA tape.

The certification puts the DMA in elite company. It is one of just a few museums in the country, and the second one in Texas, to achieve this clearance level. Other museums that have obtained certification include the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York City.

—By Teresa Anderson, senior editor