The following article, Priceless Artifacts at Smithsonian Face Renewed Risk as Staff Shortages Continue, was first published on Flag And Cross.
It feels like the beginning of some archaeological, Spielbergian trope, doesn’t it?
The Smithsonian Museum, one of the nation’s most prestigious and historical institutions, is now finding itself concerned with the possibility that some of their artifacts could be snatched up and absconded with, heist-style, thanks to a significant shortage of staff.
Between 3 and 4 p.m. on Monday, when the National Museum of African American History and Culture was supposed to be closed, security personnel say an unidentified man walked in through an exit-only door, bypassing metal detectors and screening procedures. The intruder was in the museum’s nearly empty main lobby when a maintenance worker noticed him and helped security escort him outside.
But while the Smithsonian museum’s priceless treasures were undisturbed, some of its employees are sounding the alarm. They say the breach happened because the museum is so short-staffed that no guard was posted at the door.
Smithsonian employees were seriously spooked.
“He was in the building for more than five minutes. He could have been armed, had explosives. He definitely wasn’t supposed to come in,” said Tanesha Sollers, who works as an armed security guard for the museum. “There was no officer there, nobody to stop him.”
Officer Antonio Currie, who was working elsewhere in the building at the time, said the incident “freaked people out.”
The staffing shortages were widespread, as well.
Monday’s event might be the most visible and disturbing example of the impact of the severe staff shortages on the Smithsonian and other arts and cultural organizations in the Washington region. The highly transmissible omicron variant has led to record numbers of covid cases, and more than 250 have been reported among Smithsonian staff since Christmas, a Smithsonian spokeswoman said.
The shortage of staff forced the Smithsonian to close some buildings and reduce public hours at most of its museums and the National Zoo for a two-week period ending Jan. 17. Those reductions are expected to be extended.
The museum has suggested that there has been no change to the number of security personnel working within their historically-rich halls.
In either case, they ought to keep an eye out for anyone wearing wearing a brown fedora and carrying a bullwhip.
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