Inside Museum Security Systems Around The World

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Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated Jan 25, 2024
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Jan 25, 2024

Museums are faced with a very particular security problem: They have to keep extremely valuable items safe, but those items need to remain on display for hundreds of visitors each day. After all, stories and scandals of failed museum security are etched into the public mind:

  • Munch Museum theft: In 2004, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and “Madonna” were taken off the wall of the Munch Museum in Oslo by two thieves in stereotypical black ski masks.1 Police recovered the paintings, estimated in 2006 to be worth $100 million, two years later.
  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft: The 1990 heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains one of history’s most famous crimes. Two men disguised as police officers took $500 million worth of art, including pieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and Manet. The items have still not been recovered.2

Unless you’re working at a museum, museum security isn’t an average person’s concern, but we can all learn a thing or two from the precautions these institutions take. We all have something of value we want to display but also keep safe – from family heirlooms to valuable collectibles. So, can we emulate museum security at home?

How Museums Secure Their Holdings

According to museum security experts, there are a combination of measures to take to protect their holdings, which security-fiends can see in action at institutions like the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Here are the methods behind how security managers protect museum holdings.


Ton Cremers, a former security manager at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, says a combination of alarm technology, on-the-ground human surveillance, and a host of other regulations is vital for artifact protection in museums.

“No alarm response organization will be quick enough to react adequately when it is possible to execute a burglary and theft in less than a minute,” Cremers told Source Security. “These systems are useless if not combined with structural and organizational measures.”

“Security must always be established according to the redundancy principle, which means that if any of the security precautions are tampered with, the remaining measures must be able to do the job,” he continued.

Kunsthistorisches Museum

That redundancy is on display inside Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. On-the-ground security personnel patrol the grounds day and night, motion sensors and security cameras help monitor the area, and complex laser detectors watch museum displays closely. The museum also carefully plans tactical and organizational measures to keep their holdings safe, especially since some of their displays often change.

Felia Brugger, who runs the museum’s security management, told the Sick Insight magazine that she appreciates the “flexibility” of laser detectors, in particular.3 “In the Painting Gallery, we often see re-hangings and special exhibitions take place,” she said. “Whereas other systems had to be readjusted in elaborate ways, laser detectors provide the possibility of securing the entire wall, no matter what changes on it.”

Cremer Museum

Some of Cremer Museum’s security suggestions include securing roofs and using CCTV cameras as deterrents. Steven R. Keller, a library and museum security consultant, also discussed museum security precautions with Security Today in 2014. His list of recommendations includes wireless vibration sensors that can detect a person trying to access a painting through a wall and motion-detection devices that sound an audible alarm if an observer gets too close to a piece on display.

Museum of Flight

At Seattle’s Museum of Flight, a smaller institution that displays air and space artifacts, IT director Hunter Hughes has opened up about the successes of using a simpler WatchGuard security system in a video feature for the company’s website.

“In the 50 years the museum has been here, it’s experienced tremendous growth,” he said. “[The WatchGuard products have] allowed us to see potential intrusion attempts…We’ve never had a difficulty that we couldn’t solve on the security side.”


Redundancy, flexibility, and advanced technology – we learned from the examples above that those things are critical to museum security. And yes, the same principle applies to home security.

On the other hand, we can also learn a little something from prominent and iconic museums that keep the details of their security tactics close to the chest. Museums like The Louvre or the Smithsonian don’t openly advertise their security measures. They make it known that they have such measures in place, without letting everyone know how those tactics work. That’s something we can also emulate.