Interpretation panels have a hard life sometimes! Graffitied, scratched, shot at, burnt or stolen for scrap, we all know they are vulnerable to attack, particularly at urban sites. So is there anything you can do to reduce these problems? The right materials are a starting point, but there are other things you can try as well.
- Panel material – robust or replaceable?
The temptation at vandal-prone sites is to go for the most hard-wearing, durable material possible – a thick slab of GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) or PVC. This can work but, while they can take a lot of punishment, these materials are not vandal-proof and a single, determined attack could leave you needing a costly replacement board.
I think it’s always worth considering instead the ‘easy replacement option’: graphics are printed on self-adhesive vinyl and mounted on aluminium. This is much more affordable to produce and replace. You can have multiple copies of the self-adhesive vinyl printed so if the graphics are damaged you just peel the backing off a replacement and apply over the damaged one. Even if the aluminium is damaged it can still be replaced at a fraction of the cost of printed GRP. The other advantage is that information can be updated at minimal cost.
Sticking on new vinyl can be tricky for larger panels so this works best up to A2 size. If metal theft is an issue, aluminium composite (also known as Dibond) can be used (the aluminium is bonded to a polyethylene core so is useless to thieves). Graphics can be printed direct to this material.
- Frame and posts – keep it simple!
The first rule at vandal-prone sites is to avoid timber frames – they are too easily burnt, scored and damaged. Steel is preferable. Although you could see any frame as just something else to get damaged so I often recommend frameless panels like this one at an urban site.
I would usually recommend steel posts at urban sites. If metal theft is an issue, there are alternatives – timber sleepers are very robust, and recycled plastic works well, particularly in wetland sites where steel may rust.
- Design – avoid blank spaces
Sometimes I’ve found that the design of the graphics themselves can have an effect on vandalism, particularly graffiti ‘tags’. A tag is essentially a personalised graffiti signature and someone tagging will usually look for a white or pale coloured space so that the tag stands out. Avoiding blank spaces and pale colours in a panel design can deter tagging and other graffiti. And a panel free of graffiti is also less likely to get physically damaged.
- Location, location, location
It probably sounds like common sense, but you can avoid a lot of potential problems with graffiti and vandalism by careful location of interpretive panels.
– Areas hidden from public view
– Areas with an existing vandalism or graffiti problem
– Benches, shelters, play parks, skate parks and other ‘hang-outs’
– Quiet areas with few people passing through
– Busy main entrances and thoroughfares (you will want the maximum number of visitors to see the panel anyway)
– Areas overlooked by houses or roads
– Areas that wardens/site managers go to regularly
- Time it right
So you’ve got your brand new panel, with the right materials and design, and have chosen your best, busy location in clear view of visitors. Can the time of year you install the panel really make a difference to whether it gets vandalised? In my experience it can.
I’m not saying that all graffiti and damage is inflicted by school-aged children, but I have found that panels installed during the Easter or summer holidays have sometimes suffered a lot of graffiti or damage very quickly. If you can, delay installing until after the holidays.
- Keep up appearances
If there is one single thing that I would recommend site managers and wardens do to safeguard their panels it’s to monitor and maintain them.
It’s essential that you respond quickly to any graffiti – if left it will probably attract more. Even a persistent tagger will usually give up if you are even more persistent with cleaning off their handiwork. You can buy specialist graffiti remover, but most of the time a bit of mentholated spirit on a sponge or rag will work just as well.
It’s good to clean your panels regularly. An eco household cleaner and a damp cloth is all that’s needed in most cases to remove dirt and algae from panels and frames. Keep metal painted and well maintained – this will help to prevent rust as well. The key thing is to keep the whole thing looking cared for – in my experience a poorly maintained panel is much more likely to attract vandals.
Of course there are no guarantees! Vandalism can be very unpredictable and there is no such thing as a vandal-proof panel. But these tips should improve your panel’s chances of survival in a tough world and hopefully extend the life of what can be an expensive item to replace.
Read about the interpretation panels Clarity supply.