Cultural Community

Hingham’s Old Ship Meeting House
Courtesy Massachusetts Archives/Jennifer Fauxsmith

COSTEP MA defines cultural resources broadly to include artwork, museum artifacts, and library materials as well as archival, municipal, and institutional records, and important cultural entities in the community. After a disaster, what records will be crucial in getting your institution up and running again? After a disaster, what would we lose of our memories, our cultural identity, and our history if our cultural resources no longer existed? In many cases, cultural institutions (such as Old Sturbridge Village) have a major economic impact on the community, so their viability is also important.

The emergency management community includes emergency management and response professionals from the local to federal levels. It includes your local Emergency Management Director (EMD), Fire and Police Departments, EMTs, as well as staff and volunteers at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Cultural resources have usually been forgotten in the development of Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans (CEMPs) and in the response to and recovery from large-scale disasters. The lessons learned in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005 serve as evidence that it is crucial to align the emergency preparedness and response needs of the cultural heritage community with those of the local, state, and federal emergency management communities.

Cultural organizations can respond more rapidly and comprehensively to prevent damage to collections by establishing relationships with emergency managers at the state and local levels and working to integrate cultural resources into existing emergency management processes. This will enable cultural institutions to help themselves and one another as well as use their own resources and expertise to benefit the community as a whole. For example, during an emergency, cultural institutions benefit from knowing how the Incident Command System (ICS) works. Should a disaster strike, familiarity with ICS can help institutions navigate the emergency management system and gain access to their collections in a timely manner.

The onus is on both the emergency management and cultural communities to make this happen, but it is crucial for cultural stewards to be proactive. Members of the cultural community should take advantage of training opportunities and consider offering their institution as a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in times of crisis. These efforts will enable both communities to speak the same language and partner effectively with each other.