page-18The 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 cultural resources with those of the local, state, and federal emergency management communities. Although institution-level preparedness is essential, it may be insufficient for area-wide disasters.

What are cultural and historical resources?

Covered under federal Emergency Support Function #11 (ESF #11) of the National Response Framework, our natural and cultural resources and historic properties (NCH) include irreplaceable documents, books, photographs, buildings, significant landscapes, recordings, artwork, furniture, and much more. They are found in a wide range of institutions, from libraries, museums, and archives to parks, historical sites, municipal offices, performing arts organizations, and businesses.

The National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) provides guidance that enables effective recovery support to disaster-impacted states and local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions. It focuses on how best to restore, redevelop, and revitalize the health and social, economic, natural, and environmental fabric of a community and build a more resilient nation. Of the six Recovery Support Functions in the NDRF, one is devoted entirely to Natural and Cultural Resources.

Why are cultural and historical institutions important?

These institutions play a vital role in every community. As tourist destinations, they may represent a dense and vulnerable concentration of people. Their collections may contain vital records that document ownership of land, births, deaths, and marriages. They may record a community’s history and provide a sense of identity and normalcy to residents in the chaotic aftermath of a disaster. They may also be vital to the economic well-being of the community as a whole.

What do these institutions have to offer?

Cultural heritage stewards are passionate about their profession and want to work with emergency managers to keep their collections safe during emergencies. Cultural and historical institutions have valuable resources and expertise to contribute. For instance, public libraries in Massachusetts are building on their traditional role as a centralized information resource for their communities by working with state and federal emergency management officials to serve as pre-designated sites for Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs)— “one-stop shops” where individuals can receive assistance from local, state, federal, and voluntary agencies after a disaster. Cultural and historic institutions may also have auditoriums and meeting spaces, which can serve as shelters for evacuees, as points of distribution (POD) of aid, or can be staffed for phone banks.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)

MEMA is the state agency with primary responsibility for ensuring the state’s resilience to disasters. MEMA’s staff of professional planners, communications specialists, operations managers, and support personnel is committed to an all-hazards approach to emergency management. By building and sustaining effective partnerships with federal, state, and local government agencies and with the private sector—individuals, families, non-profits and businesses—MEMA ensures the Commonwealth’s ability to rapidly recover from large and small disasters by assessing and mitigating hazards, enhancing preparedness, ensuring effective response, and building the capacity to recover.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards. The range of FEMA’s activities is broad and spans the life cycle of disasters. FEMA’s capabilities include:

  • Advising on building codes and flood plain management
  • Teaching people how to get through a disaster
  • Helping equip local and state emergency preparedness
  • Coordinating the federal response to a disaster
  • Making disaster assistance available to states, communities, businesses, and individuals
  • Training emergency managers
  • Supporting the nation’s fire service
  • Administering the national flood and crime insurance programs