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Protecting Cultural Heritage

Floods, fires, and other disasters can harm or destroy irreplaceable cultural and historic treasures. But the institutions and organizations that safeguard art, artifacts, books, and historic buildings can prepare for emergencies and minimize damage. One of the keys to preparedness is a relationship with the first responders and emergency managers who are integral to response and recovery.

Connecting local emergency responders with representatives of the cultural heritage community is a priority of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force. Regardless of the scope of the emergency, the first response will always be local. The need for dialogue is clear, and partnerships must be in place before disaster strikes.

Since 2003, Heritage Preservation has been promoting these connections through its innovative national program, Alliance for Response. The initiative begins with a one-day Forum for cultural leaders and emergency professionals and leads to new partnerships and local projects. Alliance for Response Forums foster cooperation among cultural and historic preservation organizations, improve local planning efforts, and enhance the protection of heritage resources.

New Relationships, New Projects

Alliance for Response Forums have led to new cooperative networks and creative preparedness efforts around the country. Among the examples:

  • The Cultural Emergency Management Team (CEMT) in Boston gained a “seat” for cultural heritage at the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

  • Following the Forum in New York City, the local committee sponsored tabletop training exercises tailored to museums and libraries.

  • In Atlanta, the Heritage Emergency Response Alliance (HERA) developed a local listserv that includes both cultural heritage staff and emergency professionals; members worked together to respond to severe tornadoes in March 2008.

  • After the Alliance for Response Forum in Philadelphia, the number of official liaisons from local cultural institutions to the city emergency management agency increased from 11 to more than 100.

  • Northeast Ohio Alliance for Response sponsored a session on fire suppression and recovery at the 2009 annual meeting of the Ohio Museums Association.

Future Alliances

Heritage Preservation will sponsor three Forums in 2011: in Portland, Oregon; the Galveston-Houston area; and Salt Lake City, Utah. But the benefits from the kinds of partnerships Alliance for Response promotes can be experienced in every community. Resources to assist in the development of successful collaborations are available online and include the Forum Planning Handbook, a discussion board, program templates, and information about past and future Forums.


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