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Task Force History, Goals, and Initiatives

The Heritage Emergency National Task Force is a partnership of 42 national service organizations and federal agencies created to protect cultural heritage from the damaging effects of natural disasters and other emergencies. The Task Force was founded in 1995 and is co-sponsored by Heritage Preservation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Its primary goals are to:

  • Help cultural heritage institutions and sites to prepare for emergencies and obtain needed resources when disaster strikes.
  • Encourage the incorporation of cultural and historic assets into disaster planning and mitigation efforts at all levels of government.
  • Facilitate a more effective and coordinated response to all kinds of emergencies, including catastrophic events.
  • Assist the public in recovering treasured heirlooms damaged by disasters.

Heritage Preservation Initiatives in Support of the Task Force

Alliance for Response. Since 2003, this innovative initiative has brought cultural heritage leaders and emergency responders together through successful Forums in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and four cities in California. Each Forum strengthened local partnerships and led to local projects. Four Forums are planned for 2009. Explore Alliance for Response resources at www.heritagepreservation.org/afr.

Risk Evaluation and Planning Program. This pilot project encourages small and mid-sized museums to prepare for disasters. In 2008, teams of two professionals—an expert in collections care and a local first responder—visited 15 museums in Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas to evaluate their exposure to risks and prioritize mitigation and planning activities. Guided by the evaluation, the museums are completing emergency plans.

Field Guide to Emergency Response. This compact handbook is designed for immediate use when disaster strikes. Simple, clear instructions help staff organize essential disaster response functions and tackle common threats to collections. The award-winning Field Guide provides handy checklists and features a DVD with demonstrations of salvage techniques. Downloadable forms, checklists and video clips are available at www.heritagepreservation.org.

The fourth edition of the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel features an updated section on electronic records, a water-resistant coating, and handy magnets. Originally produced in 1997, the Wheel is a highly respected tool for protecting documents, art, and artifacts from water damage. It has been translated into six languages; a Spanish-language Wheel is available from Heritage Preservation.

Lessons Applied: Katrina and Cultural Heritage. Through the Lessons Applied initiative, Task Force members implemented projects to address issues that Hurricane Katrina and other major storms brought to light. The tools, posted at www.heritagepreservation.org/lessons, include the poster Working with Emergency Responders: Tips for Cultural Institutions; Guide to Navigating FEMA and SBA Disaster Aid for Cultural Institutions; Recommended Professional Emergency Management Training; Foundation Grants for Preservation in Libraries, Archives and Museums; and MayDay, an annual event that encourages cultural institutions to undertake one simple emergency preparedness task each May.

Response to Regional Disasters. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force responds to major disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 flooding in the Midwest by connecting response agencies with cultural heritage leadership and providing information resources for collecting institutions and the public. Through national conference calls, research on damage, expanded Web resources, and the wide distribution of disaster response information tools, Heritage Preservation facilitates the work of Task Force members and other organizations helping with recovery.

The Preparing to Preserve Action Plan identifies a number of opportunities and recommendation for integrating historic preservation concerns into emergency management systems, primarily at the state and local level. It provides short-, mid-, and long-term action items to move forward the recommendations. Preparing to Preserve includes two handy flyers: "Emergency Planning Model Checklist for Historic Preservation," and "1-2-3 Guide to Building Relationships with Emergency Officials."

Before and After Disasters: Federal Funding for Cultural Institutions, a 32-page booklet, provides summary information and examples on 15 federal grant and loan programs, along with resources for prevention, mitigation, and recovery projects.

The Task Force provides news releases and tip sheets with expert advice on salvaging family photographs and other heirlooms damaged by disasters. See “Save Your Treasures the Right Way” and additional resources at www.heritageemergency.org.

Cataclysm and Challenge provided the only comprehensive overview of the damage to and loss of cultural property that resulted from the events of September 11, 2001. The report addresses basic emergency management practices and explores what institutions must do to cope effectively in the future.