The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

Shaping National Preservation Policy

Disaster Response

Encouraging planning for disasters and making certain that historic and cultural portions of the built environment are addressed in the wake of natural (or manmade) disasters.

Bridging the (sometimes narrow) divide between historic preservation cases and programmatic strategies, each informing the other, the ACHP has devoted significant time and attention to encouraging better planning for and response to natural and other disasters affecting historic resources. The ACHP worked closely with SHPOs, federal agencies, and others on clean up and sensitive treatment of cultural resources after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and after Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston, South Carolina and the southeast U.S. in 1989. Since then, the ACHP has been involved in the wake of multiple hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and oil spills. The ACHP also participated in consultation after the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In cooperation with federal agencies, SHPOs, and native groups, the ACHP has helped develop programmatic agreements specifying how individually affected historic buildings, sites, and districts are to be identified, evaluated, and addressed during recovery efforts. The ACHP has also given considerable attention to developing prototype agreements and programmatic approaches to these issues as a part of planning, post-disaster assessment, response, and mitigation/recovery. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there were lessons learned as protocols, guidelines, and organizational structure evolved over several years. One of the important results was the development of a “National Programmatic Agreement on Protection of Historic Properties During Emergency Response Under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan,” along with a complementary set of implementation guidelines for on-scene work.

The ACHP was an early contributor to and participant in the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a partnership of 42 national service organizations and federal agencies created in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing. Its purpose was to protect cultural heritage from the damaging effects of both man-made and natural disasters. Led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Smithsonian Institution, the group focused much of its effort on protection or salvage of art works, archives, photographs, and other collections in addition to the historic built environment. A nonprofit advocacy organization formed in 1992, Heritage Preservation, helped advance these efforts and ran an annual Heritage Health Index assessment on behalf of the task force. The task force also created an Emergency Response and Salvage planning and decision-making wheel for field use. It has become the basis for an updated digital APP that remains available through the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).

In the wake of 9/11 and plans for numerous security upgrades at federal and other public facilities, The ACHP worked with the National Park Service and others to organize and stage two conferences on “Our Public Safety and Historic Places: Balancing Public Safety and Protection of Historic Places and Collections.”

Want to explore this topic further? Check out these original documents and interviews with key players from the ACHP archive!

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

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