NOAA Image US Navy Photo Storm Surge pushing water ashore during a hurricane.
How prepared are you and your personal family collections in the event of a disaster? It’s always important to check the pulse of our own personal archiving habits. A few excellent checkpoints to consider:
Do you have a contact list of family members and/or emergency contacts to easily access at all times?
Do you know the names and locations of your local first responders in your area? (Police, Fire, Hospital)
Do you regularly maintain backups of your computer and other electronic media?
Are you storing your treasured digital photographs someplace other than a smart-phone device, iPad or tablet?
Do you maintain copies of important records such as property deeds, wills, birth and marriage certificates, passports, insurance documents?
Do you keep family heirlooms such as antiques, family photographs, textiles or art?
The attached Family Collections Pocket Response Plan or PrEP™ created…
by Rebecca Landel-Hernandez, HERA Communications Chair
On Friday, September 30th, 2016, HERA Atlanta held its annual Educational Program at the Georgia Archives in Morrow. The Georgia Archives were great hosts, Belfor provided us with a tasty lunch and it was great to see so many colleagues interested in this well-attended program. All the presenters provided very informative and educational segments in their materials and some provided handouts to supplement their presentations. The program underscored the importance of engaging all the moving parts of the community in disaster preparation for successful disaster recovery effort. Each presenter stressed the importance of a vital and interactive collaborative relationship between cultural institutions, local Emergency Managers, and local First Responders.
Will Lanxton was hired by the state in 2014 to be the state meteorologist after the snow jam event in 2014. Mr. Lanxton is with the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMHSA). He gave us a great history of Georgia’s and the Southeastern region’s weather patterns and statistics on flooding in the South. The information in Mr. Lanxton’s presentation on weather mapping was helpful in deciphering the ever changing conditions as Hurricane Matthew approached the following week. Mr. Lanxton reiterated and stressed the importance and necessity of knowing and collaborating with first responders and emergency managers in order to better protect cultural heritage collections. At the time of our meeting, he was departing from his presentation at HERA in order to conference with various state officials for the Southeastern region and Emergency Responders in planning sessions due to what was then a pending storm that was to become Hurricane Matthew.
Meg Gaillard, Heritage Trust Archaeologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, presented the experiences her institution underwent after the October 4th, 2015 Columbia, South Carolina floods. Their facility received flooding to the roof. Flood waters were toxic, filled with petroleum, sewage, and animal waste. Her department had some great resources at hand, due to the type of property maintenance inherent to their work. Her presentation resonated with the reality of finding resources, dealing with the multitude of issues for 1500 boxes of flood-soaked artifacts in toxic water; locating fresh water sources and secure triage locations; coordinating some 135 volunteers and hiring temporary archaeologists to help with a 10-month long recovery process. Again, the coordination and support of working with local emergency responders played an integral role in the entire recovery process. Meg included handouts for volunteer services as a part of her presentation. Meg Gaillard’s experience underscored the importance of bringing together professionals from many different backgrounds who work with cultural heritage collections. HERA WordPress posted Meg’s blog that details many of her experiences on October 4th, 2016 and you can read her descriptions and see her photographs of the recovery process in our WordPress archives.
Ben Carter and Joe Watkins, of Carter Watkins Associates Architects, Inc., presented on the restoration of the Hancock County Courthouse before and after the horrific fire of August 2014. Carter Watkins, located in Monroe, Georgia, specializes in much of the historic preservation and renovation work around Georgia’s many historic courthouse buildings. They had a great knowledge of the local architecture of many of Georgia’s courthouse structures and histories. The Hancock County Courthouse fire was exacerbated by the storage of coal in the basement of the courthouse, which continued to smolder for weeks and kept the site too hot for recovery efforts. Most of the records, even those locked in vault storage, were lost to ash, due to extreme heat conditions and lack of fire suppression or sprinkler systems. The courthouse has been reconstructed and improved looking just as the original design, only with some 21st-century improvements incorporated into the new construction. There are now dedicated records storage rooms. Many of Georgia’s small county courthouses are home to historic records which are irreplaceable and have not necessarily been microfilmed. These are ideal goals for disaster prevention and essential records training for better preservation of these valuable resources.
Our final presenter was Vernon Duty, with Belfor Property Restoration. Many of us have met representatives such as Vernon from past SGA meetings. Some members have met with or had experience with Belfor in the past. Vernon’s presentation provided great insight as to the benefits of vendor contact relationships that are established prior to a disaster event. Vernon also provided handout materials with his presentation. Belfor can help institutions assess and develop disaster recovery plans. They have equipment such as large-scale freezer trucks and drying services for handling flood-soaked records. Trying to figure out all the resources for the services necessary during a disaster adds stress on top of an already complex and evolving situation. Part of disaster prevention planning involves engaging all the local emergency management resources and disaster recovery vendor services an institution may come to rely upon during an event. Preplanning also helps educate institutional staff as to available protocols, available resources and set up the best possible circumstance to mitigate disaster recovery outcomes.
HERA is an organization open to those professionals working with cultural heritage collections. Professionals working in museums, art galleries, archaeology, archives, libraries, conservation, historic architecture, historic preservation, and historic sites are encouraged to become a part of the Heritage Emergency Response Alliance in order that we may better serve and protect our collective cultural heritage.
As Hurricane Matthew moves closer toward Georgia, several measures have been put into play to mitigate harm to the people living in coastal areas. A number of important tips and helpful links have been shared by Lori Foley, Administrator, Heritage Emergency National Task Force. The National Heritage Responders has a 24/7 hotline number: 202-661-8068 and a team of trained conservators and collections care professionals are available to provide advice. To reiterate the need for planning and preparation at this time, we have shared these links here, in addition to a couple additional sites. Please share this page widely or as necessary to make certain others have access to this information.
To stress the importance of planning and preparation at this time, we wanted to share this information and these links in addition to a couple additional sites. Please share this blog page widely and as necessary to make certain others have access to this information.
Attend to family and friends first. Attending to and reviewing personal disaster preparedness plans with your loved ones will help make it easier to consider organizational needs. Use this site to help plan: Ready.gov Hurricanes
Download and keep handy FEMA’s “After the Flood: Advice for Salvaging Damaged Family Treasures“. There are several downloadable PDF fact sheets in English and Spanish, with specific tips according to certain disasters, and resources for individuals and institutions which you can find here: FEMA Fact Sheets
NOAA’s Web mapping portal called nowCOAST and is an excellent tool for real-time coastal warnings and observations has mapping overlays for possible storm surge.
Be aware in coastal Georgia there are nine closings of cultural heritage locations as of this blog posting. The Georgia State Parks has posted:
HURRICANE NOTICE: Nine sites along Georgia’s coast will close Thursday, October 6 at 12:00 p.m. due to the expected impact of Hurricane Matthew. They include Wormsloe Historic Site, Skidaway Island State Park, Fort McAllister State Park, Fort Morris Historic Site, Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo Island, Fort King George Historic Site, Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, Crooked River State Park, and Stephen C. Foster State Park. These locations will re-open after the storm passes and any damage has been assessed. All reservations at these locations will be cancelled through Monday, October 10.
This blog has some important attachments regarding Hurricane Matthew.
Quoting an update from GEMHSA: Hurricane Matthew update:
Hurricane Matthew is still a category 4 and did not appear to lose intensity after passing over Haiti. With being three days out and the track being parallel to the coast, Georgia has 60-70% chance of enduring tropical storm conditions and 10-20% chance of hurricane conditions. These numbers will more than likely change, but we are more than likely to see wave action along the coastline.
The Governor has issued a State of Emergency ahead of the hurricane.The following 13 counties fall under the declaration: Brantley, Bulloch, Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Effingham, Evans, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, and Wayne. The SOE will begin on Wednesday, October 5th and will run through next Wednesday, October 12th.
The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) offers free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations impacted by the storm. The press release with important contact information for FAIC is located here:
As September 2015 drew to a close, a nearly stationary frontal boundary set up camp over coastal South Carolina, drenching the state for days on end. By October 1, the National Weather Service began issuing warnings that a ‘historic and potentially life-threatening rainfall event was expected during that weekend’…Low pressure formed on a stationary front hugging the coast while strong high pressure built to the north, according to DNR State Climatologist, Hope Mizzell. This pattern resulted in a strong flow of tropical moisture off the warm Atlantic waters increasing rainfall intensity over the already saturated state, she explained. To complicate the forecast, Hurricane Joaquin had re-intensified to a Category 4 storm over the Bahamas. The arrangement of atmospheric features, which included an upper level area of low pressure near the Alabama-Georgia border, high pressure to the north and a distant Hurricane Joaquin, created a river of air that was condensed into historic rain. (Cindy Thompson, South Carolina Wildlife Magazine, September/October 2016, page 5)
A wave of exhausted shock, a slap of depressed reality, and then a rush of determined adrenaline; that was what I felt when I got the phone call from my colleague on October 5, 2015 concerning the total inundation of our archive during the 2015 Flood in South Carolina. Flood waters rose two feet from the roofline of the facility in which part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) archaeological archive was being stored. Every single curated artifact, document, and image were submerged for days within the facility before the water receded and recovery efforts could begin.
I know this article will fall far short in answering every question related to our recovery efforts, the methodology will be questioned, and critiques will be given. However, no one, that we are aware of, had ever been through a recovery effort like this before. There was no expert or source to turn to for a step-by-step guide for this particular disaster scenario. I gathered advice and assistance from a variety of experts early on in the recovery process. This expert advice helped guide my recovery methodology and offered me some assurance that we were making the best decisions for the long-term recovery of the archive.
Yes, there are disaster preparedness books, field guides, and workshops. I even participated in a workshop hosted by the SC Department of Archives and History about 10 years ago that served as the basis for our recovery efforts. But the unfortunate reality is that nothing can completely protect your archival facility from potential disaster. Even the books we study and workshops we attend provide general knowledge. In the end, it all comes down to preparing yourself, your staff, and your facility as best you can for potential disasters like what we experienced in October 2015.
Following the 2015 flood event that affected the Carolinas from October 1-5, 2015, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Heritage Trust archaeologists, along with volunteers, student and professional archaeologists worked to recover artifacts, photographs, and documents located in a facility next to Gills Creek in Columbia, SC. The entirety of the archive was inundated with flood water.
Approximately 1,500 boxes of previously curated artifacts, 100 cubic feet of documents, and 15,000 photographs, negatives and slides were recovered (Figure 1). An initial triage facility for the archive was located at the DNR Styx Receiving Compound and Fish Hatchery in West Columbia, SC (Figure 2). Within two days, the recovered items, which were coming into the DNR facility in truck loads (Figure 3), exceeded the available space. This, compounded by the threat of another wave of severe weather, hastened the acquisition of a new facility for long-term recovery efforts to take place.
Lexington School District Two donated the use of their old Fine Arts Center in West Columbia (Figure 4) to the DNR for the duration of the flood recovery. Recovery efforts took place at this facility from October 2015 to May 2016 with the help of 135 volunteers (approximately 1,020 recorded volunteer hours) and six temporary part-time staff, in addition to full and part-time DNR staff (Figure 5). All available space in the facility was utilized, and although quite large (approximately 5,000 square feet), the layout of the recovery effort had to be transformed every few weeks in order to keep up with the changing focus of the work.
The recovery effort was organized into a phased approach. The recovery and restoration of the entire archive at one time was impossible due to its size and complexity of material culture. The recovery and stabilization of documents took first priority. Documents were sorted and sent to freezers. The freezing of documents stopped the growth of mold and essentially stopped time until the restoration of those documents could take place at a later date.
The second priority was the cleaning and drying of photographs, negatives, and slides (Figure 6). Ideally, all of these items would have been laid flat to dry, on well-ventilated surfaces; however, due to space and time constraints, the method of hanging photographs and negatives, while laying slides to dry flat was chosen. Approximately 3,000 images were cleaned, dried and stabilized each day over the course of five days. Beginning in July 2016, these images were scanned and digitally stored with metadata by paid interns at the DNR headquarters in Columbia, SC.
The third priority was the washing, drying, labeling, bagging and boxing of artifacts. Nearly every bag of artifacts was inundated with water (Figure 7). In order to ensure that all artifacts were properly re-curated, every artifact went through the full curation process again. Diagnostic metal objects were stabilized through metal conservation by DNR archaeologist Tariq Ghaffar (Figure 8), while all other artifacts were washed with clean water and dried.
Safety of personnel during all phases of the project was a top priority. Volunteers and staff were required to wear gloves at all times. Depending on the task, protective masks, long 18 mil aprons, and protective eyewear were also available. Although the temperature was controlled, ventilation was aided by using large industrial box fans and humidity was lowered using dehumidifiers.
There were numerous supplies purchased for and donated to the project. One of the most unique was the purchase of thousands of paper food trays – the same type that might hold a burger and fries. Since all of the artifacts washed during the project had already been curated and contained paper labels and/or information on the bags, the best way to keep them organized was to place cleaned artifacts in food trays and place the information (bag and/or tag) below the tray on drying racks (Figure 9). Once the artifacts dried, new tags and bags replaced the old, and the artifacts were stored in new boxes.
Another unique object was an outdoor washing station constructed by DNR archaeologist Sean Taylor. Made from a table screen typically used for volunteers to screen dirt in the field during archaeological excavations, this table served as a station for washing large pieces of pottery after industrial kitchen sprayers, foot pedals and plumbing were installed (Figure 10).
By the end of August 2016, an agreement was in place to store the DNR archaeological archive at the South Carolina State Museum (Figure 11). The acquisition of a new facility for the DNR archaeological archive is currently underway.
The complexity of the Archaeological Archive Flood Recovery Project has been greatly simplified for this article, but I hope to write and discuss the project in more detail in years to come. Much has been learned over the last year related to topics including disaster preparedness, curation practices, the deaccessioning of objects, and volunteer management. There needs to be open dialogue and serious critique within our professional community about these and many other related topics as we move forward from this disaster and prepare ourselves and our facilities for future disasters.