The months of February & March 2017 mark ten years since HERA Atlanta was organized and founded after a series of Alliance for Response forums!
WHAT IS THE ALLIANCE FOR RESPONSE?
Floods, hurricanes, fires and other disasters can harm or destroy irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures. The institutions that safeguard books, documents, photographs, artifacts, and other historical collections can prepare for emergencies to avert or at least minimize damage. One of the keys to preparedness is a relationship with first responders and emergency managers. They are first on the scene at any event that threatens life or safety, and they represent a local system for planning, response, and recovery that has often overlooked a community’s cultural and historic assets.
Alliance for Response brings together cultural heritage and emergency management professionals at forums at the local level. Disaster response originates at the local level and the local networks foster vital partnerships in each community. The Alliance for Response formed in 2003 and began holding forums in various locations. AFR Forums increased interest, participation, and membership in the AFR network membership. Local networks formed and at present, there are twenty-six national AFR networks.
In the beginning, generous support from the Fidelity Foundation enabled Heritage Preservation to launch Alliance for Response in 2003 and sustain the program through 2009. The funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has enabled Heritage Preservation to continue to build on the momentum begun in those first six years of the successful programs and take it into the future. The AFR forums and initial meetings lead to new partnerships and initiatives to enhance the protection of cultural heritage collections at local levels.
HERA ATLANTA FORMS
In February of 2007 Alliance for Response held one such forum at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and some eighty attendees came together. As a result of this event, HERA Atlanta was formed. After the initial meeting at the High Museum of Art, a follow-up meeting of eighteen attendees happened in March of 2007 at the Columbia Theological Seminary, where members brainstormed about everything from defining the local mission to gathering up an emergency supply cache. The primary aim of HERA is to mitigate the loss of cultural heritage materials in the event of a disaster.
HERA Atlanta had its first test in March of 2008 when an EF 3 Tornado struck downtown Atlanta and members responded to help the Atlanta Daily World Newspaper. The Atlanta Daily World is the oldest and continuously published African American Newspaper in the US, being published since 1928. The Atlanta Daily World’s roof had collapsed and its collections were damaged by flooding. Over a two-week period, 21 HERA volunteers from 9 organizations volunteered to help pack out damaged historical and business records. Since the 2008 disaster response, HERA members have since participated in various disaster recovery efforts across the Southeast.
HERA membership has developed a strong network of communications to ensure all members are informed of disaster events, training opportunities, meetings or educational events. HERA Atlanta has 114 members from some thirteen counties, a set of Bylaws and cooperative relationships with sister state organizations to our South such as Savannah Heritage Emergency Response (SHER) in Savannah. Cultural Heritage professionals continue to come together with First Responders to educate each other on the best ways to protect Georgia’s Cultural Heritage collections from disaster, either natural or manmade.
HERA Atlanta holds at least two hands-on educational events each year and holds quarterly steering committee meetings. Our membership comprises professionals working cultural heritage fields. We continually work together with our local first responders to educate ourselves and our community on the best practices and measures to protect our state’s 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.
Please share the attached information from National Heritage Responders. National Heritage Responders 24 hour hotline is 202-661-8068 for free advice by phone or you may contact 202-661-8068 to arrange for a volunteer team to come to the site and make a damage assessment at no cost and help organize salvage operations.
As we reported last week, the fire continued to burn for another week due to a deposit of coal in the basement of the courthouse. Hancock County officials, architects, and disaster recovery experts completed initial damage assessments last week.
The modern steel elevator doors and other hollow steel doors melted completely away, indicating that the fire temperature exceeded 1000 degrees.
The debris will be treated as contaminated and abatement has begun.
Abatement professionals will try to salvage historic architectural features and clock parts.
Document recovery experts estimate 279 cu. ft. of records may be saved.
Recent messages from the architect said the salvaged fireproof safes and cabinets contained piles of ash when opened, though they were found tightly closed.
Plans have been drawn for stabilization of the structure and work has begun and should be completed by Friday.
Discussions have begun with architects on the new floor plans of the courthouse. Most of the structure will be restored to its original configuration. The Courtroom level will be redesigned meet the modern needs of today’s Judicial System requirements.
We will continue to monitor the situation. At this time, there is no need for HERA volunteers.
Kim Norman of the Georgia Archives spoke to Sistie Hudson (Hancock County Commission Chair) today and learned that the reason the fire has not been extinguished is because coal stored inthe basement from an old furnace continues to burn. The coal will continue to burn with or without water dousing the site. Moreover, burning coal can produce toxic fumes. The state Fire Marshal has erected the fence line and closed the road until the walls of the structure are braced. The building cannot be structurally secured until the fire is out. So, it could be days or another week.
Chairman Hudson also reported that the state fire marshal has said the cause is yet undetermined. ATF officials visited the site without comment and will be submitting their findings. There is one vault at the courthouse with two opposing entries; both vault doors were open at the time of the fire. The fire marshal also said that three levels in the courthouse have pancaked down, creating debris layers and making it impossible to see what might remain.
Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the potential salvage of records. Nevertheless, Chairman Hudson was very grateful to hear from Kim and formally requested assistance from the Georgia Archives to conduct an assessment once the building has been cleared for entry.
I will send a separate message to the potential volunteers with a list of supplies to gather, just in case they are needed.