New Frontiers in Emergency Preparedness

Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, Preservation Specialist, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

Emergency preparedness in libraries and archives has changed in some significant ways in the recent past. For one thing, there is a growing awareness among emergency management organizations and first responders that cultural resources, while not as crucial as human life or as “getting things back to normal,” are important to the national well-being, and need to be considered seriously when addressing emergency preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery issues. In many ways this symposium evolved out of two particular events in the past two years: Alliance for Response and dPlan. On November 17, 2003, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston hosted a one-day forum called Alliance for Response, sponsored by Heritage Preservation. The Boston forum was organized by several of the members of this symposium. It brought together representatives from the cultural and emergency communities to discuss the need to include cultural resources in emergency management plans, and to provide an opportunity for these groups to interact. Concurrently, the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) were working on developing dPlan: an Online Disaster Planning Tool, a project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Moderated by Arthur Beale of the Museum of Fine Arts, the focus of the ALCTS 2005 Midwinter Symposium held in Boston was to introduce the participants to new developments and concepts in emergency planning that many may not have considered. Gregor Trinkaus-Randall (MBLC preservation specialist) began the program with a brief history of emergency preparedness in Massachusetts since approximately 1990, including training opportunities, the Cultural Resources Disaster Planning and Mitigation Task Force, cultural resources representation on the Massachusetts Emergency Management Team, MBLC’s Emergency Assistance Program, e-mail weather alerts to the cultural resources community, the development of dPlan, and the creation of the Cultural Emergency Management Team (CEMT) in Boston.

Jane Long of Heritage Preservation then spoke on her organization’s role in addressing the importance of cultural resources in emergency preparedness. She mentioned the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel that was distributed nationally to cultural institutions. She also summarized the results of the four Alliance for Response Forums held in Dallas, Cincinnati, Boston, and New York City. Bernard Margolis, president of the Boston Public Library, then discussed the creation of CEMT. Since Boston is so rich in cultural resources, after the Alliance for Response meeting it was felt that it was important to address emergency preparedness and response as it affects Boston’s cultural community. CEMT is composed of representatives of the Boston and Federal Emergency Management agencies; NEDCC; MBLC; the Massachusetts Archives; the Boston Public Library; and other relevant organizations. Meeting monthly, CEMT members are working to develop an emergency response team, and they now have a seat on the Boston Emergency Management Team.

Fred Vanderschmidt of the Federal Emergency Management Agency then spoke on the growing awareness in that agency of the need to consider cultural resources in their emergency preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery activities and planning. He showed a number of examples where this change has already begun to have an impact. Finally, Lori Foley of NEDCC demonstrated dPlan. The focus of dPlan is to provide institutions with many templates to complete as they apply to their institution. dPlan templates address as many of the components of an emergency preparedness plan as possible. Furthermore, much of the information that is printed in the final plan is “behind the scenes” and addresses such things as salvage procedures, information on specific hazards, and insurance information. Based on the information provided by an individual institution, an institution-specific plan is then generated. The plan and all the information reside on the NEDCC server and are password protected. As institutions complete their plans, this will set off a timer that will result in institutions receiving notification at six-month intervals to review and revise their plans.

The symposium was well-attended and generated a significant amount of interest and questions. As a sidelight, John Maiorana from Ansul, the session sponsors, demonstrated their “dry-water” fire-suppression system to the speakers and participants at the break. All attendees were quite impressed with the technology.