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Katrina: Latest Survey of Historic Sites

As relief and recovery efforts continue along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, work is concentrating on assessments of damage to museums, libraries, archives, historic structures, and sites of historic interest.

As reports continue to be logged in by the American Association of Museums (see http://www.aam-us.org/aamlatest/news/HurricaneFirstReports.cfm ) it appears that in spite of individual horror stories, historic sites in New Orleans, since they generally were constructed on higher land, have been incredibly lucky. Staff members of the Historic New Orleans Collection were able to enter the French Quarter with an escort of state police. Their buildings and collections were “high and dry” and much of the material has been moved to institutions elsewhere in Louisiana. At the present time, it has been reported that while the city’s archives was spared from flooding, concerns remain about documents left exposed to the humidity which may result in their destruction from mold.

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) has set up a Historical Resources Recovery Fund, which can be viewed at http://www.aaslh.org/katrina.htm . Organizations that are going to need financial support in this recovery effort include the New Orleans Public Library, which houses a number of un-microfilmed records of the city’s civil, criminal, and probate courts and the University of New Orleans, which houses the records of the state’s Supreme Court. While all of the aquatic life at the city’s aquarium was lost, the majority of animals at the zoo were quickly transported to other facilities across the country. Reports also indicate that the New Orleans Notarial Records have been packed into freezer trucks to ensure their preservation. And despite seemingly overwhelming odds, Dillard University president Marvalene Hughes remains determined that her campus, viewed by many as a cultural and historical jewel in its own right, will ultimately recover from the devastation.

Reports are also coming in from other areas along the Gulf Coast. At the present time, no fewer than 20 Mississippi libraries have endangered collections and continue to be without power. The public libraries in Biloxi and Pascagoula apparently have been completely destroyed. By contrast, archives and records centers in Florida have been reported as surviving the storm satisfactorily.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is reaching out to the history and cultural communities and is now working closely with the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) to gather as much information as possible about all of the cultural institutions and specifically determine which have been directly affected by Katrina. FEMA is hiring 15-20 Historic Preservation Specialists for the purpose of providing technical assistance to the disaster programs to fulfill the necessary legal responsibilities under various historic preservation laws. In addition, the specialists will assist FEMA in integrating historic preservation considerations into the development and review of projects proposed for funding. For interested parties, additional information regarding the job description and contact information can be found at: http://www.planetizen.com/node/17342 .

In an effort to help with the prompt recovery of historic places, collections, and records in the future, the National Park Service (NPS) has created the Historic Preservation Learning Portal, which can be viewed at www.historicpreservation.gov . Working in collaboration with FEMA, the United States Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, and 15 additional Federal agencies, the Historic Preservation Leaning Portal is a powerful new tool to provide a direct link to all historic preservation information on the Internet. Individuals can quickly find Federal agency sites, the sites of historical preservation offices, state historic preservation offices, and the sites of non-profit and professional historical organizations. The system does not require keywords and will allow for a specific question to be asked, resulting in a range of information on the particular subject. There are currently over 1,000 historic preservation sites that have been indexed by the portal.

In response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA) has joined with the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the National Association for Government Archivists and Records Administration (NAGARA) in issuing a joint statement recognizing the tragic losses and offering continued support as the region rebuilds. To this end, the ACA has offered their members who live in the affected regions easier ways to retain their CA status. Membership dues will be waived for one year for any CA in the affected area; any impacted CA who is due to recertify in 2006-2007 will have a 2 year extension time; and a waiver on the one-time ACA membership fee will be granted to new CA’s who passed the exam in 2005. The statement can be viewed at http://www.certifiedarchivists.org/html/newsarch.html .

Read entire article at Newsletter of the National Coalition for History