September 9, 2005—News of what is and is not happening in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama is covering the front pages of our newspapers and is being covered widely by National Public Radio and other media. What is not being described is what is happening behind the scenes with many national and local institutions and organizations to try to gain a handle on how to proceed with the assessment and recovery of these states’ cultural heritage. Fortunately, some local people have been able to post some information on the Archives & Archivists Listserv and the Society of Southwest Archivists website, but this does not include all that is happening.
Heritage Preservation has now hosted four conference calls dealing with cultural resources. A sampling of organizations participating includes SAA, AASLH, NEH, NHPRC, IMLS, LC, NARA, NEDCC, FEMA, HP, SI, NTHP, RAP, CCAHA, SOLINET, NPS, AIC, etc. (Pardon all the acronyms, but this update would be nothing but names otherwise.) Two calls have been general discussions with updates from FEMA (John Ketchum in Baton Rouge and Angela Gladwell in Washington). The third focused specifically on architecture and structures, and the fourth was on collections. I have participated in three calls, and Executive Director Nancy Beaumont has participated in two of them. It is clear from these conversations that numerous organizations are posting information on their websites and several (including SAA) are developing lists of potential volunteers.
There have been a couple of emails on the listserv asking what SAA has been doing. In response to these emails, let me say that most organizations are still trying to determine what can be done. Only a few people have been able to access their collections in the affected areas, especially in New Orleans. (More people have been able to get into areas in Mississippi and Alabama than in Louisiana.) Today’s conference call focused to a large extent on steps that organizations such as SAA can take at this juncture. Essentially what appears to have been decided is that institutions in the affected areas will be in contact with their state’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to let them know their status and what assistance they may need. (SAA will be contacting the state historical records advisory boards as well to discuss their involvement in the process.) At the same time, the various organizations will let these SHPOs know what resources are available in the form of personnel, expertise, and equipment so that these can be matched with the needs of the institutions. While this is still in the embryonic stage, it is at least the beginning of some organization and plan to provide assistance.
For those who have not participated in these conference calls (as well as for those who have), this is a frustrating time because so much good will is being expressed and yet it is difficult to move ahead because of the enormity of the disaster, the unknowns regarding the actual conditions of the cultural resources, and the current dangers. Unfortunately, while some areas are accessible to recovery workers, others are still off limits and unsafe. As this situation changes, there will be greater opportunity for concerted action.
SAA has presented a strong case for an assessment of the situation as it applies to records, archives as a whole, and other cultural resources so that a coordinated and focused response can be organized. Slowly but surely we seem to be moving in this direction. We will keep you up to date as things progress.
September 1, 2005—Hurricane Katrina has wrought havoc and destruction throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, and elsewhere in her path. Today I participated in the first of a series of conference calls with many of the organizations that are or will be coordinating recovery efforts and assistance for cultural resources in these areas. As one can imagine, not much is really known as to the extent of damage to these institutions, collections, and sites. For up-to-the-minute information, you can check http://www.heritagepreservation.org . Heritage Preservation will be serving as a clearinghouse for information and also will provide links to numerous other organizations’ and agencies’ Web sites where they will be posting their information. The Regional Alliance for Preservation (RAP) institutions will also be posting information on their Web sites and will be available to answer questions.
It may be weeks, if not months, before a comprehensive idea of the extent of the damage to cultural resources is known. However, planning ahead, those who might be interested in volunteering are encouraged to sign up here. SAA is compiling a volunteer list for future use so that we will be able to forward that information to the appropriate people/organizations at the right time. What we will need to know is a bit about your background (i.e. do you have any hands-on disaster recovery/conservation training/experience), are you willing to do a variety of tasks as necessary, and are you willing to take instructions and work hard. Some of this may seem obvious, but it is important to know, especially since, if you have not been in such a situation before, it can be extremely stressful, boring, repetitive, and exhausting. If you are interested in helping but cannot take the time off or are not interested in volunteering, then we would suggest donating money to the relief efforts of the American Red Cross or other charity of your choice. Thank you.
Finally, if you have questions or information you wish to share, please contact Richard Pearce-Moses, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, and Nancy Beaumont.
Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, Chair
SAA Preservation Section