Disasters and Historic Resources

In the event of a disaster, the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology (OHA) is prepared to provide assistance and updated information to assist disaster responders, local officials, owners, and the public on historic property damage issues as a result of a disaster. In addition, OHA may also be able to provide experts to assist in the post-disaster assessment of damaged historic sites, including archeological sites, for boroughs, cities, municipalities, and tribes. (much of the following guidance was taken from the California SHPOs disaster preparedness webpage

Disaster Response and Historic Resources

If you own or manage an historic property, it is important to know where to turn for preservation assistance and guidance immediately after a disaster affects your building. Unless assessment and remedial actions are taken in a timely manner, historic and cultural resources may be unnecessarily damaged or lost. Following a disaster, local jurisdictions will assess area damage, identify hazardous buildings, and act accordingly to protect the public welfare. Proactive preservation response is crucial to prevent any damage or further loss of historic resources.

Eagle Custom House after flood
Eagle Custom House after 2009 flood

Identify, Evaluate, and Document Resources

OHA can provide state database information on historic properties within the disaster area. It is important to cross reference the list of damaged buildings with historic property lists and work with the local jurisdiction to ensure that damaged historic resources are properly identified and addressed. Maintain contact with local jurisdiction decisions on how damaged buildings are treated.

NRHP Listed and Eligible Built Environment Historic Properties Map.
In response to the November 30, 2018 earthquake, Anchorage and immediate Matanuska-Susitna Borough Areas.


Use Qualified Historic Preservation Professionals

It is important to ensure that assessment teams have personnel qualified to assess historic character defining features and integrity. Identify and promote the use of historic preservation professionals and other preservation minded qualified experts to inspect damage, evaluate conditions, and provide technical advice. These professionals possess an integral understanding of older buildings, archaeological sites, and resources available to local jurisdictions with limited staff. OHA may be able to assist in providing preservation professionals for these evaluations.


Protect Resources

Avoid removing or damaging historic fabric during emergency work or any initial cleanup on or around an historic property. Dislodged historic fabric and materials should be carefully salvaged and stored in a safe location, ideally on-site. If the damage to an historic resource is not a life-safety concern, take the time to properly evaluate options based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Also take the time to evaluate and select qualified consultants and/or contractors to perform clean-up and/or repair work.

The following links provide useful information when dealing with disasters and historic properties:

Historic Preservation and Cultural Resources- FEMA Fact Sheet
Emergency Response Action Steps
What to do After Disaster Strikes
The first ten days: emergency response and protection strategies for the preservation of historic structures
Disaster Response and Museum Collections
Museums Alaska Earthquake Response
Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review Guide for Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance Applicants
Tools That Protect Historic Resources After A Disaster (PowerPoint)
Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
NPS Preservation Briefs
Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management


DISASTER PREPAREDNESS PLANNING

The destructive impact of natural disasters underscores the critical need to implement disaster preparedness strategies to preserve vulnerable historic buildings and archeological sites. Without established plans for disaster preparedness, emergency response, and recovery, all historic and cultural resources are at risk.


Disaster Preparedness Planning: What to do Before Disaster Strikes
Preparing Your Historic Resources for Disaster
Integrating Historic Property and Cultural Resource Considerations into Hazard Mitigation Planning