Colorado group protecting culture during disasters

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By Randy Welch, Region VIII External Affairs

The Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado, killed two people, burned 347 homes, and destroyed subdivisions last summer. One of the communities hit by the fire was the mountain town of Woodland Park, Colo., population 8,000. The fire had been burning several days when the word came to evacuate part of the town.

Just a couple blocks from the evacuation area, sitting in one of the six historic buildings that make up the Ute Pass History Park, it dawned on historical society President Donna Finicle that she needed to evacuate the artifacts in the collection. Fire in the town was possible, and smoke damage was even more likely.

Finicle did a quick walkthrough of the buildings with the curator, marking the key items to take. She called a list of potential volunteers to help move these historical items and called to find a place to store these. Since the pre-designated site in Colorado Springs was cut off by the fire, Finicle called her city liaison to keep officials informed of availability and to provide the fire department with keys and alarm codes for the buildings.

Colorado group photo
Attendees at a recent meeting of the Colorado Historic and Cultural Resources Task Force included Robin Finegan, FEMA Region VIII Administrator, Steve Hardegen, FEMA Environmental and Historic Preservation oficerr, Robert Steward Department of the Interior Regional Environmental officer, Scott Baldwin,  Colorado Office of Emergency Management mitigation specialist and Leslie Williams Acquisitions Librarian  of the University of Colorado System Libraries. Photo provided by Robert N. Layne, International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection.

Within hours, a pickup truck and a couple carloads carried the key remnants of Ute Pass history to an old railroad depot in the town of Divide. But they still forgot some things – like all the business records of the society.

“I realized how hard it is to think logically with all that going on,” Finicle recalled. “I’m level-headed but there is an underlying kind of fear, panic, with all of that was going on. I had people here who differed greatly in how much we should do and when. There is a fine balance between panic and doing nothing.”

All of which shows why cultural and historical organizations need to be involved in disaster planning. They need thorough plans themselves. Many do not know they can apply for disaster assistance and mitigation grants, or that FEMA will help pay for evacuation of their collection. They also don’t know that their volunteer hours can help reduce the city’s matching share of disaster costs. Local fire departments may not know how to access historic buildings, or what critical resources need protection – including the marriage, birth and other critical records cared for by state archivists and county clerks.

That is why the Colorado Office of Emergency Management and the University of Colorado Denver took the initiative to bring together a wide range of emergency managers and nonprofit groups to form the state’s Cultural and Historic Resources Task Force, which met again recently in Denver. It seems to be one of the most advanced groups in the country in pursuing the objectives outlined in the Natural and Cultural Resources annex of the National Disaster Recovery Framework.

The Colorado group now has 85 members, including History Colorado, the University of Colorado System Libraries, the Colorado State Library, a museum association, public libraries, an archivists’ association and the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, plus the solid support of Robin Finegan, FEMA Region VII Administrator. They are involved in risk assessment, mitigation planning, tying into the state recovery plan, identifying databases and contacts to provide to emergency managers. The group is involved with providing subject matter experts to local planning groups, identifying resources and vendors to use during a disaster, exercises, training a recovery team. The team is also involved with creating a guide for local officials to use in recovery, establishing agreements with the State Historic Preservation Office and FEMA for faster post-disaster recovery, and ongoing outreach to both emergency managers and to cultural and historic resource groups.

“We’re looking to integrate cultural and historic resources into the whole emergency process,” says Steve Hardegen, Region VII Environmental and Historic Preservation officer and FEMA liaison to the group. “We need the whole community involved in recovery – and without the facilities and equipment and artifacts of its culture and history, a community is not whole.”

Last Updated: 
04/02/2013 - 10:29