BILOXI, Miss. -- As part of an innovative agreement between federal, state, local and tribal officials, 29 historic properties lost during Katrina have been commemorated with cast aluminum markers.
“We thought it especially important to have sketches of the destroyed buildings on the markers,” said Kenneth P’Pool, deputy state historic preservation officer of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “It gives people an appreciation of what was lost. Some of these illustrations are the last examples of architectural styles on the Coast.”
The wooden Church of the Redeemer was a prime example of the Carpenter Gothic style. The engraving of a bell tower in front of it depicts one from a newer church built in 1891. The bell tower was the only part of that structure to survive Hurricane Camille in 1969.
It is a challenge for communities to protect historic properties during and after a disaster. They need to protect the health and safety of citizens – for example, by removing large amounts of disaster debris in a timely manner – while preserving the integrity of a historic site.
The National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to consider the effects their projects may have on historic properties. The agencies must review background information and consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and other knowledgeable sources. In many cases, further surveys and studies are needed to make a final determination on how or if to proceed. The review process can take several weeks—even months, which may not be in the interest of public safety.
To expedite removal of massive amounts of debris after Hurricane Katrina for public health and safety, FEMA entered into an agreement with several agencies to streamline the process. Partners included the Mississippi State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO); Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI); Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).
Using GPS data, FEMA’s Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation program surveyed historic districts, properties and archaeological sites in the lower Mississippi counties most affected by Katrina and created a database that will help emergency management officials in future disasters.
They also updated listings for the National Register of Historic Places, and found 58 archaeological sites that had not previously been identified.
“So much damage was done by Katrina that there was a great need to clean up the debris, but little time to enter into the proper consultation required by the National Historic Preservation Act,” said P’Pool.
“We now have a much better handle on the numbers, locations and types of historic properties and
where they’re distributed around the Gulf Coast. Having that knowledge provides us with an opportunity to make a much more rapid response in assessing damage to specific historic properties in the future.”
“It’s very rewarding to be part of an agreement that can be used as a model for other states,” said Cyril Baxter Mann, deputy environmental liaison officer for FEMA’s Historic Preservation program.
For its work after Katrina, FEMA received the Chairman’s Award for Federal Achievement from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, in coordination with SHPO and other partners, for its innovative effort in creating the digitized database of historic properties.
In addition, for the Katrina recovery, FEMA’s EHP program reviewed more than 17,000 recovery projects for potential environmental and historic preservation issues. It also reviewed more than 13,000 Hazard Mitigation Grant Program applications for placement of in-ground shelters.
For more information on this agreement and FEMA archaeological specialists at work: view this video.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.