Preparing a Local Disaster Plan
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Planning locally for disaster—whether done comprehensively by a municipal body or narrowly for a single agency or institution—is probably the single best defense against the threat of disaster. Local governments and institutions often know their communities best, and with the help of a plan can use this knowledge to react effectively to disaster scenarios. This document intends to be an overview of the process of creating a disaster plan and a guide to a set of resources that offer detailed instructions for creating your own.
The most critical resources relating to this topic are marked below with a check.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Planning & Historic Preservation Program
- Heritage Preservation: Heritage Emergency National Task Force
The plan you or your organization creates will depend on the resources you have available to create the plan as well as the scope you decide is appropriate (for information on financial resources available for planning, see the FINANCIAL RESOURCES heading later in this document). In order to get acquainted with the different forms a disaster plan may take, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the format and content of the following three examples, which represent varying lengths and scopes but address the same core work:
- Galveston, Texas: Disaster Preparation for Historic Properties(City of Galveston Department of Planning and Community, 2007)
- Minnesota: Thinking About the Unthinkable: A Disaster Plan for Historic Properties in Minnesota(Minnesota SHPO, 1999)
- Florida: Disaster Planning for Florida's Historic Resources (1000 Friends of Florida/Florida SHPO et al, 2003)
An indispensible resource for anyone seeking to integrate historic preservation into disaster planning is Preparing to Preserve: An Action Plan to Integrate Historic Preservation into Tribal, State and Local Emergency Management Plans (Heritage Preservation, December 2008, 22 pages). It is a plainly written step-by-step guide that thoroughly addresses the interface of preservation practice and policy with different levels of government and response mechanisms.
Protecting The Past from Natural Disasters (by Carl L. Nelson, Preservation Press, 1989) is another excellent resource to guide the creation of a preservation-integrated disaster plan. Though out of print (it is available from resellers online) and a little dated, it provides detailed information on how to approach different steps in the process.
Key Elements of a Disaster Plan
A disaster preparedness plan for historic properties not only codifies actions that should be taken to respond to a disaster, it also depends on the existence of supporting resources in order to reach its full potential. The following is a list of elements or steps critical to the success of any plan:
Identify the risks particular to your city or region.
This can include specific disasters as well as specific institutional, resource, physical or political vulnerabilities. Are historic resources in your area vulnerable to floods, hurricanes, tornados, or fires? Is there any special risk posed by particular building materials or construction methods prevalent in local historic structures? Do institutional or political circumstances create roadblocks for preservation?
Identify federal, state, and local programs & mechanisms dedicated to disaster preparedness and response in your state, region, or city.
Identifying programs can help flag sources of aid as well as potential areas where you may need to work to better integrate preservation with existing procedures. Check with your state government's State Historic Preservation Office and State Emergency Management Office, and find out if you have a county or local disaster officer or coordinator.
- A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process(FEMA)
- Preparing to Preserve: An Action Plan to Integrate Historic Preservation into Tribal, State, and Local Emergency Management Planscontains a vital series of recommendations for raising the preservation awareness and accountability of survey teams, emergency management personnel and first responders (pp 12-13).
- Preparing to Preserve: Emergency Planning Model Checklist for Historic Preservation(Heritage Preservation) is a handy checklist for your community.
- Disaster Planning for Florida's Historic Resources (1000 Friends of Florida/Florida SHPO) contains a chapter on integrating historic preservation into the local response and recovery framework (pp 39-43).
- Integrating Historic Property and Cultural Resource Considerations Into Hazard Mitigation Planning: State and Local Mitigation Planning How-To Guide This 202-page document shows communities, step by step with the needed tools and resources, how to develop and then implement a pre-disaster planning strategy for historic properties and cultural resources.
- Building An Emergency Plan: A Guide for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions(Getty Conservation Institute). A guide to planning geared specifically to cultural institutions rather than physical built fabric. Features case studies and information for specific teams within an organization.
- Up In Smoke (Preservation Magazine, November/December 2002). Discusses publications useful for developing fire safety code for historic buildings; discusses performance-based building codes—a policy tool that can be used to limit destruction of historic fabric while improving fire safety; discusses other ways to limit the threat of fire in historic structures.
- Incentives for Retrofitting Vulnerable Privately-Owned Buildings(EERI/San Francisco) Building Occupancy Resumption Program (San Francisco/EERI) allows building owners to pre-certify private post-earthquake inspection of their buildings by qualified engineers upon building department acceptance of a written inspection program.
- State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) List, found at the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers' website.
- Historic Preservation Federal Agencies and Programs, a list maintained by FEMA.
- dPlan, produced by a cooperative effort between the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, is an online disaster planning tool for cultural and civic institutions.
- Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Flood Recovery And Reinvestment Plan(March 3, 2009). Cedar Rapids produced this plan after the historic 2008 floods that damaged much of the city.
- Alert DC is an example of a citywide rapid text notification system delivering information during a major crisis or emergency. This system delivers important emergency alerts, notifications and updates on a range of devices including email, phones, pagers, and PDAs. Other cities and organizations, include colleges and universities, have used similar systems to rapidly dissemenate important information in the event of an emergency.
Create a local architectural survey and keep it up to date
An architectural survey serves as an inventory of important resources. In the event of a disaster, the survey helps you know where in your city and on your building to look for damage, and what kind of damage or loss to look for. Additionally, a survey is an indispensible element of developing National Register historic district (a designation conferred by the Department of the Interior upon completion of a thorough nomination, often by local departments, consultants or organizations). When a resource is individually listed, listed as "contributing" in a district, or is eligible for the National Register, it becomes eligible for certain federal and state tax credits, grants-in-aid, exemptions in the National Flood Insurance Program, and must be given consideration during any FEMA-funded post-disaster mitigation projects including construction, demolition, relocation, etc.
- Guidelines for Conducting Cultural Resource Survey in Virginia. Though written to address protocol in Virginia specifically, this document provides excellent guidance on why and how to conduct an in-depth architectural survey.
- From Thinking About the Unthinkable: A Disaster Plan for Historic Properties in Minnesota, a section on identifying and documenting historic properties.
- Guidance for Photographing Historic Resources(FEMA)
- Applying GPS to Historic Preservation and Architectural Surveys (NPS)
Provide resources and recommendations for home and building owners.
Historic home and building owners should take steps to organize their affairs (verify the soundness of their insurance coverage, document their building) as well as to physically protect and secure their property. The latter will depend largely on the risks and threats identified earlier.
- Water-Resistant Design and Construction: An Illustrated Guide to Preventing Water Intrusion, Condensation, and Mold(McGraw Hill 2007, 286 pages). An in-depth guide to preparing your home to withstand water intrusion threats from floods, hurricanes, and severe storms.
- Disaster Mitigation for Historic Structures: Protection Strategies(Florida SHPO/1000 Friends of Florida). A guide to help building owners understand which protection and mitigation strategies maybe appropriate for their property based on its specific characteristics.
- Preserving History from Fire: Bridging the Gap Between Safety Codes and Historic Buildings (Old House Journal, November/December 2000). Addresses fire code issues for older buildings.
- Fire Safety in Historic Buildings(National Trust for Historic Preservation)
- Fire Safety Retrofitting(General Services Administration)
- Home Builder's Guide to Coastal Construction Technical Fact Sheet Series(free, FEMA) A series of 31 technical fact sheets detailing such things as Using a Flood Insurance Rate Map, Moisture Barrier Systems, Coastal Building Materials, and more.
- Controlling Disaster: Earthquake-Hazard Reduction for Historic Resources(National Trust for Historic Preservation)
- Floodplain Management Bulletin on Historic Structures (FEMA)
For properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there is an exemption opportunity in the National Flood Insurance Program that allows buildings within the 100-year flood plain not to be forced to elevate occupied floors above that level. To implement this exemption requires an appropriate ordinance by local government. If properly done, such an exemption still enables the property owner to obtain Federal Flood Insurance.
- Hurricane Preparedness: Are You Ready? (North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources) A quick guide to preparing your home for an impending hurricane.
Plan for recovery
Knowing what to do in the hours, days, and weeks after a disaster can make the difference between losing and saving valuable historic resources. Having a recovery strategy in place increases the chances that damaged historic structures will survive, that state and federal monies are deployed to your greatest local advantage, and that the value and character of your city or town live on.
- Treatment of Flood-Damaged Older and Historic Buildings (National Trust For Historic Preservation) is a seminal 15-page guide on treating water damaged buildings.
- Preparing to Preserve: Emergency Planning Model Checklist for Historic Preservation(Heritage Preservation) is a handy checklist for your community.
- Disaster Planning for Florida's Historic Resourcescontains a chapter on integrating historic preservation into the local response and recovery framework (pp 39-43).
- Mold Removal Guidelines For Your Flooded Home(LSU Ag Center)
- Coping With Water Damage(Heritage Preservation) is an informative video on how to re-enter flooded buildings and deal with damaged contents and collections.
- Brief Guide to Understanding Repairs to Historic Homes Damaged By Hurricane Katrina and Other Related Floods(Preservation Trades Network) provides information on caring for masonry foundations and roofing, enhancing ventilation, all while keeping preservation in mind.
- How to Save Your Adobe Home in the Event of a Flood Disaster(Cornerstones)
- Rebuilding Historic Communities Through Historic Preservation(Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division [SHPO])
- Information For Owners of Damaged Buildings Following A National Disaster(North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office [SHPO]). A series of fact sheets on dealing with the immediate and longer-term work associated with caring for a building after a disaster.
- After The Flood: Rebuilding Communities Through Historic Preservation, a video produced by Georgia Public Broadcasting, talks about the state response mechanisms that acted to save historic resources after the historic 1996 floods in south Georgia.
- Disaster Debris, information from the EPA about cleaning up debris after disasters.
- Dealing With Debris And Damaged Buildings, post-Katrina information from the EPA specifically relating to structurally unsound buildings and hazardous materials.
- Tree Care After Storms, from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Financial Resources for Planning & Response
- FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program. This program provides funds to states, territories, Indian tribal governments, communities, and universities for hazard mitigation planning and the implementation of mitigation projects prior to a disaster event.
- www.floodsmart.gov, the official website of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
- FEMA Public Assistance Grant Program. This program is designed to provide assistance to State, Tribal and local governments, and certain types of Private Nonprofit organizations so that communities can quickly respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies declared by the President.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans. SBA offers several different types of loans designed to keep businesses in operation after disasters and to rebuild or replace uninsured or underinsured disaster damages.
- Before and After Disasters: Federal Funding for Cultural Institutions(FEMA). This guide is an updated and expanded version of Resources for Recovery: Post-Disaster Aid for Cultural Institutions, first developed in 1992 by Heritage Preservation and then revised in 2000. Before and After Disasters includes summary descriptions and contact information for 15 Federal grant and loan programs (pdf).
- Community Development Block Grant Program(HUD) is a flexible grant program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs, which could include disaster planning.
- National Trust For Historic Preservation Grant Funds. The National Trust provides two types of assistance to nonprofit organizations and public agencies: 1) matching grants from $500 to $5,000 for preservation planning and educational efforts, and 2) intervention funds for preservation emergencies. Visit the Grant Funds website to learn more about the availability of funds and how to apply for assistance.
- The President's Advisory Council On Historic Preservation: Federal Financial Assistance for Historic Preservation Projects—Disaster Response. A list of list of Federal disaster relief programs focused on providing financial assistance for structural rehabilitation after a disaster or supporting proactive efforts to reduce or prevent future potential damage.
- Navigating FEMA and SBA Disaster Aid (Heritage Preservation). A brief guide to understanding what is available and to whom.
For Further Reading
- Planning for Post Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction; Chapter 5, A Planner's Tool Kit (American Planning Association, Planning Advisory Service)
- FEMA Historic Preservation Useful Links
A thorough listing of federal historic preservation agencies and programs, as well as laws, regulation guidance, training, and allied organizations throughout the US.
- Field Guide to Emergency Response, published by Heritage Preservation. Geared toward cultural institutions, this publication is a step-by-step guide to deal dealing with disaster scenarios.
- The Importance of Heritage Preservation in Natural Disaster Situations (International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management 2007 - Vol. 7, No.6/7 pp. 993 - 1001, fee for purchase)
- Repair or Demolish: Protecting the investment in your older home (National Trust For Historic Preservation). A fact-sheet on the benefits of restoring a flood-damaged home, created by the National Trust's Midwest Office in response to the 2008 flooding in Iowa.
- A Safer Future - Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters(National Research Council, National Academy Press).
- Building Codes & Historic Rehabilitation Bibliography(David Look)
- Building Codes and Historic Buildings(National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2005)
- Disaster Planning Leaflet(Northeast Document Conservation Center, 2007)
- Disaster Recovery and Mitigation Handbook(State of California Office of Emergency Services, 2004)
- Emergency Management Guide for Business and Industry(FEMA 141, 1993)
- Emergency Preparedness for Historic Sites Bibliography(National Park Service/David Look, 2004)
- Generic Disaster Plan Workbook(CalPreservation.org). The Generic Disaster Plan Workbook is based on the IELDRN Generic Disaster plan and provides a framework to assist institutions in writing their own disaster plan.
- Perimeter Security Retrofitting for Historic Buildings(APT Bulletin, vol. 35, no 1, 2004, fee for access)
- Smart Codes in Your Community: A Guide to Building Rehabilitation Codes (HUD, 2001)
- NFPA 914: Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures, (National Fire Protection Association) used by National Trust properties.
- Fire Ratings of Archaic Materials and Assemblies, (HUD) A 184-page HUD document detailing the fire safety of materials often found in historic buildings but often omitted from contemporary fire ratings sources. This document can assist in the modernization and reuse of historic buildings by providing more thorough information on the fire safety of certain materials.
- Fire Inspection Checklist, (National Fire Protection Association) Designed for professionals but relevant to building and homeowners, this checklist can help identify and reduce fire risks in historic buildings.
- Fire Safety Retrofitting in Historic Buildings(GSA, 1989)
- New Concern for the Flammability of Building Contents (Interior Design, v. 57, pg. 97)
- Automatic Fire Suppression for Historic Structures: Options & Applications (APT Bulletin, v 34, no 4, 35-40)
- Considering Fire-safety Improvements to Historic Buildings (APT Bulletin, v 34, no 4, 35-40
- Fire Prevention & Building Code Compliance for Historic Buildings(Vermont Department of Labor & Industry)
- Fire Protection at Mount Vernon: Incorporating Modem Fire Safety Systems into an Historic Site (Technology & Conservation, 5, pgs 18-25, 1980)
- Unreinforced Masonry Building Fact Sheet(Northern California Chapter of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute).
- Bricks, Mortar, and Earthquakes; Historic Preservation vs. Earthquake Safety(APT Bulletin, vol. 21, Nos. 3/4, pgs. 30-43, 1989)
- Earthquake Safety Guide for Homeowners (FEMA/California Seismic Safety, 2005)
- Glossary of Earthquake and Seismic Retrofit Terms and Acronyms(Seismic Retrofit of Historic Buildings Workshop, Association for Preservation Technology International, October 7-9, 2001, Asilimar Conference Center, Monterey Peninsula, California)
- The Homeowner's Guide to Earthquake Safety (California Seismic Safety Commission, 1994, 2005)
- Preparing for Earthquakes - It's your business (Alamedia Main Street Project, 1992)
- Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country: San Francisco Bay Region (USGS, 2007)
- An Action Plan for Reducing Earthquake Hazards of Existing Buildings (FEMA 90, December 1985, hard copy only)
- Appendix to the Guidebook to Identify and Mitigate Seismic Hazards in Buildings (Seismic Safety Commission, 1987).
- Architectural Practice & Earthquake Hazards (Seismic Safety Commission, 1991).
- Between Two Earthquakes (ICCROM, 1987)
- Creating a Seismic Safety Advisory Board (FEMA 266, 1995)
- Downtown Design: Seismic Strengthening of Historic Main Street Buildings I: Outline of the Design Process (California Main Street Program)
- Earthquake Hazard Reduction: Cumulative Impacts on Historic Buildings (Community Redevelopment)
- Earthquake Hazard Reduction in Unreinforced Masonry Buildings: Program Alternatives: Draft Summary of Comments and Responses, Draft Environmental Impact Report (City and County of San Francisco, 1991
- Earthquake Safe: A Hazard Reduction Manual for Homes (Builder's Booksource, 1989)
- Earthquake! You Can Prepare (Mayor's Office of Emergency Services, City of San Francisco)
- Employee Earthquake Preparedness for the Workplace and Home (American Red Cross, Bay Area, 1992)
- Guidebook to Identify and Mitigate Seismic Hazards in Buildings (Seismic Safety Commission, 1987)
- History at Risk - Loma Prieta: Seismic Safety and Historic Buildings (California Preservation Foundation, 1990)
- Information for Owners of Buildings with Earthquake Damage (East Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1989)
- Living on the Fault Line (California Preservation Foundation, 1990)
- Living with Seismic Risk (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1976)
- The Loma Prieta Quake: What One City Learned (International City Management Association, 1991)
- Theme Issue: Public Policy, vol. 8, No. 1 (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute)
- Unreinforced Masonry Buildings and San Jose's Seismic Code (Preservation Action Council of San Jose)
- Disaster Hits Home (University of California Press)
Do you know of a good disaster resource or a planning or response success story? Tell us about it!
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