Division of Archives and Records Service

Alliance for Response: Safeguarding Utah's Cultural Heritage

Rosemary Cundiff
November 15, 2011
       Some of Utah’s cultural heritage custodians met with first responders and disaster planners at the Utah Alliance for Response forum on November 2, to discuss actions that can be taken to protect  records and other cultural heritage artifacts in the event of a disaster. Planners hope that the outcome of this forum will be the creation of partnerships and strengthened communication between these groups. Education, preparation, and advanced planning will go a long way toward helping the state protect its records and cultural heritage in the event of a disaster.

     At the forum, Randy Silverman, preservation librarian at the University of Utah Library, described the tragic loss of records and cultural heritage in a disaster at Minot, North Dakota. Flooding of the Mouse River last June damaged thousands of  homes, and the community lost many irreplaceable records and artifacts. Utahans must consider ways to prevent a similar loss in the event of a major earthquake or other disaster. Forum speakers discussed first responders’ role in protecting cultural property. Then discussion groups came up with ideas about things that can be implemented to mitigate the loss of records and cultural heritage in the event of a disaster. Ideas expressed include the following: (see discussion notes)

  1. Cultural heritage custodians can become acquainted with emergency responders and provide them with information in advance. A diagram of the building – maybe even a tour – will be useful as well as contact information for people who understand the building and the collections housed in it. Emergency responders will need to know the location of important items, and also the location of any hazardous materials.
  2. Records custodians should be prepared with emergency supplies and disaster recovery plans. These plans might include such things as an inventory of the records holdings along with established priorities, preauthorized authority to make decisions, and mutual aid agreements.
  3. Records custodians should back up essential and vital records at off site locations and and have Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) in place.
  4. Emergency responders can be involved in planning and training that will enable cultural heritage custodians to take actions in advance. For example, an assessment of how a building is likely to perform in an earthquake will help cultural heritage custodians with mitigation plans.

      The effectiveness of our ability to protect Utah’s cultural heritage depends on our ability to plan and work together. Perhaps the process of making plans is more important than the plan itself because in thinking and doing, we build alliances and get to know one another. Ongoing planning will keep our plans fresh and enable a more effective response in the event of a disaster.  Participants of the forum went away with specific action assignments. Continuing the discussion begun at this forum will make a big difference in cultural heritage custodians’ ability to respond to a disaster. Those who were unable to attend can still join this discussion. Participation ideas include:

1. Participate in The Great Utah Shake Out, the largest earthquake drill in Utah history. This statewide drill is planned for April 17, 2012, and anyone can register to participate.

2. Participate in the Essential Records Protection and Disaster Recovery workshop to be held at Utah State Archives on April 11, 2012. Register for workshop.

3. Get to know first responders in your area and begin your own conversation with them. Invite them to your building, ask them what you can do to help them to help you in the event of a disaster. Give them a tour and possibly even some treats. To learn more, click here.

4. Sign up for the Alliance for Response Listserv to receive email updates.

Everyone’s participation will make a difference.