International Foundation For Art Research (IFAR)
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September 11th:

Proceedings of an IFAR Symposium on
February 28, 2002

The Heritage Emergency National Task Force

by Lawrence L. Reger

[Lawrence L. Reger is President, Heritage Preservation, Heritage Emergency National Task Force.]

The Heritage Emergency Task Force was created in 1995 in recognition that no one agency or organization can alone provide assistance, expertise, and resources for the cultural community in a time of disaster. Co-sponsored by the nonprofit Heritage Preservation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Task Force is composed of more than 30 federal agencies and national service organizations concerned with protecting the nation's cultural heritage.

It seeks to help museums, libraries, archives, historical societies, and historic sites protect their cultural and historic resources from natural disasters and other emergencies by promoting preparedness and mitigation measures and by providing expert information on response and salvage. The Task Force also provides information to individuals about what they can do to salvage treasured heirlooms damaged by a disaster.

In October 2001, the Task Force set out to conduct an assessment of the impact of the September 11th events on cultural properties in lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon. Not only did we want to document the extent of damage, but also to evaluate how prepared institutions were to deal with emergencies of any kind. Support for this project was provided by the Bay Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities.

Survey forms were mailed to approximately 120 museums, libraries, archives, and exhibit spaces located mainly south of 14th Street in lower Manhattan. To date [February 28], we have received responses from 52 institutions, for a response rate of 43%. We anticipate the following figures will vary slightly in the final report as the data is analyzed more thoroughly.

As you probably know, with the exception of institutions located within the World Trade Center complex, there was a minimum of permanent physical damage to cultural institutions in the area. 96% of the respondents to our survey reported no structural damage to their buildings, and 88% reported no damage or soiling to their collections. Dust, smoke, and falling debris were cited as the primary causes of those that did report damage or soiling. Less than a quarter reported subsequent damage or problems related to the disaster.

However, a full 78% reported their institutions were forced to close as a result of September 11th and that their communications systems were disrupted, some for as long as four months.

Since our survey did not concentrate primarily on economic attendance issues, I will only briefly note a few findings in those areas:

71% reported that public visitation decreased after September 11. Again, this figure so far exceeds the number of institutions reporting damage that we conclude the decrease was primarily due to problems arising from the aftermath of the disaster, including restricted public access to the area, transportation difficulties, and disruptions in communications.

Comments we received from many respondents indicated that economic impact was among their chief concerns. Loss of income was directly related to the decrease in public visitation, as many of the organizations saw a sharp decrease in admission fees and revenues from shop sales. In addition, many saw contributions diverted to the rescue and recovery effort at the World Trade Center.

Some of the most interesting information the survey revealed regarding emergency management issues showed that although most organizations escaped long-term damage on September 11, it is clear that less than half were minimally prepared for any type of emergency. Just 44% had a written emergency response or emergency communications plan. Similarly, only 42% had staff trained in disaster response procedures. 60% indicated they had an emergency evacuation plan.

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