In March 1997 the National Task Force on Emergency Response marked its second anniversary. The group, formed by the GCI, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (NIC), is a partnership of 28 government agencies and national organizations committed to providing coordinated, expert assistance to cultural institutions and the public in times of disaster.
The task force began its efforts by distributing flood/hurricane information packets to archives, state library chapters, museums, and historic sites in disaster areas; the NIC has mailed nearly 7,000 packets. Another information product, produced by the GCI, is Safeguarding Our Cultural Heritage, videotaped highlights of the National Summit on Emergency Response.
An important task force accomplishment is the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel, a slide chart that provides quick access to information on protecting and salvaging collections within the first 48 hours of an emergency. Its preparation was coordinated by the NIC. With the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the St. Paul Companies, the wheel will be distributed free of charge later this year to 45,000 museums, libraries, archives, and historical societies.
Under the task force, FEMA, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, state emergency managers, and historic preservation officers are promoting model state programmatic agreements to expedite assistance following a disaster. Federal agency task force members are also creating a Federal Mission Assignment Roster of preservation and conservation specialists. The training working group, led by the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, is developing curriculum on disaster response and salvage that will be part of a trainer's manual to be tested this summer; the training will eventually be offered nationwide.
Through FEMA's Internet Web site and its bilingual newsletter The Recovery Times, conservation information on salvaging family treasures has reached millions of U.S. citizens. During the severe flooding in the western United States of January 1997, FEMA distributed to television news directors a video news release on saving family photographs. In the coming year, the Public Information Working Group, under the aegis of the GCI and the NIC, will develop public service announcements demonstrating practical steps that homeowners can take to save their prized possessions.
Task force delegate Donna Seifert, past president of the Society for Historical Archaeology, regards the task force as "a rare example of a voluntary association that actually gets things done. Task force meetings lead to action, not just to another report on the shelf. I'm recruiting more of my colleagues to become part of the effort."