Cultural institutions such as museums, libraries, and archives, as well as historic structures, are all subject to damage when natural disasters occur. In December 1994, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (now Heritage Preservation), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), convened a meeting in Washington, D.C. to initiate the development of a national emergency infrastructure so that future emergencies for cultural institutions could be met with a focused response.

At the meeting, more than eighty representatives of national cultural and historical service organizations and federal agencies met with the goal of ensuring that cultural institutions better anticipate problems arising from future disasters and quickly find resources necessary to speed recovery. The meeting provided a rare opportunity for cultural leaders and government officials to join forces.

In response to a recommendation from members of the summit to establish a national committee of cultural and historic preservation leaders and federal officials, a National Task Force on Emergency Response, was convened in March 1995. The task force, formed by the federal agencies and private organizations represented at the summit, sought to coordinate for the first time a national approach to disaster response for cultural heritage. Along with the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, the GCI provided staff and administrative support to launch the task force, as well as facilitating communication among its members. The task force represented an important advance in the efforts of the GCI to help cultural institutions cope with disasters. Since its inception, the GCI has engaged in disaster preparedness and response, including researching mitigation measures and organizing of emergency response activities in the United States and abroad.

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