Planning for natural disaster and flood hazards protects cultural resources

Posted in: Cultural Resources, Water

Protecting cultural resources from flood damageFlooding from natural disasters impact historic resources in coastal areas. Extreme examples such as Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Harvey  caused catastrophic flooding and loss of life along their paths. The risk for major flooding will increase following the latest documented trends in climate change and sea level rise.

Cultural resources professionals and owners of historic properties can’t afford to stand pat and hope the problem will go away. A proactive approach will not prevent the disaster, but it may reduce the impact and hasten the recovery of the affected resources.

As an AICP certified preservation planner I keep current on this topic. I can offer two proactive steps you can take to begin to protect valuable cultural resources in the event of a natural disaster:

Learn more about floods and other hazards, and the risks to historic resources

Through support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Planning Information Exchange offers quarterly webinars that focus on all hazards – including those involving historic resources. Recently, the Planning Information Exchange, in conjunction with the American Planning Association and the Association of State Floodplain Managers, released “Flood Hazard Mitigation in Historic Districts” in an informative slide deck. The slides illustrate the importance of identifying potential problems, planning and implementing plans through hazard mitigation strategies.

A January 11th mitigation study by the National Institute of Buildings Sciences found that, on average, every $1 spent on flood mitigation measures saves $7 in future disaster costs.

It is worth noting that the best strategies for protecting historic resources are counter-intuitive for cultural resource management professionals but may be necessary in the long term. For example: saving historic resources may require exterior alterations, structural changes or even relocation.

Have a plan in place well in advance of a potential natural disaster

There are additional methods to minimize the intrusiveness of alterations described in this FEMA publication, “National Flood Insurance Program, Floodplain Management Bulletin: Historic Structures”. The document provides specific info on state and local mitigation planning.

Also, the Keeping History Above Water website has all sorts of useful information and additional links.

Rick Mitchell

About the Author

Rick Mitchell, AICP, Mead & Hunt Practice Leader for our Cultural Resources team, conducts architectural surveys and preservation planning with a focus on transportation projects. He led Mead & Hunt’s work on the Harbor Bridge project. A sixth-generation Texan, Rick enjoys discovering and documenting the state’s rich cultural and architectural history.

Read more posts by Rick Mitchell

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