About Alliance For Response

Floods, hurricanes, fires, and other disasters can harm or destroy irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures. But the institutions that safeguard books, documents, photographs, artifacts, and other historical collections can prepare for emergencies to avert or at least minimize damage. One of the keys to preparedness is a relationship with first responders and emergency managers. They are first on the scene at any event that threatens life or safety, and they represent a local system for planning, response, and recovery that has often overlooked a community’s cultural and historic assets.

Protecting Cultural Heritage

A decade ago, the idea of cultural institutions working in partnership with emergency management agencies was a novel one. Thanks to Alliance for Response, the significance of the relationship is more widely recognized. Alliance for Response brings together cultural heritage and emergency management professionals at forums at the local level, where virtually all disaster response begins, and helps the two communities engage in a continuing dialogue. The initial meeting leads to new partnerships and a variety of initiatives to enhance the protection of collections.

Alliance for Response has been effective on many levels: encouraging institutions to complete disaster plans and train for emergencies; creating cooperative disaster assistance networks among museums, libraries, archives, and historical properties and sites; raising awareness of the importance of cultural heritage in communities; and influencing official emergency policies and plans. The impact of Alliance for Response has been felt nationwide. The program has been recognized as an effective way to build cooperation among cultural institutions, strengthen preparedness efforts, and create ties to local emergency management officials.

Generous support from the Fidelity Foundation enabled Heritage Preservation to launch Alliance for Response in 2003 and sustain the program through 2009. Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has enabled Heritage Preservation to build on the momentum of the first six years of this successful program and propel it forward.

Alliance for Response Forums

While the content and structure of forum agendas may vary from site to site, the underlying goal of the meetings is the same: to help communities more effectively protect their cultural and historic resources. The immediate objectives are to:

  • initiate an ongoing dialogue between cultural institutions and emergency managers and first responders;
  • raise awareness of the need to protect cultural and historic resources within communities;
  • encourage disaster planning and mitigation at archives, historic sites, libraries, and museums; and
  • develop strong networks among these institutions to improve local response to emergencies.

The forum is the main mechanism by which Alliance for Response program goals are achieved. The forum content provides a basic overview of cultural heritage to emergency responders and informs cultural heritage professionals about the process of emergency management. All panels, presentations, and break-out sessions aim to enlighten participants on best practices in their respective fields and strengthen lines of communication. Topics often include the significance of the local cultural heritage; how the emergency management process works and where it affects collecting institutions; lessons learned from local disasters; and models for establishing cooperative networks.

Forums provide many opportunities to network, and break-out sessions are designed to result in follow-up projects that strengthen the personal contacts so important to long-term partnerships. Forums average about 75 participants and include professionals from museums, libraries, archives, and historic sites, as well as neighborhood first responders, key state and local emergency managers, and civic leaders. Heritage Preservation’s Forum Planning Handbook walks planning committees through preparations and arrangements to ensure a successful forum. And the AFR Tool Kit provides resources for both nascent and established networks that can help advance their emergency preparedness efforts.