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Monday, May 16 • 8:30am - 9:00am
(Architecture) Weather-Related Events and Historic House Museums; A Ten Year Review of Emergency Preparedness and Mitigation at Historic New England

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With thirty-six historic house museum properties and one collections storage facility spread out in five New England states, the small but dedicated staff at Historic New England are always working to protect the cultural resources under their care. From microbursts to hurricanes, there is a never-ending barrage of weather related events to deal with and climate change has only intensified these events with higher amounts of moisture, higher intensity of lighting, and more damaging winds. Emergency preparedness, by necessity, is a never-ending process at Historic New England.   The Mother’s Day floods of 2006 stretched Historic New England’s resources thin during the worst flooding in New England since the hurricane of 1938. This storm highlighted some noble efforts to protect the resources but also major organizational deficiencies. Ice storms during 2008 showed the potential for damage if tree care did not receive a higher priority while a series of rain events in March 2010 resulted in an effort to explore and resolve drainage issues at the historic sites. A chain of severe lightning strikes during 2010 and 2011 led to analysis of existing lightning protection systems as well as the need for surge suppression in today’s age of sensitive computer equipment. More recently, the record-breaking winter of 2015 illustrated weaknesses in our snow and ice dam mitigation arsenal.  Historic New England has continually evolved our approach to preparedness and planning with each event. For example, one outcome from the 2006 floods was Disaster Day, a day dedicated to emergency preparedness. Disaster Day started with only the building and landscape staff attending. In the nine years since, Disaster Day has grown to include staff from all areas of the organization including site managers, collections and conservation staff, IT, guides and educators; all participating in different forms of training and sharing their response stories and lessons learned. In addition to Disaster Day, Historic New England has also initiated a campaign of risk assessments, improved pre-storm communication protocols, reviewed the access and response issues related to being a regional organization, and has been working with a statewide preparedness group for cultural resources, COSTEP Massachusetts, on an initiative to better integrate cultural resources with local responders. The weather related events also resulted to mitigation initiatives that range from drainage to lightning and surge suppression. Working with a historic house property, each potential mitigation effort has to be carefully reviewed comparing its ability to mitigate the issue and protect historic fabric with the effect the effort might have on historical authenticity. This paper will discuss the key weather related incidents and highlight how each have affected both emergency and project planning at Historic New England, provide an understanding of basic and complex mitigation efforts that might be undertaken at historic properties, and detail the different preparedness initiatives undertaken over the last decade.

avatar for Benjamin Haavik

Benjamin Haavik

Team Leader of Property Care for Historic New England, Historic New England
Benjamin Haavik, Team Leader of Property Care for Historic New England, is responsible for the maintenance and preservation of 37 historic house museums and landscapes open to the public. Ben manages fifteen full-time staff, including preservation carpenters, preservation managers... Read More →

Monday May 16, 2016 8:30am - 9:00am EDT
Room 515