CoSA Disaster Relief Fund Assists Kentucky Records Recovery
Images: Graves County Courthouse, exterior and interior of clerk's office, Mayfield, KY (provided by KDLA)
The Council of State Archivists and the Friends of Kentucky Public Archives, Inc., recently joined together to assist the Kentucky State Archives with funds to aid in disaster recovery for the many government offices that were affected by the December tornados that hit Western Kentucky. The CoSA Executive Committee approved an emergency allocation of $2000 from CoSA’s Disaster Relief fund, and the Friends group double-matched that amount, allowing for $6000 to use before FEMA funds, insurance, and grant funds from the Kentucky Local Records grant program begin. Funds will be used to purchase dehumidifiers, boxes, and other recovery supplies for local and state government offices.
After the severe storms and tornadoes hit Kentucky on Dec. 10 and 11, 2021, Becca Halbmaier, the West Region Regional Administrator at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA), began reaching out to local government agencies to assess the damage to public records and the disaster recovery assistance available to them from KDLA. The destruction was so extensive that by the following Tuesday some local officials were just getting internet service back and many still did not have access to power or phones.
While many local agencies reported minimal records loss and damage, others were not so fortunate. The Graves County Courthouse was destroyed, forcing state and county offices including the sheriff, county clerk, county attorney, judge executive and property valuation administrator to relocate. Important community records were removed as soon as possible to protect them. Professional restoration companies, Prism Specialties and SERVPRO, were on location to remove nearly all of the records from the courthouse to immediately freeze and transfer records for recovery efforts, while the sheriff’s and jailer’s offices boxed and relocated their records to maintain chain of custody.
With Halbmaier at the front lines, KDLA’s Archives and Records Management Division staff in Frankfort, about 260 miles away, hurried to gather a list of all the local public records from agencies in the affected counties and cities that had been maintained at KDLA in Frankfort. State Archivist Terry Manuel and Local Records Branch Manager Nicole Bryan worked quickly to create a local records emergency disaster recovery assistance grant, which the State Libraries, Archives, and Records Commission approved at an emergency meeting on Dec. 17. Staff contacted local agency organizations and associations to share contact information about grants and KDLA services. Storage boxes and dehumidifiers were ordered and delivered to Halbmaier for distribution to the local agencies hit by the disaster.
Unfortunately, some local records were relocated before they could be frozen and transferred. These boxes were damp, stacked and showing signs of mold and contamination. After further discussion with the appropriate local agencies, Prism picked up the records for freezing and transfer. While some of these records may have been eligible for proper records destruction by KDLA, they could not be identified as such in a safe and certain manner.
Without the quick action of all involved in KDLA, the Council of State Archivists, and the Friends of Kentucky Public Archives, Inc., valuable local records such as marriage licenses, deeds, wills and other important legal documents would have been lost.