US Virgin Islands Disaster Recovery Update

Apr 24, 2018

By Susan Laura Lugo, CA, CPM
Heritage Emergency National Task Force Liaison
All of us are so thankful for CoSA reaching out to the USVI.
We would be remiss if we did not first acknowledge how appreciative we are of the valuable contributions already made by NARA’s Preston Huff, Office of the Chief Records Officer, with Smithsonian team members Ashley Jehle (Objects Conservator, The National Museum of African Art) and Katie Wagner (Book Conservator, Smithsonian Libraries), during their Virgin Islands deployment March 4-17, 2018, with DOI’s NCR RSF team.  During their stay they assessed 27 cultural, historical, and Territorial Government institutions and document depositories impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. There were the organizations that experienced substantial damage, with some dealing with black mold, mildew, insects, wet conditions, and darkened rooms. The team encountered significant damage to old record books—some dating to the Danish period (pre-1917)—and more common, general mold conditions in larger records storage areas. The information they gathered and recommendations made to NCR RSF have informed much of the cultural heritage recovery efforts to-date, and their presence here in the Territory has provided our stakeholders much-needed assurance of expert guidance and support.
Plans are presently in the works for a Smithsonian Heritage Emergency and Response Training (HEART) event for mid-June 2018, patterned on the March 2018 event successfully staged in Puerto Rico.  The week-long HEART curriculum will focus on emergency preparedness and response techniques and provide hands-on training sessions.  We are also working on collaborating with FAIC for NEH funding to stage an Alliance for Response Forum in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico—hopefully in both districts to maximize participation throughout the Territory.  Should the grant application be successful, the Forum(s) would take place in early 2019.
Furthermore, CoSA is prepared to provide $1,000 of supplies from its Emergency Fund and Gaylord Archival has agreed to match it with additional supplies.
We recognize that the Territory’s ability to respond effectively in times of disaster depends in no small part on preparedness, but the current disasters have reinforced for us that it is also about being able to utilize the information resources at hand to maximize our response.  That means identifying our essential records, prioritizing them for continuity of business operations, scheduling records properly for retention and disposition, employing best practices for digitization to preserve our written records, and keeping pace with developments in the field of managing electronic records and information.
The Caribbean is now three months away from the start of its next hurricane season. Government records stewards may have a heightened awareness post-Irma and Maria of the need for records management but the fact remains they are in continual need of emergency preparedness education and training to positively impact the ability to plan, prepare and respond effectively in the event of future disasters.

Category: General News

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