Protecting Our Cultural Resources: Forum Addresses Disaster Planning

“South Florida has been very fortunate in recent years, but the fact is we are in the most hurricane prone area of the most hurricane prone state in the country,” notes Curt Sommerhoff, Miami-Dade director of emergency management. Sommerhoff was one of several speakers at the Alliance for Response Miami Forum, held on June 12 at The Wolfsonian. The all-day event gathered approximately ninety key players from South Florida’s cultural heritage and first responders/emergency management communities to facilitate conversations about the region’s unique disaster planning and response needs.

“We had a terrific turnout. The cross-section of people was a great balance of emergency management personnel and representatives from cultural heritage organizations. The goal was to bring together these two groups to discuss what we could be doing better in terms of planning for and responding to emergencies. The event generated extremely valuable discussion,” says Sharon Aponte Misdea, deputy director for collections and curatorial affairs at The Wolfsonian.

The event’s nineteen speakers and panelists included Max Mayfield, hurricane specialist for WPLG-TV and former director of the National Hurricane Center; Michael Spring, director, Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs; and Robert Seibert, interim deputy bureau chief, Disaster Recovery Bureau, Florida Division of Emergency Management.

“Planning for emergencies offers the best possibility to minimize damage and organize a quick recovery after an event. After the forum I think we all felt the need to review and update our emergency plans,” says Rustin Levenson, director, Rustin Levenson Art Conservation Associates, who spoke on the topic of conservation and art recovery after hurricanes, focusing in particular on Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Sandy.

The Wolfsonian is one of several organizations that helped organize the forum and that is spearheading further communication and networking around this issue. The museum’s Misdea, chief registrar Kim Bergen, and development associate Erin Wolfe are members of the planning committee, along with representatives from several other cultural heritage organizations and Sommerhoff. As a result of this forum, which is viewed as a first step in the process, “Cultural heritage managers understand better the value of reaching out to emergency managers in their communities and will take advantage of all the resources available to us. Talking about these issues is really critical,” notes Misdea.

The forum as well as ongoing efforts was funded by the Alliance for Response, a program of Heritage Preservation, a national non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. The Alliance for Response has been holding emergency preparedness forums in cities throughout the country since 2003.

 “The main objective of all Alliance for Response forums is to connect cultural stewards with their local emergency responders before disaster strikes. Even if an institution has a well-rehearsed and up-to-date disaster response plan, a relationship with first responders and emergency managers is key to an institution’s survival and recovery,” explains Lori Foley, vice president, Emergency Programs, Heritage Preservation.

Foley was very pleased with the event. “The forum raised awareness by the emergency management community of the need to protect cultural and historic resources, educated the cultural community about local disaster management issues and protocols, encouraged disaster planning and mitigation, and fostered the desire to develop a strong, ongoing network,” she notes. In other words, the event accomplished its objective. Next steps: further conversation between the two communities. 



Alliance for Response Miami Forum

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Protecting Our Cultural Resources: Forum Addresses Disaster Planning