Who You Gonna Call? National Heritage Responders!


Who You Gonna Call? National Heritage Responders!

When emergencies happen, one of the first questions we ask is: “Was anyone hurt?”; the second question is: “Was anything damaged?” Life safety will always
come before collections safety, as it should, but for cultural heritage professionals the collections that we care for daily are a top concern.

When that second question does come up and collections are impacted, help is available just a phone call away. The National Heritage Responders (NHR) are a diverse group of skilled, seasoned, and trained responders who can provide advice, on-site support, and much more to institutions across the United States and beyond. Trained and coordinated by FAIC, they “respond to the needs of cultural institutions and the public during emergencies and disasters through coordinated efforts with first responders, state agencies, vendors, and the public.”

Thanks to grant support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the newest class of NHR members just completed their training and onboarding at
the 2022 AIC Annual Conference in Los Angeles. Over 30 people attended the training, which was led by Elaina Gregg, Robin Bauer Kilgo, Ann Frellsen, and Lauren Hall. The Emergency Committee’s own Liane Naauao, Kim Hoffman, and Kim Roche all participated in this training.

The training began in February as FAIC hosted with weekly online training components covering an array of emergency management topics. It concluded with two days of training and scenario exercises on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Guest speakers from LA County Emergency Management, UCLA Emergency Management, and UCLA Facilities Management spoke about their experiences with disaster preparedness and response to hazards like water main breaks, fires, and more. Both the speakers and the training exercises emphasized the importance of structured processes before and during a high-stress emergency situation. Notably, each speaker referred to the continuous disaster cycle of preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation, and it was clear that this structure is central to how they approach their work. Throughout the two days, NHR trainees also heard from current NHR members about their real-world lessons and experiences from previous deployments.

The role-playing scenario exercises enabled the class to experience issues that arise during emergency events. The scenarios included coordinated responses to natural and manmade emergencies such as a fire in the library and a public demonstration affecting a sculpture garden. These exercises allowed the class to utilize the skills they had learned in the online and classroom training and come up with well thought out responses to the emergencies. NHR trainees rotated through the various roles on the response team including team leader, collections assessor, facilities assessor, photographer, recorder, and safety

Though the training was intensive and many trainees arrived from different time zones the evening before, the experience served as an excellent template for the conditions responders face when traveling for deployments. As the first NHR training in over a decade, this was a vital opportunity to expand the ranks of volunteers to cover a wider geographical range as well as heritage disciplines. This year’s NHR class included registrars, librarians, preservation specialists, collections managers, and conservators from all regions of the United States. As a result of the new class joining the ranks of more senior responders,
NHR volunteers are better able to assist cultural heritage custodians during emergencies.

Thank you to the NHR trainees and trainers, who also happen to be current and past AIC EC members, for sharing their photos and insights with us for this article.
Image caption: NHR trainees with group leader Rebecca Kennedy during a training exercise. Image credit: Kim Roche
Image caption: The 2022 NHR cohort gathered outside of UCLAʻs Powell Library. Image credit: Robin Bauer Kilgo.

Emergency Helpline

—Samantha Snell, National Collections Program, Smithsonian Institution, AIC Emergency Committee,; and
Melissa Miller, PRICE Program Contractor, National Collections Program, Smithsonian Institution,