In New Jersey, Collaboration is Key

A number of initiatives have contributed to the recent spate of activity that is enabling the Garden State’s cultural heritage and emergency management communities to move forward together on emergency preparedness. From the Regional Emergency Response Networks project in 2012 to the creation of the New Jersey Cultural Alliance for Response network in 2014, New Jersey has been moving full speed ahead!

In 2012, the Regional Emergency Response Networks (RERN) project, funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, provided 10 weeks of training in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Taught by Tom Clareson, senior consultant for Digital & Preservation Services at LYRASIS, RERN provided institutions with a comprehensive planning program to prepare staff to handle anything from small in-house emergencies to understanding what to do in the event of a large-scale disaster.

The New Jersey State Library took preparedness training statewide with the first “Ports in a Storm” Summit in early April 2013. The meeting brought together emergency planning experts, librarians, first responders, public health workers, and community and faith-based groups to build community partnerships. It also provided a forum for discussing roles libraries and information professionals can play in supporting future disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.

Later that month, representatives from five of New Jersey’s state cultural agencies participated in Heritage Preservation’s first State Heritage Emergency Partnership forum, a two-day event that fostered a preparedness dialogue between state cultural agencies and their emergency management agency. The missing ingredient for New Jersey? An emergency manager, which meant that a meaningful dialogue about collaboration could only go so far.

However, in May 2014, a breakthrough occurred when a cohort of New Jersey cultural agencies spoke at the New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Conference in Atlantic City in a 75-minute breakout session called “Heritage Preservation: Emergency Response & Preparedness for Historic Buildings, Cultural Properties and Collections.” The follow-up Q&A discussed how New Jersey’s  Office of Emergency Management (OEM) response framework should be modified to incorporate stronger and more explicit direction in an emergency support function (ESF) annex focused on cultural resources. The dialogue expanded from there.

In July 2014, the two-year collections-care initiative spearheaded by the New Jersey State Library and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services culminated in a statewide conference called “Cultural Institutions & Emergency Management: Partners in Emergency Response & Recovery.” This well-attended summit launched a series of groundbreaking meetings – held in quick succession to keep the momentum going – between state cultural resource stewards and state and federal emergency managers.

Both communities continue to learn about each other’s work. State cultural stewards have now toured the NJ State Police Regional Operations and Intelligence Center in Trenton.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Sandy Recovery Office hosted a meeting to discuss the challenges faced in protecting the state’s cultural and historic resources and to determine ways both communities could work together to better preserve and protect them. A FEMA news release describes the important collaboration that has led to the creation of the New Jersey Cultural Alliance for Response (NJCAR).

The latest meeting took place in December 2014. Held at the NJ State Library, the meeting reviewed drafts of core NJCAR organizational documents, including its mission statement, by-laws, and organization chart. An account of this important meeting can be found here.

Stay tuned for future chapters in New Jersey’s emergency preparedness efforts.

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