When people hear of an approaching storm in Connecticut, most head to grocery and hardware stores. They stock up on essentials to deal with power outages, downed trees and impassable streets.
How do you prepare if you’re in charge of priceless, irreplaceable items that hold keys to the area’s history?
Days before , while area residents were boarding up windows and trying to find generators, staff from the were trying to safeguard treasures of the past.
“They did everything right for Irene, they moved everything to center of the room, away from the windows,” said Donia Conn of the Northeast Document Conservation Center. “They’ve done a fabulous job in getting ready.”
Conn was recently in Mystic at the Mystic River Historical Society and in Groton at the Ebenezer Avery House evaluating the two organizations’ disaster plans (dPlans).
The process began in April of 2011 when 50 Connecticut institutions including the Mystic River Historical Society and Avery Memorial Association Museum applied and then attend a two-day workshop on response and recovery of items during a natural disaster. The workshop also included an assessment of what to do with different types of historic items such as how to store and back up digital libraries.
The program was made possible through a 50-state grant where Connecticut decided to look at how cultural institutions prepared for disaster and the Northeast Documents Conversation Center did an evaluation of the care of the institutions’ buildings and disaster preparations.
“Connecticut is so rich in terms of history and yet also has problematic weather,” Conn said. “We looked at natural disasters, but also how secure the buildings are against theft and animals.
The process concluded with an on-site visit by Conn in November to finalize the plan. And in the meantime cultural institutions around the state quietly, prepared, adapted and finalized their dPlans as they dealt with the aftermath of first Tropical Storm Irene and then an October nor’easter.
“We were trying to be pro-active,” Dorrie Hanna of the Mystic River Historical Society said. “But we weren’t quite ready, we still had some work to do.”
Hanna said the staff of the society moved all items off the floor and away from the windows as a part of their preparation for Tropical Storm Irene.
Still Hanna said she was happy to have Conn look over the place as part of the on-site visit where Conn who doesn’t see the property everyday was able to give the High Street buildings an unbiased look.
“It really makes you look at things differently if it there is only one of it.” Hanna said.
Stephanie Lantiere, President of the Avery Memorial Association, which oversees Ebenezer Avery House said she felt that after the on-site visit by Conn the Avery Memorial Association’s dPlan was about 96 percent complete compared to 81 percent before the visit.
When the plan is complete Lantiere will make sure the fire marshal has a copy of the dPlan as well as copies of floor plans and does an annual inspection so the fire department is familiar with the property.
“When Donia Conn came for the walk through of the Ebenezer Avery House this week the board members in attendance learned quite a bit about items that we needed to work on,” Lantiere said. “One of the most important suggestions given was to have a screen over the chimney to prevent birds, squirrels, etc. from coming into the house. They can do a lot of damage once inside the house.”
Conn said a big part of the dPlan involves reaching out to other area institutions such as the and emergency personnel to create working partnerships in the event of a natural disaster.
“There is lots of cultural identity that could be lost and we need to ensure if for future generations,” Conn said.