Flood Barriers: Evaluating Flood Preparedness Guidance for Historic Structures at Cultural Heritage Sites in the United States

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disaster planning
climate change
site management
Historic Preservation and Conservation
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Westberg, Meris

More cultural heritage sites across the United States are at risk of flooding than previously recognized due to the escalating effects of climate change. The National Flood Insurance Program, which is responsible for mapping and communicating flood risk to citizens, has had little impact on the cultural heritage stewardship community. As a result, there is generally low flood risk awareness, low flood insurance take-up rates, and minimal investment in long-term adaptation among site stewards. More sophisticated, accessible tools for understanding flood risk are now available and should be leveraged to promote a culture of flood preparedness within the field. Disaster planning is becoming increasingly integrated into cultural heritage site management, but most preparedness resources focus exclusively on collections, largely omitting consideration for the historic structures which are the backbone of many sites. This may be because strategies for preparing historic structures for flooding require specialized knowledge of historic architectural systems, building codes, and preservation standards. The historic preservation community has not committed to developing preparedness guidance which integrates structures preparedness with the complexities of site management. What guidance is available on flood preparedness for historic structures is written primarily for private property owners and is deferential to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which do not formally promote adaptation. This thesis therefore examines what flood preparedness guidance for historic structures at cultural heritage sites does exist and recommends how the cultural heritage stewardship community can improve and promote flood preparedness before irreplaceable structures become functionally obsolete due to flood risk.

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