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NCH in Action



Surveying damage done to the bastion walls of Fort Jackson
Credit: NPS/FEMA

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many of the gulf coast's historic sites were damaged by flood waters, high winds, and debris. Fort Jackson, a National Historic Landmark only 40 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River, sustained significant damage due to the storm surge which flooded much of the site. Conservators from the National Park Service were dispatched by ESF #11 – NCH to stabilize the masonry walls and structure, assess the damage done to the site, and suggest actions to stabilize and repair the building for the future.

Work being done at the Chalmette National Cemetery
Credit: NPS

In addition to extensive damage to the historic buildings of New Orleans, cultural landscapes, such as cemeteries, were also damaged. High winds uprooted trees which disturbed graves and headstones. ESF #11 – NCH sent in personnel to assess the area and to ensure that reburial of remains occurred in a respectful manner, as well as making sure that historic headstones were repaired and remounted. Volunteers also established protective measures to prevent further damage from the elements and other ongoing cleanup activities.

Coastal damage and GIS survey map
Credit: NPS and NARA

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and the Geographic Information System (GIS), technology has been used by emergency responders to help facilitate response activities. Responders digitally represent locations and link corresponding data, allowing them to communicate vital information in a visual manner. After Hurricane Katrina, responders fanned out through some of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans to collect data on damaged structures.




This information was transferred into a GIS map, presenting a complete picture of the damaged areas of the city, and allowing recommendations to be made on the preservation of damaged historic structures.

Debris pile and archeological surveys
Credit: NPS and NARA

High winds and flooding can damage much more than historic structures and natural environments. Museum collections, archival documents, and family heirlooms can all fall victim to the ravages of nature. Photographs, papers, hard drives and museum collections were all damaged after Hurricane Katrina, but due to the expertise and knowledge of responders, many of the damaged items and objects were able to be salvaged and saved.

In the aftermath of an emergency or disaster, it is not uncommon for large amounts of machinery, debris, or populations to be moved around. Many people may have to be relocated to temporary housing sites, while debris that litters urban streets may have to be removed to more remote locations to allow responders access into city centers. Archeologists are used to investigate and to ensure that no archeological remains, artifacts, or resources will be disturbed, damaged or destroyed within designated sites that are also used as temporary housing, site locations or staging areas as part of the response.

Wetland survey work
Credit: NPS

Coastal wetlands and waterways, as well as coral reefs, perform an invaluable service of protecting coastal communities and towns by absorbing storm surge and rain runoff that might otherwise cause large scale flooding. After such massive storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis many of these natural areas are damaged and their ability to protect inland communities from future storms is diminished. Studies conducted to assess the health of these natural environments help determine the extent of the damage and suggest steps to aid in the recovery of the natural ecosystem and environment.