Over the last week key players in archival preservation have come together in Philipsburg on the island of Sint Maarten, at the Disaster Recovery and Heritage Preservation Conference sponsored by the Caribbean Branch of the International Council on Archives (CARBICA). This conference is the first time regional policy makers, cultural heritage stewards and first responders have come together since September 2017, when hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Caribbean region.
The theme of this four-day conference is “Archives at Risk.” On the final day of the conference a memorandum of agreement will be signed to create the Caribbean Heritage Protection Network and subsequent working groups within the Network. This working will attempt to address ICA’s goals in the region “for the protection and enhancement of the memory of the world and to improve communication while respecting cultural diversity” (The Daily Herald).
What Lead to This Conference
On August 30, 2017, Hurricane Irma began off the coast of Africa. By September 5, it had reached the Caribbean region and had escalated to a Category 5 hurricane, then headed to the U.S. mainland. Irma finally dissipated on September 13 over western Tennessee.
Then on September 18, less than a week after Irma finally dissipated, Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean region. While in the region Maria fluctuated between a Category 3 and Category 5 hurricane.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria brought into sharp focus and renewed the drive of the international archival community to address the need for improved response whenever a natural or manmade event threatens culturally significant holdings.
Stories from the Aftermath
Very few Caribbean island archives went undamaged in the wake of Irma and Maria. Damage ranged from blown out windows, water damage and mold to the almost complete destruction of the building where archives were being housed. Archivists and other staff took steps to secure archival materials, from moving cabinets away from walls and windows to securing artifacts in governmental server rooms (these rooms tend to not have windows and have more robust environmental control systems).
The one story that stood out to me was a story from the Island of Sint Maarten. The caretaker for the island’s archives, Alfonso Blijden, removed the entire of contents of the Archives to his home. The Archives were housed in the Old Government Building, which was already run down and in need of repair. During Hurricane Irma, the section of the Old Government Building belonging to the Archives was destroyed.
As the one year anniversary of Hurricane Irma and Maria looms, the region continues to recover. This conference signifies a shift from a concentration on recovery to looking to the future to prevent this from happening again. I look forward to seeing the results of the collaboration between CARBICA, Caribbean Heritage Protection Network, and regional archivists. The lessons learned and procedures put into place in the Caribbean could be a driving force for improved archival emergency response in the region and the world.
Caribbean Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (2018). Disaster recovery & heritage preservation: A working conference to be held at St. Maarten 30th July – 3rd August 2018. (Retrieved from: http://www.carbica.org/News/Events/Disaster-Recovery/.
Martens-Monier, Valérie (2018). Mission British Virgin Islands – Damage assessment cultural heritage on paper after hurricane Irma and Maria.
Martens-Monier, Valérie (2018). Mission Dominica – Damage assessment cultural heritage on paper after hurricane Maria
Martens-Monier, Valérie (2018). Mission St Maarten – Damage assessment cultural heritage on paper
The Daily Herald (July 30, 2018). Four-day conference on disaster recovery, heritage preservation. Retrieved from: https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/79062-four-day-conference-on-disaster-recovery-heritage-preservation.
World Vision (2018). 2017 Hurricane Irma: Facts, FAQs, and how to help. Retrieved from: https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/hurricane-irma-facts.
World Vision (2018). 2017 Hurricane Maria: Facts, FAQs, and how to help. Retrieved from: https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/hurricane-maria-facts.