MORRILTON — A common scene after a disaster is one of people picking through debris in an attempt to salvage family photos and important documents from homes and businesses.
After they find them, then what?
Linda Green of Morrilton is one of 25 people in the nation chosen to participate in a Smithsonian Institution program to learn the best way to protect a community’s “cultural heritage” after a crisis. Green is the assistant director of the Conway County Library in Morrilton.
“So, if you have a disaster — whether a flood or tornado or anything like that — they’re training us in emergency care for all those things,” she said, including historical documents and photos. “They’re teaching us how to get them out, catalogue them, etc.”
Green said that of the 25 people selected in the nationwide search, half are emergency responders. The other half are people like her, who are connected with institutions such as libraries or museums.
“I’m super excited about it,” she said.
The international program, Heritage Emergency and Response Training, known as HEART, has been used in countries with histories of tsunamis and earthquakes, she said, but this is the first time it’s been offered in the United States.
“We’re the beginning group,” she said.
Green will leave Nov. 12 to spend a week of hands-on training at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The sessions will provide “realistic training in damage assessment, rapid documentation, emergency evacuation and salvage, rehousing and storage, crisis communication, team building and more,” a press release on the program states.
In January, she will participate in a five-part webinar series to hone in on some of the skills she learned in November.
However, Green said that as soon as she returns after her November training, she can present workshops on how to preserve and care for items after a disaster. She sees the information as important for businesses, museums and libraries, as well as individuals.
“Your community really is your history,” she said. Green said oftentimes in Arkansas, historical buildings are torn down, and their significance is realized afterward.
The Conway County Library is one of only two public libraries in Arkansas that is still in its original Carnegie building, Carter said. The other is in Eureka Springs.
Green said the role of saving historical culture has been “ethically balanced” with lifesaving efforts in a community.
“We want to step in in a morally correct way and say, ‘I know you’re worried about doing that, but I’m also going to be worried about this for you,’” she said.
“It’s not just regional or community history; it’s people’s individual history. We can also train families. If your house is flooded, … these are things you can do to dry out [an item] if it’s paper, if it’s photos. We’ll be going through what the different methods to save all of those are.
“Most people think libraries [are for historical information].
You have photographs and computers … the art your kid did in kindergarten, and every one of those is a different medium you have to treat differently if you want to save them the best that you can,” Green said. “Once you teach one person, they can teach someone else.”
Green, who has worked at the Conway County Library for nine years, said she is in charge of outreach for the library. She also serves on the board of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries.
Conway County Library Director Jay Carter said it’s impressive that Green was chosen for the HEART program.
“I think it’s extremely important. It’s at the Smithsonian in Washington, so it’s a pretty big deal. This is something she’s always been extremely interested in. She created the disaster plan for the library; she’s been doing a lot of this stuff, and we’re extremely proud to have her as one of the 25 participants there.”
Carter said Green brought the opportunity to his attention last summer, “and I was all for it. Especially, it’s training and damage assessment, rapid documentation — this is all great stuff. What happens if something happened to the library, if we got hit by lightning or we have a fire? It’s great to have someone on staff who can help with this.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.