[10 on Tuesday] 10 Essential Steps for Mitigating Natural Disasters' Damage to Historic Properties

Posted on: November 13th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment

Homeowners face some of the most cutting impacts of natural disaster: physical displacement, loss of property, financial uncertainty, and stress. And as Superstorm Sandy just proved, you can never take too many precautions ahead of a natural disaster.

But what if you own a historic property? Are there additional steps you should be taking? And what resources are available to you, the historic property owner, in the disaster’s wake?

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of information out there to help historic property owners minimize the impact to their building as well as strengthen their building’s resistance to extreme wind, rain and other climatic forces. This week’s toolkit compiles the essential steps you can take before and after the storm.

In coming weeks we’ll build on these principles and share specific tips for preparing, planning, and responding to a variety of natural disasters -- including hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes. But for now, let’s start with the basics.


Storm Damage from Hurricane Sandy, Beverley Square West, Brooklyn, NY. Photo courtesy Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener on Flickr)

Before the Storm

1. Create a disaster preparedness plan for your home or property ahead of time. Following a checklist in times of crisis can help focus your attention and keep you from missing important details. Check out this hurricane preparedness example from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

2. Check your insurance coverage. Older and historic properties often use materials or building techniques you can’t easily replicate today, which makes insurance companies far less likely to cover damage. A great option for insuring historic homes is National Trust Insurance Services (a National Trust subsidiary). NTIS can help value your property and ensure sufficient protection. Visit their website to learn more.

3. Print important information and documents ahead of time. Disasters often cause power outages and service disruptions, so in this wired age of computer and smartphone reliance, it’s helpful to have critical info already at your fingertips.

After the Storm

4. Secure your property. Your two most important tasks immediately following a hurricane are: a) ensure the safety and security of people working on site, and b) keep valuable or important building fabric from the debris heap. Saving architectural fragments, building materials, decorative plaster, etc. can help with restoration later.

5. Call your insurance company and register with FEMA. File a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. If your area was included in a national disaster declaration, you’ll then want to register and file apply for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Guidance, housing assistance, and more can be found at FEMA’s Disaster Recovery Centers after a national disaster.


Damage from Superstorm Sandy in Arlington, VA. (Photo courtesy Arlington County, via Flickr)

6. Call your state historic preservation office (SHPO) and local preservation commission. Your SHPO can answer questions about your historic property, direct you to the appropriate state and local resources, and help you navigate any confusing processes. If your property is protected as part of a local historic district or locally landmarked, make contact with the local commission early -- before proceeding with demolition or repairs to parts of the property that may be under the commission’s review.

7. Assess the damage. It usually costs less to repair or renovate a disaster-damaged house than to re-build. Before gutting your property (or deciding to demolish), contact your SHPO or statewide preservation organization to find contractors with proven expertise in historic buildings, who can walk through your property with you and help determine the scope of the damage.

8. Make a list. Inventory what was damaged or lost on your property (especially useful in cases of total destruction). Having an inventory will also help with your contractor bids and insurance claims later.

9. Compile repair bids. Figure out exactly what needs to be done, write it down, and walk through your house with contractors to get a ballpark estimate. If it sounds reasonable, request an item by item detailed bid. Try to get three bids based on the exact same work. (And remember to verify the contractor’s state license number and insurance.)

10. Investigate financial resources. Your property might qualify for any number of federal, state, and local funding programs, including grants, loans, and historic tax credits. Your SHPO can help direct you to the programs that best fit your property and its repair needs.

You can find more disaster recovery information on PreservationNation.org. You can also visit DisasterAssistance.gov.

Has your historic property weathered a natural disaster? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

10 on Tuesday, Tools

One Response

  1. collinsjude

    November 21, 2012

    want to join for this.