Conservation Highlights: Responding to a Natural Disaster

Author: Elise Carroll, QAR Lab Manager

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is dedicated to the continued preservation of North Carolina’s history and culture. Helping to serve that mission is the Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team (CREST), which assists cultural heritage organizations across North Carolina by deploying to collections disasters after an emergency has occurred. An emergency is not only defined as a natural event, such as hurricanes and tornadoes but any event that might cause damage to a collection, such as prolonged exposure to humidity from a failed air conditioner. After an emergency, CREST can assist with the care of a collection.

In late September, QAR Lab Manager Elise participated in the CREST deployments to Ocracoke, NC after severe flooding caused by a hurricane earlier that month. Ocracoke, an island and village located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is relatively remote. It is only accessible by boats, state-run ferry services, and small planes. Unfortunately, in early September of 2019, Hurricane Dorian hit the island, resulting in high winds and severe flooding across the village. Storm surges up to seven feet inundated many of the homes and businesses across the island.

Elise joined Adrienne Berney, CREST Coordinator and Outreach Coordinator, and John Campbell, Collections Division Chief for the NC Museum of History, to help with the “Working Watermen’s” Exhibit maintained by the Ocracoke Foundation. Nearly two feet of water flooded the building housing the exhibit, located on a dock over the water on Silver Bay. The water knocked down chairs, brought in debris, and soaked anything that was displayed on the floor to a height of two feet. This included historic furniture, maps, photographs, historic duck decoys, and books.

The team were the first to work in this building since the flooding and were able to assist with a large portion of the affected collection in a limited amount of time. We were able to clean and dry about half of the affected material culture and a quarter of the floor. Unfortunately, CREST was only able to help for a few hours. However, even in that short time, the building was aired out and many objects treated, providing the Ocracoke Foundation with a head start in the recovery of the material culture in the exhibit. Though this was not a normal day for a QAR Lab staff member, as collections professionals, we feel that it is important to be able to share our skills with North Carolina. Participating in CREST allows the QAR Lab to aid in the protection of all our cultural heritage and assist those in need, especially those impacted by a devastating event.

-Berney, Adrienne. “CREST Deployment: Ocracoke, September 25, 2019.” Manuscript, North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, 2019.
-“North Carolina Connecting to Collections.” North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Raleigh, NC. Accessed February 2019.
-Quillin, Martha. “Ocracoke took Dorian’s wrath, but its residents will regroup and stay. They always do.” The News and Observer. Accessed February 2019.

-Elise, Adrienne, and John in front of the Working Watermen’s Exhibit at Ocracoke. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
-Depth of water in exhibit. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
-Inside the exhibit, with upset furniture, water damage and debris. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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