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CCAHA Executive Director Laura Hortz Stanton Deployed to Puerto Rico

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CCAHA Executive Director Laura Hortz Stanton spent the first week of January in Puerto Rico, meeting with the staff of collecting institutions to help assess their recovery needs after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The initiative was spearheaded by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, which deployed several teams of its National Heritage Responders with funding from Ironshore and its reinsurer, Lloyd’s of London.

Laura led a team of four. The other members were Jason Church, Materials Conservator at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training; Karen Pavelka, Senior Lecturer in Preventive Conservation at the University of Texas at Austin School of Information; and Beverly Perkins, Chief Conservator at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

“The issues the collections managers were facing were astounding,” Laura says, “Institutions had experienced flooding, electricity loss, missing roofs, and all of the subsequent issues, like mold, that accompany those disasters.” Each institution required the team to be creative and adaptable—assessing priorities and making recommendations based on what could be realistically accomplished.

All in all, the team visited seven sites, each of which will receive a follow-up set of written recommendations. They also held a recovery workshop for artists and collections managers and handed out supplies. They gave staff who were handling moldy objects personal protective equipment (PPE), supplying them with Tyvek suits and N95 masks and reminding them of the dangers to their own health. “They were often so eager to save their collections,” Laura says, “That they were risking their own wellbeing.”

This dedication played out at every institution they visited. “Along with asking the staff about the issues the institutions faced, we always made sure to ask how they were doing in their personal lives,” Laura says, “We were blown away by the hardships the staff were facing at home while they came into work every day. I was reminded of the power of listening.”

The team was awoken at 11:30pm one evening by a tsunami warning. “It was an exercise in our own team’s emergency response,” Laura says, “The time between when we were alerted and when we hit the road was fifteen minutes.” It was a reminder of the many possible disasters institutions face. “Hurricanes Irma and Maria were not isolated incidents,” Laura says, “And by sharing this deployment experience across our staff, we can all be better responders, renewing our commitment to do what we can for collections and their caretakers.”

Images: Laura teaching the workshop to collections managers; an example of mold damage; a photo of the team at one of the institutions they visited