After a year of meetings, discussion and planning, a group charged with developing a hazard mitigation plan for Tulsa's cultural and historic resources expects to submit its recommendations to the federal government within the next couple of months.
"We'll be presenting our mitigation measures to (the Federal Emergency Management Administration) and hoping to implement those soon," said Tim Lovell, executive director of Tulsa Partners Inc., a nonprofit firm that has been subcontracted to work on the issue through R.D. Flanagan & Associates, a Tulsa-based firm that was hired to put the plan together.
"The reason this is important, not only in Tulsa but nationally, is this has never been done before," he said.
Those involved with the project have committed themselves to coming up with a plan for saving Tulsa's cultural treasures and historically significant structures in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
Curators of local museums and those active in the historic preservation movement began meeting and discussing the issue in November 2008 and have completed a drafted version of a plan to deal with whatever hazards might come their way.
But first, the public will have a chance to weigh in on the issue in a meeting set for 6pm Thursday, Jan. 7 at the Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 S. Rockford Road.
"Frankly, we would love to hear anything we forgot," Lovell said. "Just because we have museum curators and people active in historic preservation, that doesn't mean we've thought of everything. We want people to come and hear about what we've been doing. You never know; there could be that one person who says, 'Well, have you thought of this?' "
Ron Flanagan of Flanagan & Associates credited Lovell with coming up with the idea of developing the plan to protect the city's historic and cultural treasures. He said FEMA requires communities to do pre-disaster planning, but those requirements deal with keeping government facilities operating, not protecting museum collections and architectural gems.
But two years ago, primarily as a result of the havoc wrought by Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans' historic and cultural treasures, federal officials released a guidebook advising communities on how to begin protecting those resources.
"Because Tulsa has the second-highest number of Art Deco buildings in the country, and because we have facilities here nobody else in the country has, Tim said, 'Listen, why don't we see if we can get the federal government to let us do a pilot study for a hazard mitigation plan for historic resources?' " Flanagan said.
The city submitted an application to FEMA and quickly got a favorable response, he said.
"They jumped on it," Flanagan said. "They said, 'Have at it. So they gave us a grant to look at protecting our historic resources, and the thing we found was missing was taking a look at protecting cultural resources. We've got some facilities here that are world class with millions of dollars worth of collections."
Lovell described Tulsa Partners Inc. as a nonprofit organization that uses partnerships, both public and private, to build a disaster-resistant and sustainable community. In many ways, he said, this project was ideal for his firm.
"We do a lot of education, always with the idea of bringing people together," he said.
Flanagan and Lovell put out the word to the historic preservation and cultural communities and were gratified by the response they got.
Lovell said a series of meetings throughout the past year has drawn 15 to 20 attendees each month, including many museum curators, and a number of concrete steps already have been taken to secure some of those resources, such as the creation of disaster-response teams at a number of local museums.
"A lot of good things have come from this because of the interest of the stakeholders," he said.
Flanagan said representatives of the state's American Indian nations have gotten involved in the project, as well, given the vulnerability of many of their historic and sacred sites to natural disasters and man-made problems like looting.
Lovell said it has not been difficult to get those in the cultural and historic preservation communities to take the issue seriously. He pointed out that as recently as the 1970s, Tulsa led the nation in disaster declarations, and the threat of damage from tornadoes, lightning and flooding remains distinct even today.
"A lot of people in Tulsa, those who have lived here awhile, realize we're vulnerable," he said. "We need to look at these issues."
If FEMA decides to adopt the plan, implementation of many of the recommendations won't be cheap.
"They're all pricey," Flanagan acknowledged. "But take the Gilcrease, for example. Can you even put a value on the art that's in that building? And they've only got probably one-tenth on display at any given time. The rest is in the basement. What happens if that building catches fire and the sprinkler system goes on? How do you begin to deal with that?"
Flanagan said one option for museums that face that scenario is to employ freeze drying. A trailer containing the freeze-drying equipment could be taken to the site, and the paintings, documents or other materials are freeze dried. The ice crystals are then removed without causing major damage to the product.
"That's pretty expensive," he said. "But compare that to the cost of not doing it. It's pretty cost effective."
Other hazard mitigation measures would not be quite as expensive, he said, and could be easily implemented, he said, pointing to such precautions as lightning rods or surge protectors that could limit the damage caused by thunderstorms.
And Flanagan is counting on help from FEMA to cover many of those costs.
"The federal government will pay 75 percent of the cost of approved mitigation measures," he said. "If they approve (Tulsa's plan), there's a good possibility we could get 75 percent of the cost of those measures covered."
Once the plan is submitted to FEMA, Lovell and Flanagan would like to see their efforts duplicated across the nation.
"Our hope is that after we have it developed and integrated, other communities will look at it and do the same," Lovell said.
"If FEMA likes what we're doing, it'll probably become a format for other communities, maybe even a requirement for them to take this into account in their planning process," Flanagan said. "We wanted to be the first city in the nation to have a hazard mitigation plan, and we were. And all other communities followed our lead on that."
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