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In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the northeastern coast of the United States, leaving in its wake a path of destruction. To streamline aid to historic properties in areas hardest hit by the superstorm, the National Park Service (NPS) awarded more than $7.6 million to eight states to help repair and stabilize the damage. Of those states, Pennsylvania received the most funds in the form of a $1.5 million grant.

“We took a different approach to how we would spend the money and that was to not only help the owners of historic proper-ties repair the Sandy damage, but to also consider future disasters . . . to be more proactive and less reactive said Jeremy R. Young, project manager for Disaster Planning and Hurricane Sandy Recovery at the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), administered by PHMC. “When we submitted our grant application to the National Park Service, we knew we wanted to focus on future storms. NPS made it clear that we really stood out in that regard and that they viewed our strategy as very innovative”

Throughout 2017 SHPO will be engaging in pilot projects in Bedford, Cameron, Monroe and Philadelphia counties to fold historic property information into county-level, FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plans. These strategies identify hazards – both natural and manmade – and are intended to minimize damage to property and protect life. The federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 requires that local governments have such a plan in place to be eligible to receive disaster assistance. Should a government fail to have a plan before its area is hit by a major disaster, it would not qualify for assistance.

The goal of SHPO’s disaster planning initiative is to identify flood-prone historic buildings throughout the counties participating in the pilot projects, assess their vulnerability, and develop measures that will protect them from flood damage, while minimizing the impact on their historic character. In the case of Philadelphia, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will work with SHPO-contracted planners and surveyors to develop mitigation solutions for the city’s flood-prone historic buildings. The work will also help hazard planners better understand how and when Philadelphia’s historic buildings may become damaged during various flood scenarios, including inundation from tropical storm surge and sea-level rise.

Many Pennsylvania counties recognize the cultural and economic value of their respective historic properties; however none of those areas currently have a plan in place to protect those assets in the event of a natural disaster. Many of the commonwealth’s oldest communities were built near existing water-ways to aid in commerce with other areas. As a result, many historic properties were built in floodplains and are at risk of water damage. For example, historic properties in Philadelphia such as Boathouse Row, Manayunk Main Street Historic District, Fort Mifflin, Schuylkill Historic District and the Navy Yard are at risk.

At present, there are a handful of approaches that historic property owners can take to stave off substantial flood damage. Some opt to relocate their structures; however such plans affect the integrity of the property. Others engage in dry floodproofing, which involves installing watertight barriers on windows and doors to keep water out. Another option is wet floodproofing, a method that allows water to enter the building, usually only on the lower floors, that is then dispersed, causing only minor to moderate damage. After these strategies are included in a hazard mitigation plan, a municipality becomes eligible for various grants and funds to put them in place.

“Historic properties help people understand their origins, their cultural identity,” Young said. “By including historic properties in a hazard mitigation plan, we can help protect life, property and place in Pennsylvania.”


Sean Adkins is social media manager for PHMC. Look for his updates at Pennsylvania Trails of History on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.