From Sweeping Houses to Saving Relics

By Dani Sadorf, Oregon State University

When I first started my journey into disaster response, I never knew how involved the response efforts could really be. In September 2012, I started a year-long AmeriCorps program in disaster response with AmeriCorps St Louis. The biggest projects that year were gutting houses following the destruction of Superstorm Sandy and filling sandbags to save a Missouri town from being inundated by the Mississippi River. At the time, I never thought past the immediate actions of my team and other volunteer organizations.

Then I started working as a tour leader, taking foreign travelers on organized road trips through our great nation. Sharing historic treasures and national parks with others gave me a new appreciation for my home and all the many cultures represented across the country. I spent time in New Orleans as it became a safe haven from Hurricane Irma, and I drove across Texas only days after interstate 10 reopened. Sand had washed completely through the welcome center in Orange, TX, where I used to stop and tell my passengers about the history of Texas through the six flags that have flown over the state. It was the first time I really started to ask: what happens to all the monuments, museums and places of cultural significance when a natural disaster destroys a large swath of land?

I was thrilled to find the answer to my question through this internship with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. For the first time, I am gaining an understanding of the tremendous amount of work involved in protecting our historical and cultural treasures. I see the effort that goes in to maintaining databases of every state’s museums, libraries, and historical associations. We have been fortunate enough to not have a major disaster strike in the time I have been an intern, but I know that the work I am doing is important, and I am ready to help protect these relics when the time comes. I don’t really know what my future plans will be, but I hope that I can continue to be involved in disaster response, either in a volunteer or employed capacity.

Flooding and sandbags

Gutting houses following the destruction of Superstorm Sandy and filling sandbags to save a Missouri town from being inundated.
Source: Dani Sadorf