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Domestic Response

The priority in the wake of any disaster is the preservation of human life. As something that is both reflective of and integral to living, the preservation of cultural heritage should also receive proactive assistance from first responders. By swiftly mobilizing and deploying expertise, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative can follow military and humanitarian organizations and  join local experts in assessing damage, prioritizing critical needs and developing an action plan for stabilizing, securing and repairing damaged treasures, icons and symbols of cultural heritage. The Smithsonian has already proven its ability to lead responses to cultural heritage crises in challenging locations, as evidenced by its past work in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and New York, among others.

We coordinate closely with FEMA, the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, and the Department of the Interior. 

We do this by:

Deploying Expertise

  • Answer the call to respond to disasters affecting cultural heritage when we are invited, the situation is safe and secure, and we have the resources to assist.
  • Maintain trained emergency response personnel for consultation with local stakeholders help prevent permanent damage and harm to important cultural heritage.
  • In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), lead the Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF), a partnership of over 60 national service organizations and Federal agencies, in the protection of American cultural heritage.

Needs Assessment, Salvage, and Emergency Stabilization

  • By listening to the needs and priorities of local communities, work collaboratively with them to stabilize and conserve the items of cultural heritage that mean the most to them

Building Capacity

  • Invest in long-term, on-the-ground training initiatives that grow the skills, capabilities and capacity of local cultural heritage professionals to protect and conserve their own cultural heritage
  • Consult with and raise awareness of the efforts of the work of our alumni in domestic cultural heritage rescue

Developing Tools and Techniques

  • Through our Research priority, we will work collaboratively with university, government, corporate and philanthropic partners to develop innovative tools that can build on existing technologies and can be deployed during a response.
  • Create and contribute to datasets of cultural heritage sites in high risk environments to monitor damage and plan for recovery. 


Our strategies and tactics for the response priority will ensure that through swift intervention and action, important objects of cultural heritage are spared from destruction and continue to be accessible to the communities they represent.

Image: FEMA