Report: Colorado Is Among States With No Statewide Disaster Plans For Historical Sites

April 5, 2016

Most states, 60 percent, don't have someone in place to address historic preservation when planning for natural disasters, according to a new study from University of Colorado Denver and the University of Kentucky

And Colorado is among them.

[The study] identified numerous historic sites sitting in hazardous areas. In Florida, for instance, they found that 23% of the sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places are located in a 100-year floodplain.

In Colorado, catastrophic floods in 2013 wiped out historic buildings across the Front Range. In the small town of Lyons, for instance, floodwaters destroyed a historic WPA (Works Progress Administration) shelter and significantly damaged the Lyons Depot Library, originally built in 1881.

Researchers couldn't reach a "solid conclusion" for how many historic sites are the floodplains of Colorado, Rumbach says. 

"In Kentucky and Florida, we were able to pretty accurately look at the number of resources that within 100 year or 500 year floodplains," he said. "Colorado, the most interesting finding was that a large number of our counties in the state actually don't have modern digitized flood maps that are freely available online."

The state is working on those flood maps, according to Rumbach. 

Elsewhere, the states that have included someone at a state level to address historical sites and natural disasters aren't necessarily well-prepared. 

"Even though 40 percent did have [historical preservation] as part of their state hazard mitigation plan, many of those plans still were fairly weak in this area," said Andrew Rumbach, a co-author of the study. "Many jurisdictions do have local-level plans that do plan for historical resources."

There are local communities in the state, like Manitou Springs, that have integrated their historical resources into disaster planning well though, he added. 

The planning is important because "more and more communities are relying on these historic resources for their local economies," Rumbach said. "And as we know a lot of historic resource are located in hazard-prone areas because they were built for modern building codes and before modern rules on floodplain development."

It's about more than just protecting history, or even local economies, he says: "The contribution of historic preservation to disaster resilience is one that hasn't been recognized very much and I think that that's a big part of why we wrote the article."

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