top of page

Emergency Programs

Alliance for Response Logo.gif
emergency programs logo hp.png

Heritage Preservation (HP) began focusing on emergency preparedness and response in the late nineteen eighties. Attendees of the 1989 annual meeting heard reports from responders to the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California and Hurricane Hugo in Charleston, South Carolina  The next year’s annual meeting took place on the one-year anniversary of Loma Prieta. It was focused fully on emergency preparedness and response.

The Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel was published in June of 1997. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The St. Paul Companies, and an anonymous foundation, 45,000 copies of the wheel were distributed to libraries, museums, and archives free of charge during that first printing. “The Wheel”, as it has become affectionately known, has been translated into ten languages, distributed internationally in more than forty countries, and has been formatted into an app (which is unfortunately not compatible with most up-to-date operating systems).


The wheel is an iconic Heritage Preservation project. Present in collections throughout the world, the wheel represents Heritage Preservation’s ability to create meaningful and creative partnerships, and to produce resources that reach huge audiences. English and Spanish versions of the wheel are still available for purchase on AIC’s website.

September 11, 2001 and the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, Diane Mossholder

"So many random details stick in my head about 9/11. I had been sick the day before and was rushing to try to catch up before a staff meeting, and I was annoyed that someone turned on the television in the conference room across the hall. We never had that meeting, of course. We ended up watching the news in horror, until the first tower fell. Just remembering it makes my stomach drop. We were getting calls about other threats: a bomb at the State Department, an unmarked plane circling the White House (only a couple of blocks from our offices at that time).


I remember Larry Reger saying something like, “We all have to leave. You can all come to my house, but you can’t stay here.” We divided up into groups depending on which direction we were trying to go. South seemed so dangerous—the Pentagon had already been hit, of course, and no one was sure if the 14th Street Bridge was open. Getting on the subway seemed like a really good way to get trapped underground indefinitely (we found out later that was how we were supposed to evacuate the city). We went downstairs to try getting in a car, but the traffic on K Street was at a complete standstill. Nobody was moving, but nobody was honking or yelling. The quiet was eerie.

Susan Nichols, Susannah Rast, and Adrienne Stone and I headed west on foot to cross the Key Bridge into Rosslyn and reach our homes in Virginia. That was only about 2 miles but it seemed like a very long walk. I recall passing a tour bus stuck in traffic in Georgetown, all those anxious faces looking out. None of us knew what would happen next. We thought it might be the first of a wave of attacks—we didn’t know it was over. Crowds were streaming out of the city on foot over the bridge, past all the silent, stuck cars.

When we got onto the bridge, it was such a beautiful, sunny day. But there was that massive column of ink-black smoke coming up from the Pentagon. It was hard to look at, and hard to look away from.

When we reached Rosslyn Metro Station, we checked in to see if the Metro was running. It was, and there was someone directing us to the various lines, not all of which normally ran through that station. So we split up, Susan and Susannah heading west and Adrienne and I heading south.

For weeks afterward, while the Pentagon burned, I rode the subway past that station at high speed, but you could still smell the horrible smoke. Adrienne and I didn’t talk much that day, until we got past Pentagon station. She lived at the next stop past it, and I remember she tried to convince me to come with her and she would drive me home. But I had left my car at my station, so I didn’t.

We were all back at work the next day. I know I needed something to do besides watch the news and cry. I used to read the Washington Post on my lunch break and for a long time afterward, they published stories about the people who died that day, and I would cry every time.

It turned out there was a lot of art lost and damaged in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, so Jane Long and the Heritage Emergency National Task Force swung into action with a survey of what was lost that day. I was involved in editing and laying out Cataclysm and Challenge: Impact of September 11, 2001, on Our Nation’s Cultural Heritage, but designing the cover still sticks with me. I was looking at a photo of the damaged Sphere for Plaza Fountain in the middle of a debris pile, and I looked up a photo of it from before it was damaged. The juxtaposition took my breath away, and I knew that was what the cover needed to convey about the report. Later I received a photo of the Sphere in its new home, some of the damage still showing, and that was added to convey a sense of recovery. In those dark days it seemed like a metaphor for all of us—battered but still standing.

Like Hurricane Katrina four years later, the stories from that day of library and museum professionals, and others who went to great lengths to save cultural treasures, inspired me. I don’t think most of the public realizes the passionate dedication that goes into preserving our shared history. But I’m glad to have gotten a glimpse of it."

Diane Mossholder


Additional Resources

History of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force
with commentary by Lawrence Reger

Archived version of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force Website or in PDF form below

bottom of page