Emergency management doesn't seem like part of the job description for Brenda Kaye Bradford, head of archives and special collections at a regional university in Oklahoma. But she knows how to rescue and restore documents, photos, and other items after a disaster.
Bradford works at the Northeastern State University John Vaughan Library in Tahlequah. Preservation and restoration are important aspects of keeping archives and special collections, and now Bradford has a world of resources and donors looking at Tahlequah and her projects.
"Our cultural heritage is an intrinsic part of our humanity and identity," Bradford said. "Our heritage is to be celebrated, treasured and preserved. It provides context to internal questions of who we are and where we have come from. It fills a void, creating a sense of belonging and acceptance. Further, it provides a sense of stability in changing or chaotic environments. Protecting our cultural heritage provides a vital foundation and springboard for our youth, both in our communities and globally."
On Nov. 3-8, Bradford was one of 10 participants from nine countries selected to attend a conference in The Hague, Netherlands. She was the sole American selected for Leadership Course for Cultural Heritage Stewards in Challenging Circumstances 2019. The countries other countries included Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Kenya. Bradford was also one of 25 participants selected nationally to attend the first training of the Heritage Emergency and Response Training in Washington, D.C., in 2017.
The program was created to expand training for cultural stewards, first responders, and emergency managers to prepare them to address emergencies and disasters that affect cultural institutions and historic sites. The Smithsonian Institution was among the sponsors.
"That training combined best practices using international training models to improve U.S. disaster response networks and connect participants to a global 'First Aider' network of people trained to document and protect cultural heritage in times of crisis," Bradford said. "It was one of the best experiences of my life. We worked from early morning until late evening focusing on realistic training in crisis communication, team-building, damage assessment, rapid documentation, emergency evacuation and salvage, rehousing and storage of historical artifacts."
From her training with HEART, Bradford was invited to apply to the conference in The Hague.
"It was such an honor to attend this training," she said. "It brought together a multidisciplinary team of professionals from around the world and focused on leadership, project development, management, communications and practical exercises."
They received hands-on feedback on project proposals, management plans and provided more resources to develop strategic partnerships.
On the last day, each participant presented proposals at the Peace Palace, the international law administration building in The Hague. Each one had three minutes to offer ideas to a panel of six donors managing over $800 million in funding dedicated to addressing ongoing risk to cultural heritage, institutions and historic sites on an international level.
"It was my first time abroad. I walked away with new friends and contacts from around the world," she said. "I have a deep appreciation and a new perspective on ongoing efforts internationally to protect the historical treasures, our history of humankind."
There will be followup webinar trainings, one-on-one calls, check-ins, polishing proposals, working with the Smithsonian, and implementation from paper to reality.
"We received a grant that will fund a preservation assessment for archives and special collections," Bradford said. "This will help us evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, and provide a study covering all factors of our collections."