Disaster Prevention and Recovery: Hurricane Katrina

Clockwise from top-left: Kara van Malssen, Bruce Boyd Raeburn, Alfred Lemmon, Howard Besser, and Greg Lambousy.

Clockwise from top-left: Kara van Malssen, Bruce Boyd Raeburn, Alfred Lemmon, Howard Besser, and Greg Lambousy.


American Library Association, New Orleans, Summer 2006

Oral Histories (Audio)

Salvage of Moving Image Collections in New Orleans After Hurricane Katrina 
An Oral History with Howard Besser and Kara Van Malssen. Conducted on February 25, 2010 by Lygia Guimaraes. (MP3, 63.16kb/s, 17MB)

This project is an in-depth exploration of disaster preparedness and recovery issues for archival moving image and sound materials. Drawing on the experiences of collecting institutions and individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath in the New Orleans area, it seeks to draw attention to the lack of available disaster resources aimed at audiovisual collections, as well as provide practical preparedness, response, and recovery advice. By sharing the lessons learned by the Gulf region’s archivists, curators, and artists, this project highlights the need for new ways of thinking about disaster preparedness, a task that many people avoid simply because it appears too overwhelming.

The reports and presentations surrounding this project stress the idea that “You can’t prepare for everything,” while offering simple methods of creating defense, security, and preparation that can be used in numerous circumstances.

Funded by New York University's Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response, the project has involved extensive academic research, travel to the New Orleans area, interviews, and post-Katrina damage assessment. Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) Program Director, Howard Besser, lead this research. Kara van Malssen, a graduate of the 2006 MIAP class, was the principal researcher.

There have been a number of exciting results from this project thus far. These include a master's thesis by Ms. van Malssen, which collects the experiences of three New Orleans institutions and one filmmaker, and draws on these to outline useful methods for preparing audiovisual collections for disaster. In June 2006, curators and directors of these institutions, along with Ms. van Malssen, participated in panel titled “Preserving New Orleans: The Fate of Media Collections in the Wake of Katrina,” at the 2006 American Library Association Conference, which was moderated by Howard Besser. The project will continue as a contribution to a guidebook on disaster preparedness and recovery, to be published by the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) in early 2007. In the future, there will be additional publications, as we work with collecting organizations and individuals to develop their own disaster preparedness plans