Local Man Seeks to Lessen Impact of Disasters on Cultural Artifacts

When tornado winds destroy buildings and flood waters wash away lives, irreplaceable cultural artifacts are also often lost. A North Shore man is developing ways to lessen the impact.

Extreme weather has captured people's attention recently, with scorching heat locally, epic wildfires in Arizona and a killer tornado two hours west in Springfield.

Or so hopes Andy Grilz, a consultant working to promote COSTEP - which stands for coordinated statewide emergency preparedness - a management plan to help protect cultural resources in the case of a disaster.

“My boss says that I’m a disaster junkie,” says Grilz, seeking to provide an explanation for his uncommon interest.

However maybe it is simply because he is a realist.

“Once you’ve had a piece of your cultural identity obliterated, it’s gone forever, ” says Grilz, a Salem resident who makes it his business to help communities like Hamilton and Wenham to become more cognizant of the risk of natural or manmade disasters and to help them prepare for the worst.

Chuckling at his boss’s words he acknowledged, “There’s something to it.”

But that something isn’t a taste for disaster - quiet the contrary. Maybe it’s just a willingness to face facts.

“It’s hard for a lot of people to stare down the bear,” Grilz said about the reluctance on the part of the public to address the threat of disaster of any kind.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently released guidelines for what to do in the event of a zombie attack (posted in the agency’s blog to amusingly illustrate how to prepare for a disaster).

“It’s shear genius (as a way) get people to think about something people don’t want to think about," Grilz said. "FEMA put it in the context of Night of the Living Dead.”

COSTEP began in 2009 by the in Andover with help from a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

"It's civil defense for museums to help them organize themselves to prepare and defend," he said. “FEMA advises that citizens should have an emergency kit that will sustain them and their families for up to 72 hours after disaster strikes. The idea behind COSTEP is to expand this to cultural institutions (such as museums and churches)."

While it began in 2008, "we just took it beyond the planning stages, " Grilz said, noting that Lancaster, Lexington and Salem each have a COSTEP chapter.

"It’s kind of like a phone tree in grade school," Grilz said. "People and communities help each other. And it’s completely voluntary; the only expense is your time."

Grilz's passion for the cause is readily apparent.

“You don’t want to be introducing yourself to your (community’s) emergency management director when your house is on fire or when the river’s running though your basement," he said.

Grilz said that both Hamilton and Wenham are target communities for the initiative.

“We are looking for people to participate and take the lead for Hamilton-Wenham,” he said.

Grilz encourages anyone interested in participating in COSTEP on behalf of Hamilton or Wenham to contact him at 978-210-9045 or by e-mail at AGrilz@gmail.com.

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