NPS Preservation > Programmatic Agreement Toolkit > Special Circumstances

Special Circumstances

[photo] The African Burial Ground is an example of an inadvertent discovery.

The African Burial Ground is an example of an inadvertent discovery.

The Nationwide Programmatic Agreement (PA) signed in 2008 outlines protocol and procedure for the special circumstances of inadvertent discoveries and emergency actions. Parks' responses to the circumstances are different from the streamlined or standard review processes, but must involve consultation at the appropriate points.

Inadvertent Discoveries

For the purposes of the PA, inadvertent discoveries are historic properties that are encountered during an undertaking for which review had previously been conducted under Section III or Section IV of the PA. The Superintendent, in consultation with the Park Section 106 Coordinator and the appropriate members of the CRM Team, must make reasonable efforts to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects on historic properties found inadvertently.

Below is a recommended but general process to follow after an inadvertent discovery. Refer to state and local laws as well as regional policies and agreements to tailor the process to your circumstances. The Inadvertent Discovery Checklist (doc) may be altered to suit your needs.

If the property is eligible for the National Register or has not yet been evaluated for eligibility, and the undertaking cannot be relocated, the Superintendent will:

What happens after the treatment? For all resources not governed by NAGPRA, appropriate consulting parties will be notified of all actions within a reasonable time after they are completed.

Inadvertent discoveries must be documented in the project file. This documentation may be via the "Assessment of Actions Having an Effect on Cultural Resources" form generated for the initial compliance actions on project.

Case Study: African Burial Ground, New York City, New York

The General Services Administration (GSA) proposed a construction site for the 290 Broadway Federal Office Building. During the planning process for the construction undertaking, an Environmental Impact Statement was prepared and archeological research performed, pursuant to Section 106 of NHPA and NEPA. A cultural resources subconsultant in 1989 determined that remains associated with the African Burial Ground might lay within the project's footprint and three areas were targeted for limited testing. The potential for preservation was considered fairly low.

The ACHP and GSA signed a MOA in March of 1989 that laid out a research design in compliance with Federal preservation law. When archeological testing in May of 1991 unexpectedly revealed intact burials at the rear of Lot 12, GSA adopted full archeological excavation as the mitigation strategy. Graves were found ultimately to extend from the former north-south leg of Republican Alley to the eastern extent of the project site. The initial documentary research, as well as analysis of subsequent test borings, had failed to adequately determine the full depth of fill - as much as 25 feet in the eastern area at Elk Street - covering the original site. The fill had protected hundreds of graves. Discovery of this level of preservation came as a surprise. Mitigation through full data recovery continued until July of 1992, when the field excavations were halted prior to the preparation of an acceptable research design and due to mounting public pressure.

For more information see African Burial Ground Final Reports and the park website.

Emergency Actions

[photo] Erosion under the Ipsut Creek Cabin caused an emergency that necessitated relocating the structure.

Erosion under the Ipsut Creek Cabin caused an emergency that necessitated relocating the structure.

Emergency actions are one area in which parks may wish to create supplemental programmatic agreements to the Nationwide PA with SHPOs/THPOs. Emergencies are actions deemed necessary by the Superintendent as an essential and immediate response to a disaster or emergency declared by the President, a tribal government, the Governor of a State, or another immediate threat to life or property. Such actions will be consistent with the NPS Environmental Safeguards Plan for All-Hazards Emergencies (pdf), and any other approved servicewide emergency response plans. Emergency actions may result from activities by humans, animals, and insects; weather patterns, natural disasters, environmental changes, or other impacts. See the bottom of the page for sources of Servicewide and park-specific guidance on emergencies.

Park-Specific Planning

In accordance with NPS Management Policies (2006), Superintendents are required to develop measures to protect or rescue cultural resources as part of emergency preparedness and operations planning processes. Superintendents are further required to develop and maintain emergency operations plans. As part of this planning process, Superintendents should develop park-specific plans and/or programmatic agreements with SHPOs/THPOs and other partners in the Section 106 compliance process to further establish relevant emergency procedures for the treatment of historic properties.


Emergency actions are only those actions required to resolve the emergency at the time. They constitute an expedited process that only applies to undertakings conducted within 30 days after the disaster or emergency has been declared. If the action requires work beyond the 30-day period, the Superintendent must seek an extension of the emergency period from the SHPO/THPO prior to the end of the initial 30 days.

Actions taken after the emergency is over, such as long term stabilization and repairs, are not emergency actions. Compliance for these undertakings must be completed in accordance with either the Streamlined Review Process or the Standard Review Process, as appropriate, as set forth in Sections III and IV, respectively, of the PA.


If no process is established by a park-specific plan and/or programmatic agreement, the Superintendent in consultation with the Section 106 Coordinator and appropriate members of the CRM Team implement an expedited process to address emergency actions. The process is as follows:

Case Study: Flood at Ipsut Creek Cabin, Mount Rainier NP, Washington

On November 6, 2006, a flood created an emergency at the Ipsut Creek cabin. The flood relocated a section of the creek directly under the cabin, which in turn eroded away the ground beneath the central portion. As a result, the cabin straddled the new creek bed like a bridge. Click here to view photo albums of the 2006 flood emergency at the Ipsut Creek cabin.

The road to and from the cabin and natural glacial processes affecting the river further complicated emergency actions. Several major road washouts had made the road impassable by vehicle, so that cultural resource specialists had to hike to and from the site. A glacier-fed river had been depositing gravel in the river on an annual basis, resulting in a river bed that grew more shallow and more susceptible to flooding and redirection.

Cultural resource specialists at the site decided that the Ipsut Creek cabin would likely need to be relocated. Rehabilitating the cabin in its current location would keep it in the path of destruction for future flood events. They looked at possible options to relocate the cabin to higher ground out of the path of the river, then the park contacted the SHPO to alert them of the situation and the possible alternatives. The park historical architect next prepared an Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to relocate the cabin. It included stipulations for documenting the cabin prior to its relocation and sending copies of the documentation to the SHPO and ACHP. The MOA was signed by the park, SHPO, and ACHP. The cabin was documented, dismantled, and temporarily relocated to a secure maintenance area. Individual elements such as doors and windows were taken to the shop and rehabilitated.

The final location of the cabin has not yet been determined. The selection of the new site is included in the EA for the Carbon River Road repairs (or closure) still in process.

Case Study: Earthquake at Puukohola Heiau NHS, Hawaii

At 7:07am, October 15th 2006, two earthquakes struck the Hawaiian Islands. Both earthquakes occurred off Hawaii Island's west coast, and were recorded at a magnitude-6.0 and M6.7. Over a period of 24 hours, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) recorded over 80 aftershocks greater than M1.7. Hawaii, Maui, and O'ahu counties reported power outages, landslides, rockslides, and extensive damage to archeological, historic, and modern structures. Most of the damage occurred along Hawaii Island's north and west coast.

Within a day of the earthquakes the park was in contact with Hawaii SHPO staff to partner with any on-island cultural resource staff to assess the damage to significant resources. The process included NHL properties and properties on the State and National Registers, other than NHLs. Support to assess resources came from the private sector too - whomever was on-island helped document the widespread damage to historic properties.

The initial documentation aided the park as staff consulted with Native Hawaiian organizations and individuals in the aftermath of the earthquakes. The documentation also aided the Park in securing funds and moving forward with hands on work within a 6 month period after the earthquakes. A draft preservation plan was written that identified the properties affected and the proposed actions to be taken at each property. Letters to the SHPO and the ACHP were drafted and sent that included the draft preservation plan and a promise to have a qualified archeologist on site to manage the work crews and document the effort of rehabilitation.

More Information

The NPS National Center for Preservation Technology and Training maintains a comprehensive list of tools, information, and guidance on emergency planning and response.

The Primer on Disaster Preparedness, Management and Response discusses how to plan for, salvage, and care for paper objects in emergencies, such as fire, flood, and earthquake.

Chapters on Emergency Planning for museums are in the Museum Handbook.