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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow Section 106 in Action arrow Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases arrow New York: Disaster Assistance Programs at the World Trade Center Site, New York
New York: Disaster Assistance Programs at the World Trade Center Site, New York

Agency: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Criterion for ACHP Involvement:

  • This case raises important policy issues regarding implementation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Section 106 responsibilities for Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grant programs in response to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center (Criterion 2).

Recent Developments

In all Presidentially declared disasters, historic preservation issues necessarily assume a subordinate role to life and safety concerns. Nonetheless, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has integrated historic preservation responsibilities into their disaster assistance programs, especially those projects FEMA carries out after immediate response and recovery efforts are completed.

Cass Gilbert's West Street Building, 1905, NYC



Cass Gilbert’s West Street Building (1905), severely damaged when the World Trade Center collapsed in New York City, is a National Register-eligible property identified by the SHPO in a survey of historic properties in the vicinity of the recovery effort (photo courtesy of New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission)





In the wake of the terrorist attacks September 11, 2001, FEMA invited ACHP to consult on developing a programmatic approach to streamline Section 106 procedures for disaster assistance programs at New York’s World Trade Center. Consultation has been ongoing between FEMA, ACHP, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the New York State Emergency Management Office (NYSEMO), and others. A draft Programmatic Agreement (PA) has been developed and is expected to be executed in the near future.


When terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush exercised his authority to declare a National Emergency pursuant to the National Emergencies Act, thus setting in motion preparations for military action by the Armed Services on behalf of the Nation. In Manhattan and Arlington, separate Presidential declarations, usually invoked when the forces of nature cause physical destruction and threaten human life, brought FEMA to the scenes of devastation.

Governors Pataki and Gilmore had conveyed requests to the President to formally declare a disaster, a protocol established in the Stafford Act, and emblematic of the importance of the role of States and localities in disaster recovery. Through formal request by a Governor, a Presidential disaster declaration mobilizes Federal disaster assistance to supplement State, local, and other aid.

In the case of the horrific devastation of the World Trade Center, where available resources were quickly overwhelmed by the unprecedented nature and scope of the tragedy, FEMA’s response marked the beginning of a long-term commitment.

Although the scope of FEMA’s activities is determined by the extent of damage from a disaster, the effects to historic properties are best understood as resulting from the actual activities of FEMA, not from the effects of the disaster per se. Those activities, carried out under the Disaster Assistance Program, typically consist of repair or replacement of damaged facilities and structures through FEMA’s Public Assistance Program. There also may be Hazard Mitigation Grant projects, whose purpose is, in part, to limit the liability of the Federal Government in future disasters.

Projects funded by the Public Assistance Program are expected to be carried out primarily within a multiple block area of Lower Manhattan surrounding the site of the attacks. Roughly bounded by Broadway, Chambers Street, Rector Street, and the Hudson River shoreline, the area was comprehensively surveyed by the New York SHPO to identify all historic buildings and structures. This portion of Lower Manhattan is rich in historic properties, including the Tribeca South Historic District Extension, several National Historic Landmarks, and approximately 40 National Register listed or eligible buildings. There is also the potential for related undertakings to occur outside this area with funding from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The draft PA, which sets up lines of communication and review processes with the New York SHPO, uses the SHPO survey as a tool for quick identification of those FEMA grants that fall outside the scope of the agreement because they would affect only non-historic properties. It provides for expedited reviews and standard mitigation measures for those undertakings not specifically exempted from Section 106 review, as mutually determined and enumerated in an appendix.

The willingness of the New York SHPO to devote staff on an ongoing basis to assisting FEMA is reflected in the PA’s compressed review periods and in its outline of cooperative interaction among FEMA, the New York SHPO, and NYSEMO field staff.

Staff contact: Martha Catlin

Updated May 6, 2003

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