Natural Disaster Assistance for Missouri Citizens - Natural Disaster Recovery for Historic Buildings

Department of Natural Resources fact sheet
Department of Natural Resources Director: Carol S. Comer

The destruction to historic buildings caused by natural disasters can be significant. A moderately severe tornado, for example, is capable of lifting the roof off a historic building and, in the process, widely scattering its contents. The most intense tornado can lift a frame building in its entirety. Often, when a tornado passes over a structure, the rapid reduction in air pressure will cause the higher pressure inside to cause the building to explode.

Evaluation of damage to buildings is one of the first and most essential steps to undertake after a natural disaster. Building departments and private engineers will determine which damaged
buildings are safe to enter.

In the rush to repair communities, it may be easier to demolish damaged historic buildings than to undertake repair, but understanding laws and policies for disaster relief often enables communities to restore these buildings.

Immediate Post-Disaster Actions for Historic Buildings
After an historic building has been deemed safe to enter, immediate steps should be taken to stabilize the structure:

Maintaining Preservation Standards
Common effects of disasters on historic places, such as cracked walls, roofs that have been removed, water-damaged plaster and wet furnishings, usually can be repaired. Although the aftermath of a disaster is not “preservation as usual,” generally accepted standards should be followed even in the rush to repair.

For historic buildings, general and broad rules-of-thumb are good guides after disasters, as well as before:

Repairing Storm-Damaged Historic Buildings

Roofs form the first line of defense of any historic building and are vital in keeping damaging moisture out of the building.

Masonry and Mortar Repairs
Mortar in an historic building can be weakened by the damaging winds of a tornado. Settlement can lead to cracking in masonry walls, which can compromise the structure.


Windows and Doors
Windows and doors can be among the most important and decorative features in an historic building. If replacement of windows and doors is determined to be necessary, a partial replacement of components such as window sash alone should be considered. If window or door frames are replaced, the exterior trim should closely match the original.

Restoration Hazards

Detailed information is available in the Asbestos Requirements for Demolition and Renovation Projects, Fact Sheet--PUB2157 online, or by contacting the Air Pollution Control Program at 573-751-4817.

Financial Assistance for Recovery
Federal and state tax incentives exist for the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Most rehabilitation costs incurred as part of disaster recovery efforts may qualify for these credits.

The information in this publication was prepared by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Office, with assistance from the National Park Service, Preservation Assistance Division.

Carl L. Nelson, Protecting the Past From Natural Disasters, Washington, D.C., The Preservation Press, 1991.

Safeguarding Your Historic Site: Basic Preparedness and Recovery Measures for Natural Disasters. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Region 1, 1993.