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From Paper File to Digital Database

 

Background:

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established a clear identity and mission for historic preservation in the United States, stating that, “the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage” (NHPA Sec.1(b)(1). President Clinton reiterated these sentiments in his stated goals for the new millennium calling is a time, “to honor the past and to imagine the future” (Millennium Program Announcement, 8/15/97). In this time of reflection, historic preservationists occupy a unique position to lead national efforts, “ensure[ing] that our unique and vibrant cultural life flourishes in the new century and that our rich history is treasured and preserved” (Millennium Program Announcement, 8/15/97).

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) laid the foundations of historic preservation by creating a national repository of historic sites and buildings: the National Register of Historic Places (NHPA Title 1(Sec. 101)(a)(1)(A)). In addition, the NHPA established a network of State Historic Preservation Offices to locate, catalog, monitor, and maintain historic places (NHPA Title 1(Sec. 101)(b)); and instituted a nationwide inventory of historic sites and buildings (NHPA Title 1 (Sec.101)(b) (3)), among other mandated functions. The Historic Preservation Fund, a program of matching grants administered by the Secretary of the Interior, supports the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) activities, specifically the survey and inventory of historic places.

State historic resource inventories provide Federal, State and local governments important information on a daily basis in concurrence with national historic preservation laws. Lack of inventory automation, through computerized databases or geographic information systems (GIS) in a majority of states renders these inventories ineffective for land use planning and regulatory compliance, resulting in increased costs for government agencies and uninformed land development decisions. A proposal to increase in the Historic Preservation Fund by $5 million per year for 5 years, targeted at the automation of these vital records, would produce significant proactive preservation planning measures, reduce costs to Federal agencies engaged in regulatory activities, allow data sharing across state and local boundaries, and increase public access to historical sites. Clearly, this automation effort would fulfill the spirit and objectives set forth in the Millennium Program, as stated by the President, bringing the diverse artifacts and culture of our past closer than ever to our future.

The Investment:

There are 5 million historic properties and 500,000 survey reports included on SHPO statewide inventories. During the past seventeen years the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) has invested over $156 million to conduct historical and archeological surveys resulting in the addition of 1.8 million historic properties to SHPO inventories. Each year more than 100,000 additional historic properties are added to SHPO inventories. These inventories are used daily by SHPO staff, the public, students, other state agencies, consultants, and Federal agencies for a variety of purposes including some that are regulatory in nature such as §106 project review, National Register nominations, National Historic Landmark designations, and Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program.
These inventories however, are victims of their own success for as they grow quick access becomes more and more difficult. The major problem is that most of these inventories are not computerized. As paper files they are difficult to search. The paper inventories also fragment information about historic properties and surveys. For example, most historic properties are shown as dots on inventory maps located in flat file cabinets but the information about these dots can only be found in another file drawer. Users of these paper inventories often spend hours trying to located and bring together relevant information.

This is a problem that is well known to SHPOs and Federal agencies. With very little funding and some savvy partnering, a few SHPOs have been successful in obtaining funds to automate their inventory. But progress is slow and the backlog continues to build. The maps and pie charts on the facing page report on the progress of automating SHPO inventories to date.

While substantial progress has been achieved in the area of moving descriptive information from paper files into digital databases both with respect to historic properties and survey reports, moving data off of paper maps and into a GIS lags far behind particularly where survey areas are concerned.

The Goal

At the present rate of automation it will be another fifteen years before SHPO inventories are fully automated. This is far too slow and perhaps too late to be an effective tool for historic preservation. The goal of this proposal is straightforward. By the year 2003, all 5 million historic properties and all 500,000 survey data will be within a computer database and in a GIS. To achieve this goal we are seeking a $5 million increase to the Historic Preservation Fund each year for a period of five years. This one time only effort will cost $25 million. Since each SHPO is different with respect to achieving an automated inventory, funding would be based on specific SHPO needs as expressed in proposals related to projects, hardware and software, and training. Table one illustrates some, but not all, of the types of proposals that would be funded.

Cost estimate:

As Table two illustrates there are many activities needed to accomplish the goal. This creates some problems when trying to state the actual cost of such a project. While the data on a per unit cost is antidotal, the data used to construct the maps and pie charts has been systematically collected from all SHPOs, although it is only reliable as an estimate. With these caveats in mind the table below best approximates the costs for automating SHPO inventories. These cost estimates would probably be higher were it not for the fact the SHPOs can take advantage of current efforts by several organizations charged with establishing standards for automating and maintaining digital data, both spatial and non-spatial. Such organizations include the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), National Spatial Data Inventory (NSDI), National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), State GIS Agencies, and the Data Automation Working Group, established by NPS. These organizations establish and support standards and guidelines for the entire automation process, resulting in a consistent data format that facilitates data exchange across boundaries and among agencies. By not having to reinvent the wheel or suffer through trial and error SHPOs will be more efficient in automating their inventories.

If we fail to act:

The ability to deliver information on historic resources when it is needed and in a form that is useable will be severely limited if the statewide comprehensive inventory is not fully automated within the next few years. The consequences will be far-reaching. As paper inventories continue to grow, their search and retrieval times will soon be unacceptable to most regulatory environmental review processes such as NEPA, historic preservation review processes such as Section 106, and their state and local counterparts. As these processes begin to employ GIS and computer databases to make decisions that impact historic resources the inventory will cease to inform these processes. The result will be the inadvertent loss of historic resources, increased expenditures on surveys, fewer nominations to the National Register, an inability to respond to disasters, and a loss of investment in the inventory.

Who benefits:

The beneficiaries of this automation include SHPOs, Federal land managing agencies, including the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Forest Service (USFS), as well as permitting and project sponsored agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Department of Transportation. These agencies rely daily on SHPO inventories. With an automated inventory the amount of time and money needed to conduct, searches will be cut dramatically. Once these data are available on line, even more time and money will be saved. The promise of standardized data exchanges offers many Federal agencies the opportunity to develop coordinated and consistent approaches in their cultural resource management program under §110 across state lines. The public will gain quicker and greater access to the data on the inventory. Researchers will be able to take advantage of the information on the inventory to enhance their research projects. The cumulative result will be a growing constituency and appreciation for historic preservation, and better preservation of our national heritage.

Table 2

Historic Properties Database
Historic Properties
GIS Survey Reports Database
Survey Areas GIS Projects
Projects
  • Data clean up Database      design Data entry Metadata
         development
  • Web enable
         database
  • Plotting data
         on maps Digitizing
         properties GIS Interface
         development Linking GIS
         with other
         databases GIS data
         acquisition Metadata
         development
  • Web enable
         database
  • Data extraction
         from reports Data clean up Data entry Metadata
         development
  • Web enable GIS
  • Plotting on
         maps
  • Digitizing
         survey areas GIS Interface
         development Data
         acquisition Metadata
         development
  • Web enable
         GIS
  • Hardware/
    Software
  • Server Server software
  • Database
         software
  • Digitizer GIS software GPS
         equipment
  • Plotter
  • Server Server software
  • Database
         software
  • Digitizer
  • GIS software GPS
         equipment
  • Plotter
  • Training
  • Database
         design Database use Metadata
  • Network
         administration
  • GIS GPS Remote
         sensing
  • Metadata
  • Database
         design Database use Metadata
  • Network
         administration
  • GIS
  • GPS Remote
         sensing
  • Metadata

  •