Developing A Digital Engagement & Crisis Response Program

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) has pivoted to an accessible, remote-learning format at its historic sites and museums. The sudden shift from in-person visitation to virtual engagement with visitors has necessitated that the THC create digital educational and interpretive content that is available and accessible to a wide range of audiences—from K-12 students, to post-secondary students, researchers, and history enthusiasts.

At the same time, THC historic sites have also been navigating the impacts of other natural disasters and traumatic community experiences, like Hurricane Harvey and its impact on Fulton Mansion State Historic Site in August 2017, the devastating tornado that destroyed Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in April 2019, and the impact of the El Paso mass shooting on the Magoffin Home State Historic Site in August 2019.

The “layering” of the COVID-19 pandemic—on top of natural disasters and traumatic community events—has highlighted a critical need for new response and engagement tools for site staff and their service communities.

In order to address these two distinct and critical needs, the Friends of the THC, as the nonprofit partner to the THC, requested and was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services CARES Act Funding Program. The grant, which will fund the THC’s “Digital Engagement and Crisis Response Program for Texas State Historic Sites,” will allow the THC to create educational and interpretive programming in a digital format that is available on a platform accessible to users with varying levels of access to online content. The digital programming will provide online visitors of all ages a comparative level of information and experience as in-person visitors would have. The grant also provides funding to create and make available a “Crisis and Trauma Response Toolkit” that will offer structured and guided responses to trauma and disasters at the historic sites.

The Historic Sites Division of the THC will create content-rich multimedia interactive e-book and virtual tour experiences that can be accessed by any device and operating system. This e-book and virtual tour content will meet the distance learning requirements of schools and will also include self-facilitated tours for on-site use, online exhibits, and more. The e-books and virtual tours will be part of a virtual “THC Library,” allowing the state agency to build and expand its digital offerings over time, eventually covering each historic site managed by the THC.

The Friends of the THC will engage the International Coalition for Sites of Conscience (ICSOC) to develop the Crisis and Trauma Response Toolkit. Working with staff from Fulton Mansion, Caddo Mounds, and Magoffin Home state historic sites, the ICSOC will facilitate a lab where staff will work with peers and outside experts to deepen their understanding of trauma, healing, and community resilience. The ICSOC will also manage the development and creation of 10-12 linked resource modules that will serve as a physical and/or digital “toolkit” on responding to trauma and disasters at historic sites. Finally, the ICSOC will advise the THC on the creation of a virtual memorial and exhibit space for Caddo Mounds State Historic Site that can be shared with the communities that were impacted by the devastating and fatal tornado.

The Friends of the THC is able to serve as a partner to the THC, securing grants like the federal CARES Act Funding, thanks to the generous support of our donors. To support our work, join our Spirit of Texas Program today.