The Cultural Heritage High Risks Commission


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The National High Risks Commission is a task force devoted both to assessing risks that are likely to affect cultural heritage in Italy, and to provide know-how and qualified help in disaster-struck areas.

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The Cultural Heritage High Risks Commission

  1. 1. “Italian High Risks Commission. An Overview” January 28th, 2010 The Cultural Heritage High Risks Commission in Italy – An Overview The National High Risks Commission is a task force devoted both to assessing risks that are likely to affect cultural heritage in Italy, and to provide know-how and qualified help in disaster-struck areas. The first impulse to setting up a coordinating commission on the national level has been given by members of ICOM-Italy in the aftermath of the earthquake affecting the Marche region in 2007. Lamentably, this was postponed from month to month until the strong earthquake of April 6th, 2009 in L’Aquila and the rest of the Abruzzi region finally brought the proposal to ripeness. In a first stage, museum- and other cultural heritage professionals came together on a voluntary basis, some of them surveying the Abruzzi region and assessing damages the earthquake had inflicted to a vast majority of mobile cultural heritage artefacts, as well as to the buildings (some of them being of historical significance) hosting them. Part of the activity at that stage consisted in finding out where to store artefacts, taking them from locations unapt to keep them any longer, and where and how best to provide “first help” from the point of view of the artefacts’ conservation. Shortly after this, the informal networking activity of professionals was institutionalised on a national basis and the Commission was officially established. A first general meeting of its 1 members occurred at the museum of Celano in early summer – though being right in the middle of the area struck by the earthquake, the museum’s building (mid-80s) hadn’t been affected by it, and it is in fact to this day one of the most important restoration labs working on damaged artefacts brought here from all over the region, offering stages and training opportunities also to foreign students and volunteers (the building’s facilities can host up to 34 people). Other general meetings followed. It has been clear from start, of course, that museum professionals, as well as other cultural heritage professionals, do not and cannot operate in a void. Apart from security issues – which in disaster areas are usually addressed by the military or by police forces – the Commission operates as the “cultural heritage expert” proceeding hand in hand with other stakeholders. These other stakeholders have been identified as follows: • The National Civil Service for Emergencies (Protezione Civile), • Local Government Agencies (on a regional, provincial and municipal level), • Environmental NGOs active on a national level, but having a vast network of local chapters (in the case of Italy, the Commission identified Legambiente as the NGO of choice). Dr. Alessandro Califano Member, High Risks Commission Senior Curator, CRDAV (Rome, IT) E-mail:
  2. 2. “Italian High Risks Commission. An Overview” January 28th, 2010 On a meta national level, the Commission obviously keeps strong strategic ties with many international bodies and programmes, like UNESCO, Blue Shield, ICCROM, and more. One of the most relevant knowledge bases for the Commission’s operations – including all pre-disaster risk assessments and post-disaster rescue interventions – has been identified in the digital risk mapping database (Carta del Rischio). This national database is being implemented since the 90s to cover the majority of Italy’s territory not only for seismic, but also for a whole range of many different possible risks. Integrating (geo-referenced) data on cultural heritage into this database would eventually provide a much more effective tool for the prevention of damages of artefacts, archaeological areas, and historical buildings, but the system doesn’t provide full information about this issue, yet. From the methodological as well as from the strategic point of view, the Commission has stressed the importance of delocalization of cartographic databases as well as of all other kind of vital archives and inventories. Particularly in the first stage of interventions in the earthquake-struck areas it became clear that it has been the availability of internet-based resources and of mobile networks (due to the fact that most locally kept archival evidence were either compromised, damaged, or temporarily out of reach) that allowed a sufficient level of efficiency and effectiveness to be reached. As for the wide-spread training of museum professionals the Commission has the intent to foster on a regional basis, courses will follow the relevant chapter(s) of ICOM-UNESCO’s “Running a Museum” manuals (but at least two of the booklets prepared by UNESCO’s 2 Section of Museums and Cultural Objects could also be very effectively used for the same purpose, even for a wider range of course participants). Postscript In the case of catastrophic disasters of vast dimensions, the possibly most effective approach should consider three parallel issues: • Collecting a vast cartographic documentation from available sources (the local ones being in most cases highly damaged) and integrating it with references to cultural heritage presence and kind: buildings, areas, artefact-“containers” of various kind; • Assessing present conditions and documenting them in photos/pictures/descriptions with due consideration given to the sites’ interrelation; • Training local forces to let them have the least destructive post-crisis approach to artefacts. This last issue should also give due consideration to the identification on a local basis of the stakeholders (remaining or new) to be involved in the operations. [] Dr. Alessandro Califano Member, High Risks Commission Senior Curator, CRDAV (Rome, IT) E-mail: