When Things Get Tough        New Strategies for Cultural Heritage Crisis Management in Post-Disaster Areas                ...
Having a current list of local audio and video broadcasting stations on a regional level would be afundamental task to go ...
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When Things Get Tough - Post-Disaster Management in Cultural Heritage


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To approach post-disaster issues in managing cultural heritage protection and recovery, a strategy is needed bringing into focus local broadcasting stations, smartphone technologies, basic information, and self-help, rather than a bureaucratic institutional approach. This is suggested by a comparison of the aftermath of the 2009 earthquake in the Abruzzi region and L'Aquila, and of the 2012 earthquake in the Emilia region in Italy.

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When Things Get Tough - Post-Disaster Management in Cultural Heritage

  1. 1. When Things Get Tough New Strategies for Cultural Heritage Crisis Management in Post-Disaster Areas by Alessandro Califano1When the city of LAquila and a large part of the Abruzzi region in Italy were devastated by anearthquake in the night of 6 April 2009, ICOM Italy quickly wrote out a call to its members, contactedvolunteer associations, and set up the Cultural Heritage High Risks Commission in a matter of days.Things were made difficult by both the mountainous environment – in some isolated villages peoplehave been left unattended, corpses not disposed of, for days – and a strict militarization of operations,managed by that very same National Civil Service for Emergencies (Protezione Civile) whose expertshave been later on found guilty of privately rejoicing for, and profiting from, the many-sided businessopportunities given to them by the disaster.Nevertheless, in but a few weeks the Commission succeeded in giving assistance to local culturalheritage institutions in a quite effective way, in synergy with local administrations, the fire brigades, alarge association of volunteers (Legambiente), and ICOM Italys museum professionals. An excellentrestoration centre for taking care of immediate needs was set up in the relatively safe museum ofCelano, built in the Eighties in the Fucine plain, and starting from early summer, the centre hostedresidential hands-on workshops, with conservations experts coming from different institutions andcountries.This model proved however utterly useless in the aftermath of the new earthquake that hit the Emilia-Romagna region in May 2012. No direct actions were undertaken by the Commission, and a more orless scanty rescue of museum artefacts and the historical building hosting them was undertaken by fireand emergency rescue brigades, in the frame of regional administrations. For weeks, even trying toobtain a list of what had been damaged, and to what degree, seemed to be a difficult thing to ask, evenmore,to achieve.In order to manage similar crises in an earthquake, inundation, and landslide-prone country such asItaly, a different approach and new strategies have to be devised. Instead of relying too much onroutine-loving regional administrative institutions, advanced technologies and local intelligence shouldbe brought into focus.From this point of view, an excellent public information work has been done in the post-disaster areaby – even very tiny – local audio broadcasting stations. These have been delivering vital information tolocals, ranging from safe areas where to camp, to sites and times of bread and water distributions.1 Alessandro Califano, Ph.D. in Oriental Studies, a member of the Canadian Museums Association, ICOM, and ICOMOS UK, is Senior Curator at CRDAV, the City of Romes Visual Arts Research & Documentation Centre and a free-lance Cultural Consultant for UNESCO in Central Asia since 2008, mostly involved in risk assessment and collection management programmes. He is a member of the Cultural Heritage High Risks Commission in Italy since April 2009. He can be reached at califano.a [at] mclink.it
  2. 2. Having a current list of local audio and video broadcasting stations on a regional level would be afundamental task to go after. Another crucial stakeholder, in the immediate aftermath of the Emilianearthquake has been Hackathon Terremoto, an open group of ICT people quickly working on opensoftware platforms to deliver useful tools to be applied in the disaster hit area by common people, alsoto keep track of events and give immediately usable feedback regarding damages and risks. Hackathonstarted delivering detailed informations and full FOSS tools less than two weeks after the earthquakehad hit the region.Assembling a detailed knowledge-base about such freely available resources, fostering capacitybuilding training on smart-phone applications relevant to risk and emergency situations, and stronglyencouraging contributions to Googles visual documentation of georeferenced monuments and culturalheritage institutions seems to have a much greater potential for effectively tackling post-disaster events,reducing to a minimum the consequences of such events on cultural heritage. Thus, it is on these tasksthat the Cultural Heritage High Risks Commission should focus, in order to reformulate its strategy tomanage potentially devastating risk situations.Useful links: • http://www.slideshare.net/califano/the-cultural-heritage-high-risks-commission-3021599 • http://museumstudies.tumblr.com/post/24395793190/cultural-heritage-in-danger-update-from- the • http://museumstudies.tumblr.com/post/25275062691/post-disaster-failures-in-italys-2012-quake • http://hackathonterremoto.wordpress.com/about/ • http://brainstormingterremoto.ideascale.com/ [ Rome, 2 November 2012 ]