Rohit Jigyasu is a conservation architect and risk management consultant. Besides teaching as visiting faculty at the Department of Architectural Conservation, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, Jigyasu has worked on conservation projects in India and was the consultant for the ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) Training Kit on Risk Preparedness for Cultural Heritage. In 2005 he helped set the agenda and coordinate the UNESCO/ICCROM/Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan "Thematic Meeting on Cultural Heritage Risk Management," in his capacity as visiting professor in the Research Center for Disaster Mitigation of Urban Cultural Heritage, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto.
Jane Long is vice president for emergency programs at the nonprofit Heritage Preservation in Washington, DC. She has served as director of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force since it was formed in 1995 by Heritage Preservation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Getty Conservation Institute. The Task Force is a partnership of federal agencies and national associations, and its major initiatives include the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel, the Alliance for Response initiative, and the new Field Guide to Emergency Response. Long is coauthor of Heritage Preservation's book Caring for Your Family Treasures.
Ben Wisner, a research associate in the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, was vice-chair of the Earthquakes and Megacities Initiative, vice-chair of the International Geographical Union's Commission on Hazards and Risks, and a research coordinator for the United Nations University's project on urban disasters. Lead author of At Risk: Natural Hazards, People's Vulnerability, and Disasters and author of other books and scientific papers, he is currently consultant to the ProVention Consortium and a research fellow at the Crisis States Program of the Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics, and at Benfield Hazard Research Centre, University College London. Wisner is also cofounder of the RADIX Knowledge Exchange, a Web site devoted to "radical interpretations of disasters and radical solutions," and cofounder of the Coalition for Global School Safety.
They spoke with Jeffrey Levin, editor of Conservation, The GCI Newsletter.
Jeffrey Levin: Let's start with what may be the biggest question. In the post-disaster environment, how do we appropriately balance the preservation of heritage, whether it's movable or immovable, with the profound human needs that inevitably arise in these circumstances?
Ben Wisner: The answer is interdependent with other issues we want to address—such as the possible positive roles of heritage and heritage collections in social, psychological, and economic recovery. Broadly speaking, this goes to the question of who's making decisions. You could rephrase the question to ask, "Where does heritage preservation, including movable and immovable heritage, actually fit within the discussions that are currently going on in this very broad and international discussion?" Between 1990 and 1999, there was an international decade for natural disaster reduction, which started off in a narrow way but broadened out to include a strong commitment to community participation. At present, there is a worldwide initiative headquartered in Geneva in the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction that attempts to bridge decision making and responsibilities between nations and government agencies and the local level, including academia, NGOs, nonprofits, and other parts of the private sector. Also at the moment, there's the Hyogo Framework of Action, an action document that came out of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction that took place in January 2005 in Kobe, Japan, and that is supposed to be a framework that pulls different actors together and encourages them to do things at the local, national, and international level. If you look at all these things that have been going on, broadly speaking, the question of cultural heritage really hasn't come up—which I find interesting and troubling.
Jane Long: That's been true in the United States, too. The business community, for example, is thinking about how to build disaster-resistant communities and trying to create coalitions broader than ones they've considered in the past. I went to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting last year and was the only representative from the cultural heritage community. They're thinking about schools and businesses and infrastructure, but they overlook the resources that we have to offer. It's not that they're hostile to us—they're just not thinking about it. It's only recently that the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Framework, which has annexes for emergency response functions, incorporated cultural heritage into a function for protecting agriculture and natural resources. It's a long process to get our profile raised.
Rohit Jigyasu: You are very right to say that heritage is not on the agenda of overall disaster reduction. As you suggested, Ben, disaster reduction is considered a much more humanistic discipline than in the past. There is a growing realization that disasters are not merely natural events to be resisted through technology but are inherently linked to social, developmental, and cultural aspects. Still, cultural heritage as a specific element in a disaster situation is not really addressed. Some initiatives have been taken in the recent past, but the participation of the wider disaster management community is very limited. We, the heritage professionals, are very happy to talk to one another, but the wider world of disaster management—which is huge—either is not interested or not aware that heritage has to be looked at in a specific manner. Coming back to the question that was posed as we started—there is a problem of perception, as heritage is still looked at in a very elitist manner. The question is often raised: "When people's lives are at stake, why are we talking about elitist things—monuments or some remains from the past—that have no relevance today?" The point here is that the whole definition of heritage is really different from the popular perception, no? We in the heritage professions are indeed stressing that the past has relevance in the present—that it is part of community resilience mechanisms and traditional knowledge systems. Therefore, heritage is not passive. Rather, it has an active role to play in reducing disasters. We have to disseminate this broader understanding of heritage to the wider disaster management community.
Long: One thing that Heritage Preservation has tried to do is to develop practical approaches that involve bringing emergency managers into our world and getting to know them better. They're very busy people, obviously, but we've found that it's not a problem to convince them that heritage and historic resources are important in their communities. It's just getting on their radar. If there's a fire or a flood threatening an institution that's a keeper of local history, the first responders and emergency managers really want to do the right thing and help.
Wisner: I've been meeting with some Tanzanians and some Kenyans to discuss climate change, but we've also talked about the terrible post-election violence in Kenya and the eventual recovery of Kisumu, the second largest city in Kenya, which has had extensive damage—a lot of burning and looting. My colleagues said that in the course of rebuilding, attention should be paid to the churches and the mosques, which are important symbols of continuity, hope, and psychological well-being for the inhabitants. That's true here. In New Orleans, there are maybe one hundred thousand structures, many of them in the Ninth Ward, that are not yet repaired, and the responsibility for condemning and demolishing them has been turned over from the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] to the City of New Orleans. A Baptist church in the Ninth Ward that had been, with great toil and sweat equity, repaired to a large extent by the parishioners and by the pastor at their own expense was suddenly demolished. It got on the wrong list. The interviews I heard on National Public Radio with people affected were just heart wrenching. This wasn't Chartres Cathedral, but it had a very important role in people's lives. We need to explain this to our colleagues in emergency management, and to sell heritage preservation as a whole package that runs the gamut from a world-class museum or collection to a small working-class mosque in Kisumu or a Baptist church in New Orleans. I think people can understand that.
Jigyasu: One reason why these churches and other important structures are not being protected is because there is no documentation or legislation existing for their protection. There might be an agency for disaster management that is in charge of reconstruction or rehabilitation—there might be rescue agencies, there might be volunteers—but they are not aware of important structures existing in the city. Therefore, prior documentation and protection and their accessibility to these agencies are very important to save heritage during post-disaster rehabilitation.
Wisner: Now you're talking my language. My PhD is in geography, and I immediately think of hazard and vulnerability maps that could easily be generated from the bottom up. FEMA under the Clinton administration was very committed to mitigation and to this kind of partnership of ordinary citizens and the private sector and local government. They had something called Project Impact, where they worked with local steering committees to make local risk assessments and plans. And those local plans could easily include such maps. At the moment, when you do a contingency plan, you obviously mark all the hospitals, fire stations, and schools. Why shouldn't there also be a category of heritage structures and collections on these maps? And it should include, I would think, things like zoological collections and botanical gardens.
Levin: I'd like to explore further the positive role that the preservation of movable and immovable heritage can play for a community, and why it's important that these things get some attention prior to and post-disaster.
Long: We were reminded after Hurricane Katrina that some of the small institutions, such as historical societies and public libraries, are often the keepers of community history. Getting that message across has to be accomplished on two levels. One is at a policy level. In most places there is an emergency operations committee with representatives from various segments of the community—business, hospitals, and other sectors. On a policy level, we're encouraging that there be a seat for the cultural heritage community at this emergency operations center where discussions take place about planning and mitigation. On the institutional level, we in the heritage community have to take the initiative to approach local emergency management agencies, as well as the first responders—the firefighters and police who are likely to be on site in the event of an emergency. It's not always a hard sell. For example, in the state of Florida, public libraries are officially designated as institutions that provide an essential service after disasters. They get electricity restored more quickly because they're recognized as a resource for citizens, who can use the computers to find relatives and learn about FEMA grants and other assistance.
Wisner: In many ways, Florida and also North Carolina are ahead of the curve because of the experience of Hurricane Andrew, and later Hurricane Floyd, which affected North Carolina so terribly. In both these states, public libraries are included in disaster planning. I'd like to suggest that in the future, libraries have even more of a proactive role in terms of information. Some of them, together with historical societies, may very well have information that the county or city planners don't have about prior disasters. That's really important for the local planners to know. There is an international data center at the Centre for Research in the Epidemiology of Disasters at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium that is kind of the gold standard in terms of databases of disasters worldwide. It's the one used by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in their annual report. But its main limitation is that it only includes major events reported by national governments or major aid organizations. To remedy this, some researchers in Latin America developed a database, which is available online in English and Spanish, called DesInventar, that uses local and regional newspapers and picks up small and medium events that are significant locally but never make it into their national press, let alone international awareness. In post-tsunami Asia, DesInventar has been implemented in, I believe, four Indian states, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, and it has also inspired an urban disaster database in South Africa.
Jigyasu: To add to what Ben has said about linking local to global, it is very important that the heritage field, which has its own international network, link up to the international disaster management network. An organization like the International Committee of the Blue Shield [ICBS]—which is a very important international platform trying to help countries save heritage in disaster situations—has to interact with whatever disaster management initiatives are going on at the international level. [See p. 4.]
Levin: How does cultural heritage get a seat at the table in those discussions? How do you achieve greater integration of heritage concerns with the wider concerns of those involved in disaster management?
Jigyasu: One place where this integration can happen is at the heritage management level. A site manager or a director of a museum can develop a well-thought-out coordination plan with the local municipality, the local fire office, and other key players in disaster management. At present, such collaboration is missing in most cases. A fire officer will happily come to a museum and train the staff on how to use fire extinguishers, for example. Such little initiatives, which can happen between the actors within the heritage field and the ones in the disaster management area, can develop this kind of close cooperation before an event. The other thing, which is very important, is that both the heritage and the disaster management sides should be able to understand one another's terminology. There is little understanding of cultural heritage vocabulary within the disaster management field. Similarly, within the heritage field, there is little understanding of the key words used by those in disaster management. We can't communicate if we in the heritage community use terms the disaster field doesn't understand, and the disaster field uses terms that have different meanings for us.
Wisner: Site managers and collection managers have to be proactive at the local level. The planners and the first responders aren't going to take the initiative. It would also help if at the international policy level, there were more visibility to the topic. The Pan American Health Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are quite aware of the role of psychosocial trauma and post-trauma in recovery. There's a hook there that could be used to get more attention for the importance of various kinds of cultural heritage that provide identity anchors for people in their community, spatially and socially. I've been in this business over forty years, and for quite a while, the perception was that social psychological issues in disaster recovery were a luxury of industrial countries and affluent people. Fortunately, over the last twenty years, there's been a lot of advocacy from civil society—in South Asia in particular, but elsewhere too—that says, "Look, these are human beings and they suffer just as much as anybody else from grief and loss."
There is also an organization called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, the ICLEI, that has been implementing something called Local Agenda 21. It's a network of about seven hundred cities of different sizes around the world doing various environmental sustainability projects. Last year they started a network initiative in disaster risk reduction—and given that a lot of cultural heritage is in towns and cities, this would be the sort of thing that they may well want to take on board. If they did, seven hundred cities would be getting information about this. So, at the same time that the local heritage managers are being proactive, this kind of legitimating information could be coming from the top down.
Long: In 2003 Heritage Preservation launched a project called Alliance for Response, in which we've had meetings in cities to bring cultural heritage leaders and emergency responders together. A couple of strategies for approaching emergency responders come to mind. One has to do with safety. Museums may store flammable or toxic substances, and historic buildings, which may not be quite up to code, can also pose hazards. Emergency responders want to know about these issues for their own safety and also so that they can do their jobs better. Another approach is to make the personal connection. We know that once people are safe and they have food and shelter, they start thinking about the irreplaceable treasures from their own lives—family photos, the heirloom wedding dress. We can provide a community service because we have the knowledge to help them salvage those pieces of family history. That's a link between the personal and the societal. There were conservators after Katrina who organized clinics for people, which was a great effort. That's one of the ways you build awareness for preservation.
Jigyasu: One such initiative aimed at building awareness was undertaken in Kobe, Japan, following the 1993 Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. Objects salvaged after the earthquake have been exhibited in a specially designed museum, which serves as an important source of memory for such disasters.
Wisner: The earthquake museum in Kobe is a stunning building with a wonderful collection. I think around three or four hundred thousand school students go through there every year. It's amazing. Headquartered in that building is the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution. This Japanese institution has partnerships to develop museums around the world in jurisdictions that have had disasters. Another example is the tsunami museum in Hilo, Hawaii, which I visited some years ago. It's a modest collection, more like a science museum, but it's a community educational resource—and this ties back to heritage. In some ways, disasters themselves can become heritage. That's an important point, because the memory of these things is very short. This comes up again and again in the literature of hazard perception. It's one of the reasons many people, including myself, argue that developing tsunami early warning systems and community drills in potentially tsunami-affected countries have to be tied to systems and community exercises in response to events that are much more frequent. The next tsunami could come tomorrow, or it could be in five hundred years. However, all of those countries are annually affected by typhoons and cyclones. If you tie the two together, you build on memory that is fresher.
Levin: Are there positive roles, such as providing shelter, that built heritage can play during emergencies?
Wisner: A lot of people seek shelter in churches, and to the extent that people do spontaneously go to churches and temples, the pastors or the imams—or whoever is maintaining these—have to be aware that they need to prepare and have the resources, as well as have these buildings looked at and assessed for their structural soundness. This is something, I believe, that the Church World Service is promoting with a whole network of Protestant denominations, sending out publicity to thousands of ministers, saying preparedness starts with your church. Is your church seismically sound? Is it in a flood plain? What is your water supply? How many toilets do you have? And so on.
Jigyasu: The notion of life safety buildings or life services is really important. In India, an important initiative is under consideration by the national agency responsible for disaster management, which is considering including monuments in its official list of lifeline buildings besides hospitals and schools. They have realized that these landmark structures are important not only for their significance to the community but also because they are visited by thousands of tourists. As a result, there is a likelihood of a big concentration of people in and around these, when a disaster happens.
Long: Absolutely. When reaching out to emergency managers, we need to remind them that museums and other cultural institutions often have school groups visiting who are not familiar with the building and are accompanied by only one or two adults. Many museums are not prepared to handle these groups in an emergency.
Levin: What about the role that heritage can play in the economic recovery? If important heritage exists within a community, the survival of that heritage may be a significant factor in the survival of the community as a whole.
Jigyasu: Absolutely. I'll give the example of the World Heritage Site of Prambanan temple complex in Indonesia. After the 2006 earthquake, one of the big problems was loss of income from tourists. This adversely affected the resources available for site maintenance and management. The issue was whether to stop the visitors from coming—which would mean a big loss in economic terms—or to allow them, in which case there was the challenge of managing their movement so that they were not exposed to danger from the damaged structures. Eventually the authorities came up with the very interesting idea of erecting visitor viewing platforms so that the visitors could view the temples from different vantage positions. It was thus realized that making a business continuity plan was useful for running a site or a museum after a disaster. One cannot just shut down the whole place for six months or a year.
Long: Museums, libraries, and archives think about disaster plans, and they're doing better thinking about protecting collections. But we have not thought much about contingency planning. After September 11, for example, one of the biggest problems that cultural institutions faced in Lower Manhattan was the fact that they couldn't return to their institutions and get them up and running. The economic factor was huge. So not only do we need to convince policy makers that the cultural heritage is important to the economy, we also need to make members of the cultural community more aware of the ways in which disasters can threaten economic survival. They should think about how they can resume operations more quickly after disasters.
Wisner: Part of contingency planning could, in some cases, include the temporary employment of unemployed people in restoration and reconstruction work. After the Mexico City earthquake in 1985, there was a major program to employ, I think, around fifty thousand people who had been affected. Most of the damage occurred in the central, older and historic part of the city, and many of the people were small artisans who had tools and workshops in the same buildings where they lived. A whole lot of these people were thrown out of employment, and many were hired in the cleanup and recovery process by the authorities. It's a major success story.
Levin: Another question we wanted to address relates to built heritage following a disaster. How often is it the case that in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, a good amount of damaged built heritage is demolished, when in fact it is salvageable?
Jigyasu: This is something that we often find. I can give you an example from the historic city of Bhuj in Gujarat, India, with significant heritage components such as fortifications, historic structures, temples, and open spaces. After the 2001 earthquake, many of these got damaged—but not really to the point that they had to be completely demolished. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, when the relief and rescue agencies came in, they didn't know what should be kept and what should be done away with, so they completely wiped away everything. A lot of important structures were lost that should have been kept as a source of memory from the past. As a result, we have ended up with a new town, which is completely devoid of identity. Such situations quite ironically turn natural disasters into cultural disasters.
Long: That's true. This is another good reason to have a current inventory of collections and to communicate that to local authorities.
Levin: How often is it the case that vernacular architecture and traditional structures are better suited than modern construction for withstanding the potential disasters of a particular region?
Jigyasu: This is something that we need to consider when we look at the role that cultural heritage can play—including the vernacular structures under that broader definition of heritage. There is a lot of embedded knowledge in the way these structures were constructed. We have plenty of examples from all over the world, such as Kashmir, where timber-framed constructions with masonry infill and diagonal bracing performed really well during the 2005 earthquake, while many new structures collapsed like a pack of cards. There are many interesting examples of such structures in other parts of the world, such as Turkey. In fact, we find that in those areas that have a regular history of these events, the vernacular architecture has evolved as a response to these disasters. So there's a lot that we can learn from them.
Wisner: The best-known example is Japanese residential light frame construction. There is a lot of work going on in the world strengthening schools at low cost using local materials and training local craftspeople—building on their existing skill knowledge but then adding some elements or trying, in some cases, to recover certain cultural elements. Pakistan is an example of how knowledge has been lost. A few decades ago, there was much more knowledge of using wood frame bracing in stone structures. Now two things have happened. The builders who knew how to do this began to migrate, sometimes as far as Saudi Arabia, to make money. Second, deforestation meant that there was less wood and that it was more expensive, so over the last few decades, people built very dangerous, unbraced heavy masonry residences that cost many lives in the October 2005 earthquake. Not all lost local knowledge is necessarily lost in the dim past. A lot of local knowledge is still around and can be reclaimed.
Jigyasu: One has to look at it in a nonconservative manner, in the sense that if wood, which is an important housing material, is expensive and unavailable, then we might have to look for alternatives by combining traditional and modern knowledge.
Wisner: Well, absolutely. That's what colleagues whom both you and I know in Kyoto are doing. There are temples there that are full of accelerometers and other instruments, and they're basically monitoring the behavior of these structures in the small earthquakes that are common in Japan. Likewise, colleagues of ours in Istanbul have all sorts of measuring devices inside of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, because these things have withstood major earthquakes. It isn't just a matter of how massive they are but also a matter of how they're built. So we're learning all the time. I refer to this as hybrid knowledge. You have various forms of local knowledge, and you also have external specialists' knowledge. If you have a relationship of trust and a good institutional framework, you can actually marry the two.