By Foekje Boersma

No matter where we live in the world, we face the potential of natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, flooding, and wildfires, to name but a few. Each region has its particular risks. In Southern California, the main natural disaster threats are earthquakes and wildfires; in northwestern Europe, they are primarily flooding from rivers and rising sea levels. With climate change, the frequency and magnitude of these natural threats will be affected, requiring communities to adjust. Furthermore, due to the shifting of climate zones, some regions are now facing threats that they did not previously confront.

Human activity can create or exacerbate the risk of disaster. One immediately thinks of war and terrorism, but other actions can, without intention, increase the likelihood and the magnitude of a natural disaster—for example, deforestation enhancing erosion and amplifying the potential for landslides.

As world population increases, more people are affected by disasters. For this reason, many countries, both individually and collectively, are placing greater emphasis on disaster management and preparedness. To save lives, these countries are focusing on mitigation strategies to help reduce the impact of a disaster, putting disaster response plans in place, and educating the public.

The protection of cultural heritage and its recovery after a disaster are often not considered as part of existing disaster policies and planning. In response to this gap, some members of the cultural sector are developing strategies collaboratively to protect heritage from disasters. An example is the recently established Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, which supports the new International Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, established under the Second Protocol of the 1954 Hague Convention.

Despite such notable efforts, in general there remains an inadequate understanding among cultural heritage stewards of the major threats that can affect heritage, along with a limited knowledge of possible approaches to manage these risks. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the cultural heritage sector is under-resourced.

Cultural institutions such as museums can and must prepare themselves for disasters and emergencies by being aware of the risks and by putting mitigation strategies in place to help reduce the damage caused by an event.1 Damage caused after an event—such as collapsed buildings, fungal outbreaks, and loss of documentation—can be greatly reduced and possibly avoided with proper preparedness strategies.

1 A disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic, or environmental losses which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction). An emergency is an event, actual or imminent, which endangers or threatens to endanger life, property, or the environment and which requires a significant and coordinated response (Emergency Risk Management Applications Guide, Australian Emergency Manuals Series).

Teamwork for Integrated Emergency Management

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has long advocated the protection of cultural property and has helped develop practical solutions to the technical problems faced in protecting collections and buildings in emergency situations. Since 2004 the GCI has collaborated with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) in an education initiative focused on safeguarding museums from the effects of natural and human-caused emergencies. This collaboration is carried out within the broader framework of ICOM's Museums Emergency Program (MEP), which is a strategic, multiyear project that aims to assist museum and other heritage professionals with the task of assessing, preparing for, and responding to natural and human-made threats.

As a major component of this collaboration, the partners developed an education model that enables museum professionals, over an extended time period, to gain experience in integrated emergency management. The term integrated refers to the holistic approach, which encompasses the necessary interdependent skills, knowledge, and experience and deals with all aspects of a museum: the people (staff and visitors), the building, the collections, and the documentation. Understanding integrated emergency management is a long-term process that cannot be effectively acquired through short courses or workshops. It is a process that museums can undertake on their own, but the overall impact is much greater if several institutions in a specific region collaborate, helping and supporting one another—not only in disaster response but also in the process of becoming and staying prepared. This approach also assures that local contexts, traditions, and existing methods will be considered.

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With this in mind, the course Teamwork for Integrated Emergency Management (TIEM), designed for museums, was developed. The course runs over a period of several months and aims at building a sustainable capacity in both risk assessment and emergency preparedness within a region. It combines training workshops with on-the-job learning and practical experience, and it takes into account the fact that institutions differ in types of collections, resources, size, culture, and traditions. In this way, the course emphasizes the ways museums can adapt approaches to integrated emergency management to their particular situations.

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The TIEM course begins with a workshop (phase one) that introduces the concepts of integrated emergency preparedness and discusses how these can be implemented within the participating institutions. Following the workshop, participants return to their own institutions, where they work together with their director and other colleagues to implement TIEM concepts in their museums. During a period of seven or eight months (phase two), they remain in contact with the course instructors and fellow participants. The instructors of the workshop serve as mentors and provide guidance as required. At the end of this distance mentoring phase, the participants are brought together again for a final meeting (phase three) in which their experiences are shared. This meeting also allows participants to address specific topics that may have emerged.

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Participants for TIEM are drawn from up to ten museums from a group of countries in a specified region. By signing up for this course, museum directors commit their institutions to participate actively in all phases of the course. Each museum can delegate two of its staff members to attend the face-to-face components (phases one and three), while management personnel and a larger portion of the museum staff will be involved during the second phase. In the long term, it is expected that the participating museums will disseminate their knowledge and experience in this field to other museums in their region, refining and expanding the regional network.

In addition to the personnel from museums, faculty from academic programs in conservation or museum studies can also participate in the course. Their involvement helps ensure that the principles of integrated emergency management will be passed on to the next generation of museum personnel in the region.

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Successful museum emergency management requires interdisciplinary teamwork on the part of museum personnel, emergency professionals, and the community. This fact is reflected in the diverse team of course instructors and mentors who have been drawn from different backgrounds, such as conservation, architecture, security, and risk management. The teaching team works within a collaborative interdisciplinary framework when adapting the specific teaching and learning goals, content, and methodology of the TIEM curriculum to the targeted region. The team-teaching approach is used in both the classroom-based teaching and the distance mentoring elements of the course.

To support TIEM, extensive use is made of a special project Web site, which includes the workshop materials, monthly progress reports of the participating museums, discussion forums, and useful links. The site has restricted access—only participants, instructors/mentors, and the MEP partners can gain access.

The organizing partners have also compiled a bibliography of literature and didactic resources related to integrated emergency management, which identifies key texts and other relevant materials. This resource is publicly available online; it can be found at the GCI Web site.

TIEM Course History

TIEM started with a pilot course in Asia, which took place between August 2005 and June 2006. Teams from eight national museums and two graduate museum studies programs (see sidebar) participated in the course. During the course, the museums established emergency planning committees within their institutions, conducted risk assessments and fire drills, created evacuation plans, and took other preparedness measures. Many of the museums also organized seminars, lectures, and symposia for their region.

Given the results of this pilot effort, the partners embarked on a second TIEM course, this time in southeast Europe. The GCI, ICCROM, and ICOM were joined by a new partner, UNESCO, in this second course, which was undertaken with the additional collaboration of ICOM South-East Europe (SEE) and the National Archives of the Netherlands. The region of southeast Europe was targeted because of its important cultural heritage, which suffered greatly during the civil wars of the 1990s. Many museums are still recovering from these wars, in a process that is slow because of a lack of resources. In addition, this geographic region faces natural disasters, such as earthquakes, wildfires, and floods. Nine southeastern European countries, represented by museums and educational institutions, are currently participating in the TIEM course.

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In November 2007, the participants were introduced to the TIEM concepts during a two-week workshop held in the historic town of Ohrid (a World Heritage Site), in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments and the National Museum in Ohrid (one of the participating institutions) offered the course participants and instructors the use of its institution for practical exercises during the workshop. The workshop covered the topics of disaster risk assessment, mitigation of disasters, emergency preparedness and response, recovery and rehabilitation, and emergency plans. The participants engaged in several exercises, which included a simulation of an emergency—a fire at the local museum. The museum, the local school, and the official emergency response units (the fire brigade, the police, the medical response team, and the Red Cross) were all involved in this exercise. The participants had to cope with the situation in a manner that reflected the TIEM approach.

The organizing partners of the MEP-TIEM-SEE course hope that the participants will come away from the experience able to:

  • use common and specific terms related to integrated emergency management;
  • recognize the risks for their museums, and define and communicate priorities;
  • identify and mobilize necessary resources, including the financial resources, as well as governmental assistance;
  • identify relevant people and partners inside and outside, and build effective teams and regional networks;
  • prepare and implement a plan for risk mitigation;
  • disseminate information to colleagues and the public;
  • respond and recover effectively in the event of emergency;
  • formulate plans for long-term recovery.
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Currently the participating institutions are working on the practical implementation of the concepts of integrated emergency management as part of the distance mentoring phase. The course will conclude this summer.

In 2008 the MEP partners will evaluate the effectiveness of the TIEM course. Have the course approach and methodology been successful in achieving the course's goals? Can the course be easily transferred from region to region? What are the long-term results of the project—has the pilot course been able to help build sustainable emergency preparedness in the region? Addressing these kinds of questions is important in achieving the objectives of TIEM, and the evaluation will provide valuable information that can guide the future direction of the project.

Foekje Boersma is a project specialist with GCI Education.

More information regarding the Teamwork for Integrated Emergency Management course can be found on the GCI Web site.

2005–6 TIEM Course Participants
National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
National Museum of Mankind, Bhopal, India
National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan
National Museum of Korea, Seoul
Colombo National Museum, Colombo, Sri Lanka
National Museum of the Philippines, Manila
University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City
National Museum, Bangkok, Thailand
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi
Ha Noi University of Culture, Hanoi, Vietnam

2007–8 TIEM Course Participants
National Archaeological Museum of Tirana, Albania
Museum of Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Old Village Museum of Hrvatsko Zagorje, Croatia
Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments and the National Museum, Ohrid, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
National Museum of Ethnography and Natural History, Republic of Moldova
Maritime Museum of Montenegro, Montenegro
Brukenthal National Museum, Romania
Museum of Pozarevac, Serbia
Technical Museum of Slovenia, Slovenia

In addition, the Museum Studies Program of the University of Zagreb, Croatia, and the Department for Preventive Conservation DIANA of the National Museum in Belgrade, Serbia, are participating as educational programs.