JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 14 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 14 (pp. to )



ABSTRACT—ABSTRACT—Since its foundation, ICCROM has been involved in providing response to emergencies, including floods and earthquakes, when cultural artifacts are threatened or damaged. Particularly since the 1979 earthquake in Montenegro, the strategy has been to give particular attention to the development of training and the preparation of guidelines in risk preparedness. Together with UNESCO, ICOMOS, ICOM, and other international organizations, ICCROM has developed international collaboration and the establishment of the Blue Shield movement, opening new frontiers for improved disaster mitigation.

TITRE—Le rôle joué par l'ICCROM en ce qui trait aux préparatifs aux états d'urgence. RÉSUMÉ—Depuis sa fondation, l'ICCROM a participé activement aux interventions d'urgence, telles les inondations et les tremblements de terre. En particulier depuis le tremblement de terre de 1979 dans le Montenegro, l'organisme a prêté une attention particulière au développement de formation pour le personnel et à les préparatifs de directives sur la préparation aux états d'urgence. Avec l'Unesco, l'ICOMOS, l'ICOM et d'autres organismes internationaux, l'ICCROM a développé une collaboration internationale et créé le mouvement Écran bleu, ouvrant ainsi de nouvelles frontières pour une meilleure atténuation des effets causés par les désastres.

TITULO—El papel que ha jugado ICCROM en la preparación ante riesgos. RESUMEN—Desde su fundación, el ICCROM (Centro Internacional para el Estudio de la Preservación y la Restauración del Patrimonio Cultural) ha estado involucrado en operaciones de respuesta en emergecias, incluyendo inundaciones y terremotos. En particular, despues del terremoto de Montenegro en 1979, la estrategia ha sido dar especial importancia al desarrollo de programas de formación y la preparación de pautas referentes a la preparación ante riesgos. Con la UNESCO, el ICOMOS, el ICOM y otras organizaciones internacionales, el ICCROM ha fomentado la colaboración internacional y la creación del movimiento Escudo Azul (Blue Shield), abriendo así nuevas fronteras para mejorar la mitigación de desastres.

1 1. Creation of ICCROM as A Response to Postwar Conditions

The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1956 as an independent, international, intergovernmental organization, and was headquartered in Rome, Italy. The aim of the organization is to facilitate the setting up and improvement of conditions for the preservation of cultural property in its member states, currently 95 countries. The creation of ICCROM was very much a reflection of conditions in the aftermath of World War II, when destruction of cultural properties was fresh in memory.

Human memory is relatively short, especially concerning unpleasant events, and, after the first decade or so, the experience of the war's destruction began to fade. It was only in the 1980s, with a series of serious natural disasters in Montenegro, Italy, Guatemala, Japan, and the Middle East, that the museum community again gave attention to the question of disaster preparedness. It is in this context that Sir Bernard Feilden, then director of ICCROM, published his Between Two Earthquakes jointly with the Getty Conservation Institute to provide management guidelines for the mitigation of earthquake hazards. Another series of catastrophic events began in 1989 (the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution), when political and structural changes began to have an impact in Eastern Europe and subsequently in other parts of the world. In many countries, such changes resulted in armed conflicts and serious damage to cultural heritage that was regarded for its symbolic, national-political value. An important international response to risk preparedness in 1995 is the Blue Shield, which ICCROM, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) helped establish. Blue Shield intended to improve the implementation at the grassroots level of the objectives of the 1954 Hague Convention, organized by UNESCO for the protection of cultural property in the event of an armed conflict.


Since its creation, ICCROM has participated in emergency actions, although at the beginning more on an ad hoc basis. The 1966 flood in Florence, when the Arno River flowed into the center of the historic town, was an eye-opening experience for the organization. The flood penetrated the basement levels of historic buildings, museums, archives, and collections, and caused serious damage to paintings, manuscripts, and other art objects. ICCROM was immediately contacted by the Italian government for help, and came to work jointly with the Istituto Centrale del Restauro (Italian Restoration Institute), identifying suitable experts for salvage operations as well as coordinating assistance offered from abroad. Similar action was taken in Venice, where the deputy director of ICCROM continued for several years to participate in a scientific commission, in association with Italian authorities and UNESCO, to create policy and coordinate guidelines for safeguarding and restoring historic buildings after a flood.

In the late 1970s, ICCROM took an active part in emergency activities after the earthquakes in the northern Italian province of Friuli, as a member of the international coordinating committee for safeguarding measures and by helping to identify damage to historic structures. Participants in the international Architectural Conservation Course (ARC) volunteered to spend about a week in the region in groups, to identify and evaluate damage to historic structures. Their task was systematically to inspect historic structures in the earthquake region and to recommend emergency measures according to the severity of the damage. In the same region, a team of experts from ICCROM and Austria, led by Sergio Lucarelli and Dr. Hans Foramitti, participated in the photogrammetric recording of the cathedral of Venzone. Fortunately, this recording was done immediately after the first earthquake, when the building was still in reasonable condition, because a second series of shocks caused a large part of the building to collapse. The ruined structure was again recorded, and the two records provided a fundamental reference for the identification of fragments and the reconstruction that was completed in the 1980s.


The 1979 earthquake in Montenegro provoked action at different levels. For ICCROM it was the beginning of a more strategic planning response. ICCROM's first initiative was a series of short technical workshops for local specialists and heritage managers, to provide them with management tools for assessing damaged structures and for emergency measures. One useful tool was a format for the assessment of damages and usability of the buildings, including an indication of whether they were listed for protection under national legislation safeguarding cultural heritage. Subsequently, with the support of UNESCO, ICCROM undertook several technical missions to assist local specialists in the management of restoration and reconstruction work, for example, in the area of Kotor. Particular attention was given to historic churches with painted architectural surfaces. The international collaboration included training of specialists on-site, as well as inviting selected professionals to participate in ICCROM's international training programs. One of the principal challenges involved the application of existing structural norms in the consolidation and reinforcement of historic buildings. It was noted that the weakest part of the traditional structures, built of stone, was in the vertical zone marked by the openings; the strongest part was the corners of the buildings. However, the existing norms proposed inserting vertical elements in reinforced concrete at the corners, exactly the areas that should have been preserved intact. Several meetings took place between the local legislative authorities and engineers and ICCROM's experts, including Sir Bernard Feilden, Poul Beckmann, and Patrick Faulkner. The emphasis was put on a survey of existing structures and their consolidation and reinforcement with a full understanding of the behavior of traditional structural systems.

The Skopje seismic institution undertook a research program on the behavior of traditional structures. This research was later continued by Dr. Lazar Sumanov, using a case study in which he analyzed damage to Byzantine churches after an earthquake and suggested methods of consolidation. The research was supported by the Getty Conservation Institute. Similar research projects were undertaken in Italy. ICCROM has continuously kept in contact with these projects, which have clearly shown that traditional structures can resist earthquakes if in good condition. Therefore, systematic inspections to monitor the state of conservation, with a program of regular maintenance, can be the most useful course of action rather than introducing rigid and heavy reinforcement, which may even be counterproductive. What is needed in most cases is minimum intervention in critical areas.

ICCROM, UNESCO, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) were members of the planning commission formed to develop the criteria for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of earthquake-stricken areas in Montenegro. While the main attention of this commission tended toward the construction of new residential areas, efforts were made to guide the restoration and reconstruction of existing areas. Here, serious delays were encountered because of the lack of appropriate documentation of infrastructure. The first issues to take care of were mapping, preparing geotechnical analyses, and making measured drawings of historic buildings. The experience gave clear indications of the importance of planning for the recording and documentation of historic areas as part of the preparedness program. In fact, the many administrative and operational delays made damaged structures even more vulnerable, risking eventual demolition. At the same time, the inhabitants had left the old centers, and had started building their new life in modern areas. As more time passed, it became more difficult to return to the old buildings. One of the issues was to consider the social and cultural values of historic areas, and not to forget that they used to be living neighborhoods with inhabitants and services. If they were abandoned, the risk was that they would become principally converted to tourism areas, with consequences for their function and treatment that could mean a change of character and significance.

The International Course on Preventive Measures for the Protection of Cultural Property in Earthquake-Prone Regions, organized in Skopje in 1985, issued recommendations that included the observation “Every historic building is unique and deserves special studies.” It was thus recommended that:

  1. The structural systems of such historic buildings be respected because they may have already resisted a number of earthquakes;
  2. Any new materials and structures used for repair and strengthening be compatible and durable and that the use of reinforced concrete be restricted;
  3. The degree of protection required be assessed individually, based on the various possibilities of seismic events and the possibility of further strengthening at a future date when better techniques have been developed;
  4. The loss of cultural values be assessed [in relation to] different [types of] seismic effects, involving the formal consideration of alternative projects by engineers, historical architects, archaeologists, and art historians;
  5. The building owners or occupiers be encouraged and instructed to better maintain the existing structural system and fabric;
  6. A thorough documentation and survey of historic buildings in seismic areas be undertaken and a schedule of regular inspections and maintenance be organized;
  7. A microzoning study of seismic risk be undertaken, starting with the most vulnerable historic building sites.


In the 1990s, ICCROM participated actively in a number of initiatives related to risk and emergency preparedness; in particular in the framework of the Hague Convention review process, and in collaboration with its international partners, UNESCO, ICOMOS, and ICOM. The aim has been to change attitudes so that the values of cultural heritage are taken into account when planning development; and to provide risk prevention and mitigation to the practice of conservation, an important component that has been missing. The answer has been the Blue Shield program, named for the emblem of the UNESCO Hague Convention. The program grew out of a series of roundtables involving nongovernmental organizations, such as ICOMOS and ICOM, intergovernmental organizations such as UNESCO and ICCROM, regional organizations such as the Council of Europe, and newly formed national organizations such as the French Patrimoine sans Frontières.

The result of these roundtables, the Blue Shield program, was conceived as an informal form of collaboration. It primarily provides information on actual or likely damage through networking, raises public awareness about possible damage to cultural heritage, promotes appropriate standards of prevention, provides expertise, and identifies resources for prevention and for assistance in emergency situations. To make the program effective, its nongovernmental organizations formed an interagency task force, consisting of ICOM, ICOMOS, the International Council on Archives (ICA), and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). The program is supported by UNESCO and ICCROM.


Many of the lessons learned by experience over the years were introduced into ICCROM's training programs. For example, Dr. Hans Foramitti's efforts in the 1970s to teach emergency planning particularly related to historic urban areas, including the identification of their character, and the hazards they might have to face. One of the tools in such an exercise was the use of aerial stereophotography, and it was stressed that potential hazards should be marked on the relevant inventory sheet. Having identified the risks, it was advised to take the necessary precautions, identify access routes for fire engines, provide storage space and equipment for emergency situations, and remove valuable heritage objects from areas where they would be vulnerable to disaster. A development in this regard is the risk map developed by the Italian Restoration Institute, a statutory collaborator of ICCROM. The purpose of this mapping is to have an active database to help identify areas of potential risks and to undertake preventive action. The first phase has involved gathering data on risks to cultural heritage in the national territory. The second phase involves cataloging heritage resources according to their vulnerability and making a detailed analysis of their conditions. The third phase is to establish a computer database of the information available as a tool for risk prevention.

ICCROM has continued to introduce the question of risk preparedness and emergency action into its international training programs, such as the ARC and the international workshop on Integrated Territorial and Urban Conservation (ITUC-97). Such training examines alternative solutions and the development of action plans and discusses the role of guidelines. Training in risk preparedness and management of emergency situations has also been introduced in other courses that ICCROM organized for many years (until 1989) on safety and security of museum collections, to shift the emphasis from emergency to “preventive conservation.” This phrase was then adopted by the Preventive Conservation in the Museums of Africa (PREMA) program initiated at ICCROM in Rome in the 1980s, and subsequently transferred to Africa, where it has addressed a variety of target groups. The more recent Preventive Conservation in Oceania PREMO program, organized jointly with Australia, is focused on the conservation of cultural heritage in the Pacific region.

Risk Preparedness: A Management Manual for World Cultural Heritage, written by Professor Herb Stovel, was published in 1998 by ICCROM jointly with ICOMOS and UNESCO. This manual is intended to provide conservation managers with a blueprint for making their own site-specific guidelines and to serve as a teaching guide for short training courses in risk preparedness. Stovel has prepared a list of training modules that can be combined according to needs and serve as a training tool for teachers. The courses are essentially targeted to property managers and decision-makers, both beginners and more experienced people. It is proposed to integrate the training within the infrastructures or systems already in place for emergency response and to emphasize preparedness in mitigating potential losses to cultural heritage. The modules address specific problem areas, and define the challenges faced in natural disasters and armed conflicts and in improving risk preparedness in relation to particular types of heritage. There is a balance between theory and practice, and the length of each of the modules is generally five days. The modules were tested in a pilot seminar in Dubrovnik late in 1998.


In the wake of the long series of earthquakes that recently caused major damage in parts of central Italy, including the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, an international ICOMOS workshop was organized in Assisi in February 1998 with the participation of ICCROM and other international and national organizations. The purpose of the workshop was to review the situation in the region and to discuss the implementation of preventive measures and policies of reconstruction. It was agreed that the availability of a response plan is fundamental but often missing. Even in central Italy, where the fire brigades were well-prepared for the event and took a major responsibility for emergency response, various municipalities and property owners had not taken sufficient preventive measures. In many cases, although the owner believed his or her property to be safe as a result of recent consolidation work, such interventions had obviously not been properly inspected. As a result, there was damage to these buildings and sometimes even complete collapse.

In the ICOMOS workshop's Declaration of Assisi of 1998, the experts emphasized:

Mitigation measures should be a compromise based on a balanced judgment: on the one hand, avoiding alterations in the original conception, technique and technology, and, on the other hand, providing the required safety level. The measures should be applied only after having clearly identified the risk levels and the most vulnerable zones. It is necessary always to pay particular attention to the protection of people involved in the operations. Priority should be given to compatible and reversible measures (Stovel 1998, 143).

An urgent task was to ensure that damage to some of the major monuments would not become worse. Therefore, work was started immediately on the Basilica of Saint Francis, where parts of the vaults had collapsed. The collapse was not due to previous restorations, as first believed, but to the accumulation of stresses in particular areas of the structure, such as the meeting point of the central nave and the west front. By classifying the damage in a systematic manner and developing methods of intervention, the state authorities carried out an important job.

Perhaps the most important issue that emerged from the Assisi workshop was the view of the region affected by this earthquake as a rich cultural landscape. While it holds many invaluable works of art and historic monuments, the most significant issue is the complexity of such rich fabric as it has developed through centuries and millennia and as it has affected and formed the landscape. While attention and care are generally first given to major works of art, small historic communities and villages with their modest constructions also require serious consideration in order not to lose their historic and cultural value. The problems thus are manifold, ranging from artistic and architectural restoration to economic and social rehabilitation of rural settlements. This fact has been recognized in Italy, whose “green heart” represents one of the world's richest concentrations in terms of cultural heritage. The question is not just one of preserving a memory; it is also an issue of continuing traditions, the revival and survival of ways of living—if at all possible.

The Declaration of Assisi paid serious attention to the need to integrate preventive measures and emergency preparedness in the context of physical planning processes: “In case of provisional relocation of inhabitants during emergency and repair periods, the occupied areas should be submitted to a physical planning with due respect to the significance of heritage landscape and environment” (Stovel 1998, 143).

This question was seen as particularly acute where there had been the need to quickly establish areas for provisional housing for the inhabitants of small settlements in the hilly landscape. In many cases, such temporary housing was organized nearby by covering a part of natural ground with concrete, forming a reasonably flat surface on which to place tents or containers (such as those used to transport goods), one for each family. The area was provided with suitable infrastructure, water, drainage, and electricity. From the landscape point of view, this type of housing created a wound that should be repaired in the future, when the emergency is over. The problem is that such works tend to remain permanent, and, especially when poorly designed, the damage is difficult to repair.

Other questions can be raised in areas such as Croatia and Bosnia, where damage was caused by armed conflict. From the technical point of view, the effects look similar, and reconstruction and restoration of thousands of small buildings and works of art in rural areas, an essential part of the physical heritage of cultural landscapes, are not a small issue. Sometimes such structures are reduced to ruin, perhaps only 30–50% remaining of the old building stock. In these cases a series of questions arises. What principles should be followed? What are the limits of restoration? Is it possible to integrate traditional techniques in the process of reconstruction? What design criteria should be adopted in the case of completely new construction? What should be our approach to the issues of authenticity and integrity in such damaged areas? These are issues that ICCROM has integrated into its program objectives to find strategies suitable for the specific conditions in each case. The authorities need to pay particular attention to how economic contributions are provided and what guidelines are developed for the settlements and the cultural landscapes concerned. The issue is not only culture and education, but also economy and survival.


In the past five or six years, the international community has organized itself to meet the challenges of risk preparedness in relation to cultural heritage. This process has given the opportunity to redefine the objectives and even to go beyond protection to prevent disasters in the conventional sense. One of the important issues in this regard has been the process for revising the UNESCO Hague Convention, initially conceived in relation to armed conflicts but now possibly to cover natural disasters as well. At the nongovernmental level, various international organizations, including ICOMOS and ICOM with the support of UNESCO and ICCROM, have joined forces for a grassroots movement, the so-called Blue Shield program, encouraging local populations and authorities in planning and risk preparedness. Most countries have programs to guarantee the safety of civilians, like the models developed in Canada and Japan. The purpose of international action in risk preparedness is to learn about such experiences and to offer them to the world communities as a reference. ICCROM's role in this process is to work on several fronts, including collection of data through networking, the development of experience into feasible models, and the offering of them to the public—the decision makers, the professionals, and the students—through manuals, guidelines, and training. This work is continuous. Risk preparedness should not be conceived only in relation to emergencies. It should also be integrated into the ordinary routine of managing cultural heritage resources, as well as into the management of our daily environment.


Stovel, H.1998. Risk preparedness: A management manual for world cultural heritage. Rome: ICCROM, in collaboration with ICOMOS, UNESCO, and the World Heritage Center. 143–45.


Feilden, B. M., and J.Jokilehto. 1998. Management guidelines for world cultural heritage sites. 2d ed.Rome: ICCROM, in collaboration with ICOMOS and UNESCO.


JUKKA JOKILEHTO, former assistant to the director general of ICCROM, is now a conservation architect and city planner. He has represented ICCROM in the development of international collaboration and training programs in risk preparedness and has been involved in the coordination of emergency response. He is also president of the International Training Committee of ICOMOS. Address: Via Anicia 6, 00153 Rome, Italy

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