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Reflecting on the IRDR Panel Discussion: Heritage and Disasters

By ucyow3c, on 23 March 2016

pencil-icon Written by Dr Farnaz Arefian, Enterprise Manager, UCL Institute for Risk and Disasters ReductionIRDR panel discussion

The UCL Institute for Risk and Disasters Reduction (IRDR) successfully held its public panel discussion on Heritage and Disasters at UCL on 9 March, discussing cultural heritage protections and how to plan for and recover from disasters.

The attendees enjoyed an interactive and thought-provoking discussion with the panelists and a drinks reception, during which attendees could network and continue their informal discussions followed the discussion.

Five panelists from academia and practice engaged in a vibrant and lively discussion on how to protect cultural heritage from disasters such as earthquakes and conflicts and it was exciting to see attendees from across the heritage sector, including museums, heritage studies and NGOs, as well as attendees from practice.

The panel included William Brown, National Security Adviser, Arts Council England; Dr Sergio Olivero, Head of Energy and Security Research Area at the Istituto Superiore sui Sistemi Territoriali per l’Innovazione (SiTI), Italy; Dr Kalliopi Fouseki, lecturer and course director for the MSc Sustainable Heritage at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage (ISH); Jonathan N. Tubb, Keeper (Head), Middle East, the British Museum.

Dr Farnaz Arefian, Enterprise Manager at IRDR and Founder of ‘Silk Cities’ Platform, chaired the panel, opening the discussion by focusing on key cultural heritage preservation questions: Why the protection of cultural heritage is important and how we can protect and enhance its resilience to disasters? What are the complexities in practice? How existing academic discourse and research on heritage and disaster risk reduction can play role in heritage resilience? How the public and private sectors can be mobilized to proactively reduce disaster risk to our cultural heritage and enhance successful recovery and/or reconstruction when it is impacted?

‘Cultural heritage’ is a term that describes a class of items that are valued and record human civilization and creativity. These items, tangible or intangible, are symbols and identity holders of a community. As a result, protecting and restoring cultural heritage following a disaster has a significant effect on the local communities and is fundamental to civilization.

Innovation and technology can help us to predict, to prevent and therefore to reduce risks, especially for natural hazards. For example, the British Museum is using 3D mapping technologies for the restoration of cultural heritage in the Middle East and has initiated training programs for Iraqi archaeologists.

Sergio Olivero explained how SiTI is defining best practice based on creating knowledge-based systems to restore cultural heritages and engage with refugees and displaced communities. Instead of simply giving equipment or sending experts, Sergio Olivero and Jonathan Tubb advocated transferring knowledge to local professionals and build up their competence, because locals know their culture and their heritage better than an outside practitioner.

However timing is a critical issue especially in a post conflict situation. Kalliopi Fouseki discussed a ‘bottom up’ approach involving local communities to protect their cultural heritage and extending the risk assessment from quantitative to qualitative and subjective. William Brown suggested an international and cross-sector collaboration of creating a database of artifacts in order to better protect and trace them.

Protecting cultural heritage is not only the responsibility of public entities, but also attracts the attention of the private sector. Building up an eco-system relying on both private and public entities can create a resilient environment to protect cultural heritage. In the question session, attendees suggested that social media can be better used in communicating importance of protecting cultural heritage; the involvement of private collectors in cultural heritage protection would be effective; living cultural heritage also needs to be protected as well and we can create platforms to facilitate collaborative action in protecting cultural heritages.

The challenges of protecting cultural heritage against man-made and natural disasters remain difficult and further work is necessary. However, awareness of the importance of protecting cultural heritage is rising. Several people suggested that “IRDR should plan other similar events to raise awareness on these important issuesand the need for bringing multidisciplinary experts from academia and practice at UCL was raised.

It was also suggested the future events on this subject to focus more on natural hazards for which pre-disaster preparations and risk assessment is possible and related to risk assessment and emergency planning while the importance of post disaster response is still key.

Kalliopi Fouseki suggested that IRDR should lead in creating an international network, integrating interdisciplinary expertise and engaging with both public and private entities to grasp the opportunities to protect and restore better cultural heritage utilizing novel technologies. The success of this event and the feedback we received afterwards clearly showed a potential direction for activities and research across UCL that in nature is multidisciplinary and cross-departmental.

To find out more about the UCL Institute for Risk and Disasters Reduction and other aforementioned affiliations, visit their websites listed below:



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