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Snapshot of the PCH: outdoor practical activities

European Training for the protection of cultural heritage at risk

By project PROCULTHER-NET staffPublished on

During March 2023, 60 disaster risk managers and cultural heritage experts coming from 70% of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism-UCPM Participating States attended the PROCULTHER-NET training module implemented for providing them with specialized knowledge on how to deal with cultural heritage protection in emergencies in line with the European standards

The PROCULTHER-NET project has organised the “Protecting Cultural Heritage Course – PCH”, as part of the capacity-building programme designed to strengthen the capacities of UCPM Participating States to protect cultural heritage at risk of disasters. The course is inspired by a virtual training module launched in November 2021 by its predecessor PROCULTHER,  based on the UCPM training Programme and built on the document Key Elements of a European Methodology to Address the Protection of Cultural Heritage during Emergencies, developed thanks to the experiences pooled by the project Partners and stakeholders active in the field of cultural heritage protection at risk who participated in the activities organised by this pioneer project.

The PCH was intended to enhance knowledge, skills, and procedures for the creation of UCPM-driven modules or teams dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage at European level, as well as to reinforce resilience capacities at national level. Building on the main assumption of PROCULTHER-NET, that it is imperative for the two different communities to work in synergy, the course was addressed to disaster risk managers and cultural heritage experts. At the same time, in order to encourage the widest possible participation by the 35 States of the UCPM and meet the training quality standards, it was proposed in two editions, the first one held from 6 to 10 March, the second one from 20 to 24 March. Thanks to this approach, 70% of the Countries participating in the Mechanism(1) signed up for the initiative: sixty selected professionals made up the interdisciplinary group of trainees that allowed for a proactive debate on the inclusion of cultural heritage in risk management processes, an issue that is bound to feed and strengthen the Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network- UCPKN. 

A few numbers may help to frame the skills represented in the two editions: 40% were cultural heritage experts, 38% disaster risk managers and the remaining 22% had a background covering both sectors. Indeed, the excellent cooperation by the UCPM States National Training Coordinators during the selection of candidates, ensured an excellent balance of represented expertise: experts in civil protection and disaster risk management, members of the armed forces, archaeologists, professional firefighters, structural engineers, architects, restorers, archivists and researchers from the world of disaster risk management and cultural heritage.

As a result, the Knowledge Network could now count on a further expanded community of experts, coming from the Ministries and institutions joined together in this activity: National Institute for Cultural Heritage (Albania); Armed Forces and Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Research, Regional fire brigade association of Salzburg (Austria); Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage - IRPA (Belgium); Commission to preserve national monuments (Bosnia - Herzegovina); DG Fire Safety and Civil Protection- Ministry of Interior and National Association of Voluntary Units for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief (Bulgaria); Ministry of Interior- Civil Protection Directorate and Ministry of Culture (Croatia); Ministry of Transport, Department of Antiquities (Cyprus); Civil Security Application School-ESACS, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Civile et de la Gestion de Crises - Ministry of Interior and Paris Firefighters Brigade- Ministry of Interior (France); German Archaeological Institute-DAI and Federal Agency for Technical Relief-THW  (Germany); Ministry of Culture and Sports and General Secretariat for Civil Protection (Greece); National Directorate for Disaster Management (Hungary); Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (Ireland); Carabinieri-Command for the protection of cultural heritage, Ministry of Culture, Toscana Region Civil Protection, Red Cross–Siena Committee, Department of Fire Fighters, Public Rescue and Civil Defence-Ministry of Interior, University of Florence (Italy); Ministry of Culture and State Fire and Rescue Service (Latvia); Civil Protection Department (Malta); Cultural Emergency Response-CER, Ministry of Defence and Cultural Heritage Agency - Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences (Netherlands); National Headquarters of the State Fire Service and Art Education Center (Poland); National Authority for Emergencies and Civil Protection, Lisbon Professional Fire Department and General Directorate for Cultural Heritage (Portugal); Department for emergency Situations and National Institute of Heritage (Romania); National Museum (Serbia); Department of Monument Protection (Slovakia); Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Restoration Centre of Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage - Kranj Regional Office and Administration for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief (Slovenia); Regional Government of Andalusia, Regional Government of Castilla y León, Valencian Institute of Conservation, Restoration and Research (Spain); Swedish Contingencies Agency - MSB, National Heritage Board, ICOM Sweden/Västra Götaland Region and National Library (Sweden). In addition, among the trainees was also a participant from the Resident Coordinator’s Office of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund in Chad, representing the humanitarian world.

In addition to the dedicated sessions, all lectures were presented taking into consideration the Mechanism’s concept, approach and framework with a focus on cultural heritage protection at risk of disaster. This is indeed the most relevant added–value of this training initiative, since it clarified the UCPM role and opportunities in this field, for the participants to familiarise with this structure in which different expertise can merge so as to strengthen the resilience capacities of our community.

The training programme dealt with the following thematic issues:


A team of thirty lecturers and trainers have made up the core group engaged in sharing new key information to increase the dialogue among experts working in the field of disaster risk management, and to improve the technical and operational capacities needed to reinforce UCPM capacities to support, upon request, countries overwhelmed by disasters specifically in the field of cultural heritage protection.

On 3 March, experts from the project Consortium and stakeholder institutions opened the intensive programme with the online session aimed to introduce participants to disaster risk management concepts related to the protection of cultural heritage, to provide them with the main international and European legal and institutional frameworks, as well as key actors and structures of international coordination with a special focus on the UCPM, i.e., the framework within which they will be called upon to work together in the event of a crisis.

After this introductory phase, the International School of Higher Education - SIAF located in Volterra (Pisa, Italy) hosted the in-presence days that dealt with more “operational” themes: from the preparation of the experts forming the mixed teams during interventions carried out in the field, from recovery and safety techniques to measures for safeguarding immovable, movable and intangible cultural heritage. In addition, the technical workshops organised back-to-back to the theoretical sessions provided an opportunity to share and test the damage assessment forms proposed by the PROCULTHER Methodology.

Both training editions started with team building and cultural awareness raising sessions needed to establish an environment conducive to the development of the spirit necessary for the training weeks to run effectually. Indeed, from day the participants were divided in four teams whose members began to interact and think as an interdisciplinary group combining the skills and expertise of both the disaster risk management and cultural sectors needed to protect heritage at risk.

The floor was then given to experts from the project’s Consortium Partners, International organisations and trainers that guided the participants in the path towards the effective inclusion of cultural heritage protection in disaster risk management processes while on mission.  The lectures covered themes such as international deployment inside and outside Europe, the personal and team preparation aspects, including safety and security, logistics and information management, and how to deal with the media in course of action. In addition, the different typologies of missions that might potentially require UCPM deployments were presented: response missions, advisory mission and “Post Disaster Needs Assessment”.

After the presentations dedicated to the UCPM and the different deployment typologies, the training concentrated on the part dedicated to cultural heritage protection. These sessions dealt with the identification and management of temporary storage and warehouses where movable cultural heritage can be secured in the event of disaster, as well as the techniques for the triage of cultural heritage debris. A specific session focused on the concept of “Cultural Heritage Module”, including the composition and mandate of the specialised team that project partner countries proposed within the European Civil Protection Pool currently under approval for its embedding in the capacities available at the UCPM.

The following days addressed issues related to the techniques and measures for securing cultural heritage and delved into the 7 damage assessment forms (baseline data and site identification, building profile, damage assessment of immovable cultural heritage, of movable cultural heritage, securing movable cultural heritage, transfer of movable cultural heritage and damage assessment of intangible cultural heritage) issued by PROCULTHER, and including a digital application created to automate and facilitate the data collection and sharing process, as well as the international new trends and available providers of geospatial data and services focusing on cultural heritage.

The lectures delivered in the first days were propaedeutic to the practical activities proposed to prepare participants to the final field exercise that concluded each training edition. Course participants played the role of the cultural heritage protection module in the practical exercise simulating the activation of the Mechanism by Italy after an earthquake with impacts on the cultural heritage. They learnt how to set up the teamwork according to the needs of international assistance requested by the country to overcome the crisis and how to deal with other national and international actors that intervene during an emergency, such as the Local Emergency Management Authority - LEMA and the European Civil Protection Team. Furthermore, with the precious support of expert trainers, they measured themselves with the seven damage assessment forms during technical workshops and outdoor activities which helped them to practice collecting the necessary data, enter it properly in the system and establish the first actions needed for securing the immovable heritage and rescuing and recovering the movable heritage affected.

Each training week ended with a final exercise with a cultural heritage scenario organised to test the effectiveness of the activity and gather the participants’ insights and contributions, in terms of best practices and lessons learnt, aimed at further improvement of the Methodology, the living document providing a set of elements to advance preparedness and response activities to include cultural heritage protection in all disaster risk management processes. Thanks to the availability and excellent collaboration of the local authorities and the Superintendency of Volterra, this beautiful town hosted the exercise scenario planned by the group of architects, engineers and risk management experts from the Civil Protection Department, in collaboration with the Project Management Consortium.

In the first edition, Ms Pia Sopta, observer from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture - DG EAC, intervened to underline the high level of attention with which the EU government is following the issue and shared the role and contribution of this DG in the initiatives and actions that the EU Work Plan for Culture 2023-2026 foresees in the risk management field for safeguarding cultural heritage in crises. In addition, she confirmed that the European Commission acknowledges the great opportunity offered by this training that gathered experts usually working on the opposite sites and declared: “risk management and cultural heritage are complex fields that require cooperation and support of expertise from a wide range of domains […]. What came up from the discussions during this past week is that the resilience and the well-being of our communities […] is not just safeguarding our cultural heritage and European identity but also to provide hope to people in the event of disaster”.

It is worth mentioning that in both training editions, the Turkish partner Disaster and Emergency Management Authority - AFAD was available to connect virtually with the classroom to share facts and figures from the devastating earthquake that affected Türkiye and Syria on last 6 February, including the actions undertaken by the UCPM to support their huge efforts in managing this emergency.

The reaction to the evaluation questionnaires proposed to record the impressions of the trainees on each training day, indicates that, overall, the course objectives were achieved. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority expressed satisfaction for the contents and the implementation modality of the training, their sector of origin and professional background influenced their judgement on the topic addressed by each lecture; in any case, it is worth noting that experts from both sectors appreciated also the quality of the sessions more related to their field of expertise and, in some cases, acknowledged the added value of exchanging thoughts and insights with the experts from different backgrounds.

The proactive participation and commitment of the participants in this initiative, including the final exercise and the overall rating given to the training module, will reflect on a strong motivation to be ambassadors, both at national and international level, of the importance of including cultural heritage protection in disaster risk management processes.

In addition to the strong points of this activity, the feedback collected pointed out also the possibilities for improvement, e.g., the massive use of acronyms at European and international level and the difficulty to memorize them for those who are not yet confident with the topic addressed by the lessons; and suggested many areas for enhancement, for instance the organisation of more practical activities (i.e., technical workshops, interactive sessions and field exercises). Finally, the participants’ comments provided inputs for improving the damage assessment forms that will be useful to achieve the definition of European minimum standards on tools to record and assess in a systematic way both damages and risks that can partially or irreversibly affect tangible and intangible cultural heritage assets.

In general, enthusiastic participation and strong appreciation on the final exercise (an average of over 80% rated the activity positively in both editions) were expressed by cultural heritage experts for whom this was often their first experience as well as by disaster risk managers that for the first time were involved in an exercise with a focus on cultural heritage.

Furthermore, the training succeeded in laying the foundation for an effective exchange between all experts involved for the definition of synergies aimed at strengthening the thematic community focused on the protection of disaster-prone cultural heritage within the Knowledge Network.

In conclusion, the course will enable further discussions on the issue, thus fostering greater resilience of our communities and possibly provide the replicable basis for the sustainability of participatory know-how transfer activities strongly advocated by the Knowledge Network, just like the UCPM training programme, the civil protection expert exchange programme and civil protection exercises.

The PROCULTHER-NET Consortium wishes to extend its deep gratitude to the European Commission’s Directorate General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations- DG ECHO, UNESCO and the Project stakeholder institutions for the indispensable cooperation in the design and enhancement of this capacity building initiative, and overall, for having made available their experts that shared their competences during its implementation.

The PROCULTHER-NET thematic community is open to new members that are eager to contribute with their knowledge and skills to the efforts of the UCPM to include cultural heritage protection in the disaster risk management process in order to sustainably increase the resilience of our society.

Would you like to learn more about this initiative? Check out the links below to access the course reference material and video shoot of the course. Find the hashtag #ProcultherNet and stay tuned for future updates on PROCULTHER-NET, interesting interviews with participants and project stakeholders will be shared soon!

(1) Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden (some Countries participated in both editions).