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Assessment of movable heritage in the Check-in tent during the KulturGutRetter practical test in Dresden, on 19.10.2023 © E.Goetting-DAI

KulturGutRetter field test for a cultural heritage response unit

By project PROCULTHER-NET staffPublished on

The emergency conservation of movable and immovable cultural heritage was tested in a fictive disaster scenario involving staff of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), the Leibniz Research Institute for Archaeology (LEIZA), and the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW). The large-scale field test took place in Dresden on 18-19 October 2023, as part of the KulturGutRetter project.


Author: Eva Goetting, German Archaeological Institute – DAI

On October 18th and 19th, 2023, 57 participants from the DAI, LEIZA, and THW, assisted by Dresden’s emergency response association (1), evaluated workflows and standards of KulturGutRetter (a cultural heritage response unit) (2) for movable and immovable cultural heritage at two locations in Dresden. The unit is intended to be deployed worldwide when cultural heritage is endangered by disasters and international assistance is needed. During the field test, a fictive scenario simulated a grave threat to a protected historical building and the cultural artifacts within, and the procedures for salvage, damage assessment, documentation, emergency treatment, and safeguarding of immovable and movable cultural heritage were tested.

Damage assessment and documentation of built heritage

A team consisting of staff from the Architecture Division of the DAI and of volunteers from the THW carried out damage assessment and documentation on a heritage building using Structure for Motion (SfM), surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and 3D laser scanning. With the aid of the QField app (3) – which was further developed and enhanced for the project – data on damage to the building and its contents was systematically recorded. These technologies would also allow reliable damage assessment to be carried out remotely in a real disaster scenario and potentially largely destroyed areas. The necessary infrastructure for the field test – for instance, accessibility of routes and power supply – was provided by the THW volunteers. The city of Dresden kindly made a protected structure available for the test, the former building of the Theater der Jungen Generation.

Rapid digital data acquisition in a disaster

As part of the KulturGutRetter project, the DAI’s IT department has developed a system in which data can be entered into mobile devices and accessed at any time for the collection of information, images, and descriptions relating to immovable and movable cultural heritage. ID cards with a unique QR code (4) are assigned to objects, allowing one to ascertain the status of each object throughout the salvage, documentation, and emergency conservation operation. This means that, even in chaotic emergencies, no valuable information is lost. The practical test in the field was an opportunity for the KulturGutRetter team to try out data input and synchronizing, and test the stability of the app.

The mobile emergency lab for cultural heritage – workflows and standards are tested

Seven rescue tents were erected by specialists in conservation/restoration, archaeology, and disaster relief on the premises of the Dresden chapter of the THW (THW-OV Dresden), for the emergency treatment of the salvaged movable cultural heritage. Plans regarding infrastructure, logistics, management, and coordination had already been drawn up by THW personnel as part of the project. Inside the tents, the experts assembled a mobile emergency conservation lab (5) which has been developed at LEIZA in the framework of the KulturGutRetter project. During the installation, the participants evaluated the instructions for assembling the modular workstations to make the setting-up of the various devices and lab furniture even more intuitive and comprehensible. 

The paintings, coins, sherds, textiles, archive material, and other cultural heritage objects that had been salvaged during the field test were then passed along a series of workstations. In the admissions tent, a team carried out the initial registration. They photographed and described the objects using the QField app. In the next two tents, conservation specialists took delivery of the cultural heritage items, cleaned them according to need at several workstations designed for wet and dry cleaning, and carried out preliminary emergency conservation measures. In another tent, team members photographed and documented the final condition of the objects after undergoing emergency treatment, and appropriately packaged them. Finally, the cultural heritage objects arrived in an exit tent where they were stored, ready to be handed over, along with the collected data, to the local stakeholders.

Successful test and valuable feedback

In the course of the evaluation, specialists from the DAI, LEIZA, and THW, volunteers from Dresden’s emergency response association, and the THW-OV Dresden gathered valuable information and feedback, which will allow them to further develop and optimize workflows, devices, and software used by KulturGutRetter. The field test showed how effectively specialists in cultural heritage protection worked with operational personnel from the THW. Processes integrated well and the specialists contributed expertise and perspectives from their respective areas.

Cultural heritage is constantly at risk from earthquakes, fires, and other disasters caused by natural hazards. In disaster zones around the world, it should be possible, once the life-saving phase has ended, to salvage, document, and conserve cultural property rapidly and effectively. For this reason, the KulturGutRetter project was launched in 2019 by three founding partners (DAI, LEIZA, and THW) with support from the Federal Foreign Office. The project pools the expertise that exists in Germany in the field of cultural heritage preservation and disaster assistance, in a team of specialists and technicians working on a voluntary basis. In the future, in the event of a disaster, the unit will be able to offer rapid international assistance in safeguarding and preserving objects and buildings. Following an international appeal, it will be possible to secure the assistance of KulturGutRetter via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM). The mission of the KulturGutRetter project partners is to contribute towards the protection and preservation of global cultural assets in the wake of disasters.

(1) The “Notfallverbünde” – or emergency response associations – bring together several cultural organizations from a city or region, which share resources and training in the field of Disaster Risk Management. There are over 50 Notfallverbünde in Germany.

(2) See article “KulturGutRetter (KGR): technical characteristics of a cultural heritage response unit” in the PROCULTHER-NET Project. Technical Bulletin N. 1, March 2023

(3) and (4) See the article “Data acquisition and data management for the emergency rescue of cultural heritage” in the PROCULTHER-NET Project. Technical Bulletin N. 2, June 2023

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