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PROCULTHER-NET: the way forward the cultural heritage at risk

By project PROCULTHER-NET staffPublished on

The Partners and stakeholders of the project “Protecting Cultural Heritage from the Consequences of Disasters-Network” met in Rome on December 6th to celebrate the end of the first phase of this initiative co-funded by DG ECHO and lay the foundations of a thematic community within the Knowledge Network

PROCULTHER-NET and the community focused on the protection of cultural heritage at risk

The PROCULTHER-NET's Final event was also an opportunity to share the results of the work carried out over the last 24-months as well as to exchange perspectives and explore the challenges on the path ahead to establish a community dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage at risk within the Knowledge Network (KN).

The last Conference held in early December gathered around 30 experts, that included representatives of the Consortium (1) and the main Partners’ national stakeholders that contributed to the project implementation: the Ministry of Culture of Italy, France, Portugal and Türkiye, the Italian National Fire and Rescue Service, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Italian Army, and the National Authority for Emergency and Civil Protection of Portugal. In addition, confirming that the issue of cultural heritage at risk has in recent years reached the top of national and European political agendas, 73% of the countries participating in the Mechanism joined the meeting via videoconference (2), for a total of 33. The event was widely participated by Ministries, national and regional Authorities in charge of disaster risk management and cultural heritage including also European institutions, International organisations and NGOs involved in the management of crises and disasters affecting cultural heritage, such as DG ECHO, DG EAC, DG EEAS, UNESCO and Blue Shield, as well as universities and research centres active in this field. Furthermore, the diverse professional backgrounds of the more than 100 experts participating  remotely is proof of the cross-sectoral interest aroused by this initiative: 39% came from the culturalheritage sector, 37% were disaster risk managers and the rest from the humanitarian, academic and research worlds. 

The event started with a welcome speech by the Head of the Italian Civil Protection Department, Mr Fabrizio Curcio, who expressed his gratitude for the valuable work of the project partners and stakeholders, including the experts from the national working groups. He also called upon the project’s Consortium to responsibly face an urgent task: to lay the foundation for a thematic community focused on cultural heritage protection within the UCPKN. The Conference then proceeded with PROCULTHER-NET ‘s Director, Mr Giovanni De Siervo, who traced back  the main milestones of the path taken by the project partners, starting with the achievements of the preceding initiatives: PROMEDHE 2016-2018 and PROCULTHER 2019 - 2021. Afterwards, he introduced the audience to the PROCULTHER-NET objectives and the activities implemented so far: from the Ex-ante Feasibility Study that facilitated the identification of the needsand processes on which to build the thematic community, to the training activities and advocacy actions carried out at national, international and European levels for the inclusion of cultural heritage protection in disaster management processes and promotion of synergies with other similar initiatives. Mr De Siervo also illustrated the PROCULTHER-NET capacity building programme and, in particular, the two sessions of the advanced training modules proposed by the Consortium Partners in March 2023. These courses provided 60 professionals - 40% were cultural heritage experts, 38% disaster risk managers and 22% had backgrounds covering both sectors - from Mechanism’ States with specialized knowledge on how to deal with cultural heritage protection in emergencies in line with European standards. The whole capacity building programme culminated with a pilot Training of Trainers - held in May 2023 - aimed at enhancing training capacities of disaster risk managers and cultural heritage experts and encouraging knowledge transfer practices within the UCPKN. 

Moreover, as part of the activities focused on knowledge sharing and learning tools, PROCULTHER-NET elaborated a Feasibility Study to facilitate the definition of technical and conceptual elements needed for adequate integration of cultural heritage scenarios within existing or underway virtual reality tools, as well as for the development of e-learning processes within the UCPKN.

Finally, the project Consortium and stakeholders released two issues of a Technical Bulletin, published on the UCPKN online collaborative platform, to provide the professionals working in the field of the protection of cultural heritage at risk with a common space in which cross border and cross-sectorial cooperation on specific issues can take place. These publications indeed highlighted practices and technical solutions for the inclusion of cultural heritage protection in disaster risk management processes, coming from all the partner countries as well as from their national and international stakeholders.

A second phase of PROCULTHER-NET that will be co-funded by DG ECHO and implemented from January 2024 to December 2025 has been also presented. The main objective of this forthcoming initiative is implementing the pathway mapped out by the PROCULTHER-NET project to consolidate the inclusion of the protection of cultural heritage at risk in UCPM processes and structures to increase disaster preparedness capacities and knowledge at European and national levels throughout the UCPKN. The activities envisaged will be based on the conclusions resulting from the last project meeting organized in October 2023 in Mainz (Germany), where partners and stakeholders met to define the objectives, the structure and governance, as well as the composition along with sustainable financing of this thematic community dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage at risk within the UCPKN.

Guillermo Griem, as the DG ECHO project officer online from Brussels was the next speaker to intervene. He expressed his appreciation mentioning the Commission’s support to the initiative as well as the Union’s efforts in this direction and the concrete results realised thanks to the contribution of the project: for example, the new implementing act of the Mechanism that will enter into force by 2024, which includes a module dedicated to cultural heritage at risk to support the Union civil protection capacities. He went on to say that the “Key Elements of a European Methodology to Address the Protection of Cultural Heritage during Emergencies”, elaborated under PROCULTHER, is still a unique and comprehensive reference document providing for a set of elements to advance preparedness and response activities to include cultural heritage safeguard in all disaster risk management processes. Moreover, he updated the participants on the facilities provided by the UCPKN, a real hub for knowledge transfer and sharing, to foster the dialogue among experts with different background and engaged in disaster risk management, namely the discussion groups and the on-line library offering open access tools, methodologies, documents and publications, like the Technical Bulletins.

Again from Brussels, Vasile Rotaru, Head of Sector at the EEAS Integrated Approach for Security and Peace Directorate, then explained the challenges the Union is facing in this field and the actions promoted to address them, including through inter-agency cooperation. In recent years, in fact, the EEAS has been involved, in collaboration with the Mechanism, the EU Delegations, as well as with international organizations and institutions such as UNESCO and ALIPH Foundation in the management of crisis and conflicts affecting cultural heritage, as presently in Ukraine. He then underlined the power of cultural heritage as a vehicle for peace and thus for social and economic stabilization, and mentioned the mixed teams composed of civilian and military experts, currently deployed around the world in the framework of the EEAS common security and defence missions under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). He concluded that the UCPKN could help fill the knowledge gaps needed to fully implement the interdisciplinary cooperation required to address these crises. 

Giulia Pizzio, focal point for cultural heritage at DG ECHO, recalled the UCPM legal framework in which cultural heritage protection has become a priority along with the protection of people and the cases in which the Mechanism’s support may be requested. She provided some facts and figures concerning the actions undertaken at Union level in crises affecting cultural heritage worldwide. In particular, she cited the example of March 2022, when the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture activated the Mechanism, and, for the first time, requested assistance for the safeguard of cultural heritage. So far, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden have sent equipment and materials to support the country’s efforts in this regard. She then informed participants that an intense inter-agency cooperation is taking place between the European specialised institutions and research centres. This has led to the inclusion in the Emergency Response Coordination Centre - ERCC database of data on the Natura 2000 sites and the UNESCO World Heritage list shared by the European Environment Agency, as well as the data for monitoring and earth observation for the management of disasters and crisis made elaborated by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service. Ms Pizzio concluded by stressing the importance of preserving cultural heritage as a source of peoples’ identity and the potential contribution that the thematic community can make in this regard. 

The last session - moderated by Tiziana Vicario, the Project Manager - allowed the project Consortium Partners to present their lessons learnt at national/institutional level, the best practices built so far and the value-added brought to the project by their knowledge and expertise. Ms Jui Ambani, Project Officer of the ICCROM’s First Aid and Resilience for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis Programme, then illustrated the main features and outputs of their flagship programme focused on protecting heritage from disasters, conflicts and climate change as well the expertise provided by her institution of reference in contributing to the capacity building programme and advocacy actions carried out within PROMEDHE, PROCULTHER and PROCULTHER-NET, namely the training modules, the Methodology, and the Technical Bulletins. 

Lt. Col. Roche representing France, recognised the important role the collaboration within this initiative has played in bringing together actors from the sector of culture, civil protection and armed forces, including the French Blue Shield and the Centre for Research and Restoration of Museums of France - C2RMF. Indeed, this process facilitated the organisation of meetings and participatory exchanges among the national stakeholders that led, for instance, to the integration of cultural heritage protection issues into the fire services preparedness and planning phases, to the elaboration of guidelines to identify fire prevention and good practices in heritage buildings as well as of a Cultural Heritage Safety Plan. In addition, he stressed the importance of the translation in the French language of the “Key Elements of a European Methodology to Address the Protection of Cultural Heritage during Emergencies”, in facilitating the circulation of this document among interested actors at national level.

After, Ms Constance Domenech De Cellès and Ms Alicia Rehberger delivered a presentation on the main contribution by the German Archaeological Institute - DAI and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief – THW, the two partners from Germany having complementary expertise for the project, based on the lessons learned from KulturGutRetter, the project they are carrying out in collaboration with the Leibniz-Zentrum für Archäologie - LEIZA and many other partners under the ArcHerNet, the network pooling the expertise that exists in Germany in this field. In particular, the Country’s efforts focused on the development of the working documents and the organisation of the workshop held in Mainz to agree upon a roadmap Guiding the implementation of the cultural heritage community proposed by PROCULTHER-NET, together with the publication, in cooperation with Italy and France, of the project Technical Bulletins. In addition, they recalled the importance of implementing field exercises, and reported as an example of best practice the large-scale drill that took place in Dresden in October 2023 when the emergency conservation of movable and immovable cultural heritage was tested in a simulated disaster scenario developed within the KulturGutRetter project. As an anticipation of the future initiatives they envisage to realise at national level, there is the development of the KulturGutRetter cultural heritage unit in line with EU standards for its embedding in the UCPM. 

The main achievements shared by Mr Xavier Romao, UPORTO focal point representing Portugal, confirm the added value that the project provided with the partner countries at national and inter-institutional level. In particular, the initiative allowed the Country to enhance dialogue between cultural heritage and civil protection stakeholders and to develop cooperation protocols between UPORTO with the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage, but also with the National Fire Service School, in order to carry out future joint activities related with the protection of cultural heritage, such as training sessions and risk management of built heritage facilities. He then added the establishment of an active working group focused on Cultural Heritage and Risk Management as part of the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction that has led to the proposal of a national survey targeting cultural heritage site managers aimed at assessing existing disaster risk reduction/disaster risk management (DRR/DRM) practices and related challenges, while carrying on the development of guidelines for the implementation of effective risk management and climate adaptation planning.  Finally, he identified room for improvement on two aspects: overcoming the lack of human and economic resources needed to implement adequate DRR/DRM practices, particularly in the cultural heritage sector, as well as increasing awareness of the real impacts of disasters on heritage, which is still at a low level of priority for DRR/DRM measures in this area. Regarding Portugal’s expectations for the new phase to come at EU level, there is the setting up of a new civil protection module dedicated to cultural heritage protection within the Mechanism and the definition of a new profile of technical experts on cultural heritage. National expectations look towards the development of a national Civil Protection Module for cultural heritage protection, the designation and registration of cultural heritage experts in the European Civil Protection Pool, the organisation of specialised training programs and the participation of cultural heritage capacities on both national and European preparedness activities, such as field exercises and trainings.

According to Ms Maria Calvo, from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Region Government of Castilla y León – JCyL that intervened for Spain, the project raised the attention on the importance of including the protection of cultural heritage in the legislation regarding the management of emergencies as well as the DRR measures taken at national level. For example, the actions and activities undertaken within PROCULTHER-NET represent an opportunity to intensify the cooperation among the actors involved in the National Plan for Emergencies and Risk Management in Cultural Heritage (PNEGR). For Spain, the project was also a chance to provide visibility to the initiatives implemented in collaboration with the academic and research sector, such as the FENIX and RESISILIENT TOURISM projects, which main objective is the development of new technologies applied to prevention and management of fires and natural disasters involving movable and immovable cultural heritage.  In addition, the project newsletters and technical bulletins represented a powerful channel to inform on the new developments achieved at the regulatory and legislative level regarding a growing concern on which the Country has developed a long-lasting experience, the forest fires and their impact on cultural heritage. Therefore, the new Plan against forest fires in Castilla y León (INFOCAL), currently being developed, will include the protection of cultural heritage - on a par with  natural heritage – and foresee the actual involvement of representatives from the cultural heritage sector in the emergency management Operational Centre. Ms Calvo concluded by stressing the need to continue and multiply training programs addressed to firefighters and forestry agents. The future challenges for Spain consist in strongly linking the project with the National Emergency and Risk Management Plan and in a further strengthening of the collaboration and coordination with civil protection and cultural heritage experts, both at the national and regional levels, also through the translation into Spanish of the European Methodology elaborated under PROCULTHER. 

Mr Cengiz Ugur, from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, shared the main lessons learnt by Türkiye and the fruitful cooperation among the actors involved in the management of real emergencies that affected the Country. Indeed, the interventions undertaken in response to the earthquakes that hit Türkiye on February 2023 and the measures and initiatives implemented during the recovery phase have revealed the importance of intensifying the exchange and cooperation among all stakeholders involved in disaster management and cultural heritage protection. In addition, the guidelines proposed by the “Key Elements of a European Methodology to Address the Protection of Cultural Heritage during Emergencies” provided insightful inputs for the inclusion of cultural heritage protection thus allowing a further improvement of the National Disaster Response Plan and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Plans. Mr Ugur then reported other examples of the application of the guidelines proposed by the Methodology in the Country. For example, relating to damage assessment elements on affected cultural heritage or the setting up of crisis management centres in the province most affected by the earthquake together with the establishment of a “Cultural Heritage Scientific Advisory Board”, an inter-institutional working group gathering experts and professionals in the field of disaster risk and cultural heritage management, including representatives from non-governmental organizations, universities and the civil society. At the end of his speech, he confirmed Türkiye’s further commitment for the forthcoming phase of the initiative that will focus on the actual implementation of what proposed so far.  

Dario IRRERA, researcher from the partner UNISOB, shared the interesting point of view of the academic sector. After recalling the University’s contribution to PROCULTHER-NET in the desk studies that prepared the ground for the implementation of the project, he confirmed that the Mechanism is the ideal framework to address the complex issue of protecting cultural heritage at risk of disasters. He then added that UNISOB is still eager to contribute to the activities and advocacy actions undertaken by the project in the next future, and to define approaches and methodologies for the reinforcement of the stakeholders’ capacities in this field. Finally, he mentioned the weak points that need to be worked on for the effective implementation of the thematic community, namely the fragmentation of actors involved and the lack of standard procedures and methodologies. He closed with the actions proposed for the achievement of the objectives set for the next phase: i.e., mapping of projects, initiatives and stakeholders in the field, development of a dissemination plan tailored to specific target groups, organization of specific training modules, together with the elaboration of documents and guidelines to promote synergies, standardisation and interoperability. 

The Partner presentations were concluded with Ms Veronica Piacentini, representing Italy who contributed, as consortium coordinator, to the implementation of all activities carried out within the project. As for the other partners, PROCULTHER-NET provided an opportunity to deepen the already strong relations that bind the national stakeholders involved in the protection of cultural heritage at risk in the Country: the Ministry of Culture, the National Fire and Rescue Service, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and the Italian Army. At national level, the initiative confirmed the importance of increasing the number of in-presence training sessions and of institutionalising a dedicated coordination cell able to manage emergencies affecting cultural heritage. In addition, the project gave new impulse for exploring potentialities of virtual reality tools for specific capacity development activities and increased the cooperation between cultural heritage experts, emergency operators and civil protection volunteers, namely in the framework of training and field exercises. Ms Piacentini closed with the suggested approach for a way forward; that is  to capitalise on the achievements and perspectives built so far, combine efforts to institutionalise the appropriate inclusion of cultural heritage protection within the civil protection/DRM processes, make use of the full spectrum of opportunities made available by the Mechanism, explore and facilitate synergies with other stakeholders active in this sector and widen the technical and geographical scope of the initiative. 

Thanks to the inputs provided by the Commission experts and the project stakeholders, the thematic community proposed by PROCULTHER-NET is taking shape and is expected to grow more. Soon after the Conference closure, all online participants were called to share their perspectives on the way forward through a brief questionnaire. The results confirmed that the objectives set and actions proposed for the forthcoming phase starting from 2024 match the needs for knowledge transfer and capacities development to improve the protection of cultural heritage at risk, to foster multidisciplinary exchange practices to support and complement the Union’s efforts in the field of civil protection. 

Live streaming of the Conference is available via the PROCULTHER-NET Channel

Follow #ProcultherNet, you will soon discover PROCULTHER-NET Phase 2, the new initiative starting in 2024!

(1) The Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers - Civil Protection Department (Italy), the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property- ICCROM, the Ministry of Interior-Disaster and Emergency Management Authority - AFAD (Türkiye), the German Archaeological Institute - DAI (Germany), the Ministère de l'Intérieur - Direction Générale de la Sécurité Civile et de la Gestion des Crises-DGSCGC (France), the Fondazione Hallgarten-Franchetti Centro Studi Villa Montesca-FCSVM, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Region Government of Castilla y León - JCyL (Spain), the Federal Agency for Technical Relief - THW (Germany), the Suor Orsola Benincasa University- UNISOB (Italy) and the University of Porto- UPORTO (Portugal)

(2) Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brasil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Perú, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Türkiye and Ukraine.