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Working Group 1
Community Responsibility and Involvement in Emergency Preparedness and Response


The first issue arising from the discussions was a definition of the term "museum" able to express the realities of all territories and states around the world. It was noted that the International Council of Museums (ICOM) definition of a museum as a "non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment [...]" (ICOM, 1990) would exclude many institutions which manage cultural heritage existing outside the walls of a conventional museum, that this definition was founded on the European experience with roots in somewhat elitist traditions, and that it is does not fit the essential objective of ICOM, which is to conserve, protect and interpret the world's cultural heritage.

It was therefore agreed that sacred places, archaeological sites, monuments, buildings and other structures reflecting and expressing a people's culture and heritage should be included, at least for the purpose of this project.

Another issue concerned the definition of the term "community". It was agreed that the "community" served by any museum was comprised of many components or elements, and that to devise a proper strategy for disaster preparedness and response, these elements had to be addressed both individually and collectively. The components include local and national communities, service organizations, government agencies, NGOs, private sector organizations, first responders to disasters, etc. A complete list is included as an appendix.

Discussion then focused on the study and categorization of disasters likely to strike museums (as defined above). This was based on the categorization provided by Professor Patrick J. Boylan in the paper he presented at the symposium; it includes natural hazards, civil disasters and armed conflict, plus a further category of biological hazards which was added. It was acknowledged that many disasters may be the result of negligence by the museum institution/staff, and that a major drop in attendance and/or a substantial decline in the number of visitors might be the result of management failings.


There were wide-ranging discussions with full participation from members of the group. The subjects included:

  1. The risk threatening cultural heritage in the event of civil strife, armed conflict, ethnic tensions and terrorism.
  2. Problems arising from the lack of autonomy of certain museums in some parts of the world.
  3. The presentation of a nation's cultural diversity in the context of a national museum versus individual presentations of various ethnic/cultural groups comprising a nation.

The consensus was that (a) attempts should be made by the museum fraternity to involve civil and ethnic figures, or members of independence movements, engaging them in dialogue so as to show the value of heritage to all component groups, plus the need to share the role as protectors of this heritage; (b) cross-border collaboration between museums and partner institutions could lead to greater recognition by government authorities of the management roles of museum professionals; (c) while ideally "national museums" promoted national unity, regional and other museums of particular ethnic and cultural groups were not necessarily inimical to national solidarity and could give people a sense of belonging to the shared heritage of their country.


Recommended strategies for plans of actions to involve the community (as defined) are summarized below:

  • Museums must first educate and train their own staff members in disaster preparedness and response through workshops, mock exercises, and ongoing monitoring. To do this, they would have to gather information on various existing conventions and established knowledge on the subject.

  • Through the interpretation and design of exhibitions, museums should attempt to educate visitors on the importance of cultural heritage and methods used to protect it.

  • Museums must construct a "map" of the community to identify and locate the various components so as to establish their different roles in disaster preparedness and response.

  • Traditional methods of disaster preparedness and response should be investigated so as to integrate them with established systems whenever applicable.

  • Museums should identify the disasters which they are likely to encounter and ensure that they have the tools and equipment needed for effective mitigation and response.

  • Government bodies, politicians and other influential persons and institutions should be invited to serve on museum boards and visit the museums, so as to gain their support to help protect cultural heritage.

  • Dialogue should be entered into between fire-fighting units, police and civil defense authorities, public works and utilities to acquaint them with ways in which they could assist and collaborate in the protection of cultural heritage.

  • The local branches of the International Red Cross and other international disaster response agencies should be involved in training and disaster mitigation.

  • Exchanges among museums and other institutions should be promoted so as to establish support networks.

  • Recommendations should be made to ICCROM, ICOM, ICOMOS and other international agencies for: (a) workshops and training sessions to be organized at regional levels to train museum personnel who then, in turn, extend this training to a wider group, (b) a database of case studies to be established, evaluated and made accessible to the museums and similar institutions of the world.


Updated: 11 July 2005