Emergency Evacuation of Heritage Collections: an ICCROM-UNESCO Handbook


The protection of cultural heritage mainly aims to prevent any type of danger from posing an excessive risk to the objects that need to be preserved. There are conditions, however, that force the evacuation of the artifacts, since preventive measures can no longer be effective. Therefore, in specific situations, museums and their staff may experience difficult times due to both natural disasters and climate change.

Emergency Evacuation of Heritage Collections (ICCROM-UNESCO) – Document, Pack and move infographic.

In the case of museums, when they are threatened for their role in protecting and valorizing precious witnesses of the past and human creativity, their intrinsic value for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding must be protected and supported

UNESCO and ICCROM have published in English and Arabic a manual on the protection of cultural heritage assets during conflicts. This activity is demanding and can be life-threatening.

According to the Introduction to the Handbook, protecting cultural heritage during armed conflict is challenging, but communities trapped in war zones seek to save their cultural heritage for continuity amid the unrest. The successful evacuation of manuscript collections from Timbuktu during the conflict in northern Mali in 2013 is an example of community-led rescue efforts. Therefore, the manual provides a step-by-step guide for evacuating cultural collections in extreme conditions. It aims to assist people and institutions seeking to prevent the destruction and looting of cultural property during a crisis situation. It can also be used to train others and to improve emergency preparedness at cultural sites. According to the document, the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF), a non-governmental organization based in Cairo, carried out field tests of the workflow. The publishers invite users to provide feedback on the relevance and accuracy of the information provided in the publication.

The manual, in particular, covers the evacuation of cultural heritage assets, how to do it, what workflow to adopt, how to assess the threat and other important aspects of preparing and managing emergency evacuations. Obviously the manual cannot provide indications on the priorities in removing objects, since this activity is strongly linked to a complex evaluation that depends on many different considerations, but it has the merit of drawing attention to this step of the emergency procedures and providing some basic information.

The document can be downloaded from the ICCROM website or here.

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