For whom does the bell toll? - the conservation of heritage in disasters

Michael Clarke

Keywords: Disasters, emergency management, heritage

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Emergency management has improved dramatically in the last 20 years. Despite the improvement, while in all disasters there is potential for damage and destruction of heritage assets, post-disaster action is still predominately aimed at rescue and return to normality; it doesn’t include mechanisms for assessing and conserving vulnerable heritage assets. Consequently, their preservation becomes the lowest priority of disaster-related activities, with ‘these unique resources … at the mercy of local, state and federal agencies.’

A response plan is therefore required that is integrated into emergency services’ plans and manuals to safeguard heritage assets. The plan must recognise that the necessary decision-making requires the expertise of heritage professionals and cannot be left to emergency personnel that lack the required knowledge. The plan should be championed in each State and Territory by its heritage agency, and when disaster occurs, managed by it in a co-operative manner within the emergency service framework. 

A register should also be prepared of skilled heritage personnel who can be called on in an emergency; it should be kept up-to-date and categorized according to capabilities.

It is the heritage community’s responsibility to pursue the introduction of such reforms.

REFERENCE: Clarke, M.N. 2007. For whom does the bell toll? – the conservation of heritage in disasters. Fourteenth National Engineering Heritage Conference, Perth, Australia. 18 - 21 November 2007. The Institution of Engineers Australia: Conference Papers.