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Managing Emergencies in Cultural Heritage: Sharing Experiences and Strengthening Networks in the Americas.

By Beatriz Haspo, APOYOnline

70 heritage professionals from 19 countries across the Americas and Europe gathered in La Antigua, Guatemala October 2 through 5, 2018, for the APOYOnline’s 2nd Regional Conference and Workshops in Heritage Preservation. Titled “Managing Emergencies in Cultural Heritage: Sharing Experiences and Strengthening Networks in the Americas”, the conference aimed to fortify communication networks in the region, particularly concerning emergency response and risk management. The theme was suggested by the majority of participants during the previous APOYOnline conference held in Colombia in 2016, and was considered a priority for the region.


70 heritage professionals from 19 countries gathered in La Antigua, Guatemala for the APOYOnline 2nd Regional Conference and Workshops in Heritage Preservation.


Founded in 1989, APOYOnline is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote communication, exchange and professional development in the field of heritage preservation in the Americas and in Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries. Participants from many specialties, age groups and levels of experience represented major institutions from the region, such as universities and national schools, regional and national research centers and foundations, regional and national libraries and archives, museums, governmental cultural institutions and ministries of culture, professionals in private practice, consultants, funding organizations and sponsors.


The conference took place at the Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española (AECID), in the historic center of La Antigua. The topics selected for the four-day event were risk assessment, emergency preparedness, and post-disaster response and recovery. There were two program components: presentations in the form of talks or posters and training workshops, which included theoretical modules, practical exercises, and emergency drills offered by a team of instructors from Brazil, Colombia, and the United States.


Participants presented 13 papers, covering issues such as the challenges of emergency management in a historic building, case studies in emergency planning, lessons learned from floods, and salvaging monuments and historic buildings after an earthquake, among many others. The poster session included 20 posters presenting a range of topics including emergency plans in libraries, archives, and museums and case studies in emergency response and recovery from earthquakes and water related disasters.



Preservation experts based in Colombia, David Cohen of the Fundación Erigae and Mario Omar Fernández of the Universidad de los Andes, conducted training sessions in risk management. They first outlined the tenets of successful risk evaluation before a taking participants on a visit to the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA) where participants were able to apply this new knowledge. Divided into five groups, participants noted potential risks in the building envelope, archives, library and other spaces. CIRMA founder and staff generously welcomed the large group into their workspaces, collections, and storage area, allowing participants to discuss their achievements and challenges in preserving archival collections in a historic building.


Beatriz Haspo, APOYOnline manager, and Alan Haley, Preservation Specialist at the Library of Congress, organized additional workshops that emphasized navigating different communication styles, problem solving and team building, highlighting their broad ranging experiences in risk evaluation and disaster management in the United States and abroad. They led presentations on emergency response and the salvage of water-damaged materials, culminating with a salvage drill that tested the participants’ grasp of wet salvage, communication, and organization. Everyone worked together via role playing with various duties, including managing opportunistic robbers and members of the media in order to safely and effectively organize the salvage of wet and soiled material typically found in libraries, archives, museums, historical houses and private collections. Participants handled books, works on paper, documents on paper and parchment, photographs, audio-visual material, ceramics, metal, and textiles, before reconvening at the end of the drill to discuss the lessons learned and how to implement the gained experience in their home institutions.


Emergency Drill


The final day included a panel with an open forum entitled “Global efforts for managing risk and emergencies”, in which leaders in the field and participants discussed recent major events and the current state of emergency management in the Americas. David Cohen spoke about the importance of training opportunities, such as those offered during this meeting, and the current training initiatives in Colombia. Mario Omar Fernández reviewed the challenges of preservation activities in Cuba. Beatriz Haspo talked about the recovery efforts after the recent devastating fire at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, and Alan Haley discussed current emergency preparedness activities at the Library of Congress. The panel also included special guest Sanne Letschert, Researcher at the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, who highlighted the inspiring global efforts of the Cultural Emergency Response program (CER) to support emergency response and recovery of cultural heritage. To underscore the spirit of collaboration running throughout the conference, Francisco Vieira, international consultant from the United States, presented a lecture and tips on international alliances and partnerships with a focus on financial institutions.


A new exciting addition to the conference this year was “Manos a la Obra” (“Helping Hands”), a community-focused volunteer-based initiative organized by APOYOnline. For the first time ever implemented in Latin America, this initiative was created to give back to the local hosting community by combining the skilled hands of so many professionals in one place to complete a preservation project for a small institution in need. For the inaugural Manos a la Obra, participants assisted the Archivo Histórico Municipal de la Ciudad de La Antigua. This city institution houses important documents, maps, photographs, negatives and manuscripts of the municipal administration from the 19th and 20th centuries covering urban life, military activities, and economic, religious and educational aspects. Participants were generously allowed to perform basic collections care activities such as cleaning and removal of acidic enclosures. Select documents and photographs of the José Guillermo Salazar Collection were re-housed. This inspiring and rewarding experience is an endeavor that APOYOnline looks forward to repeating in future events.


Participants performing basic collections care actions during the inaugural MANOS A LA OBRA (Helping Hands)


The conference was enriched by cultural tours of the Paseo de los Museos, a unique grouping of galleries at Casa Santo Domingo Hotel, and additional tours of the library at the Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española.


A presentation on APOYOnline’s current and future activities of the organization capped off the conference and allowed participants to voice their feedback about the meeting, sharing opinions and expectations in preparation for the 30th anniversary of the organization in 2019, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 23-27.


This event in Antigua could not have been possible without the support of many corporate and private sponsors from several countries and national and international organizations who believe in the importance of professional development and networking opportunities to help foster preservation of cultural heritage in the Americas. Many sponsors exhibited their products and services during the conference. APOYOnline is very grateful for the generous support that allowed granting full stipends to 53% and partial stipends to 47% of the conference participants. A total of 60% of the participants were first time grantees of APOYOnline.



The impact of the conference was recorded both in video clips during the meeting and in the survey carried out on the last day. The opportunity to gather in person during the four-day conference greatly improved the effort to consolidate networks in the region. As one of the participants wrote, “institutions with abundant resources were able to communicate with many who work with very scarce resources, but common, realistic approaches to challenges were emphasized”. The use of social media and group applications improved communication tremendously during the conference and continues to serve as a platform for the entire group. Experiences, events and newsworthy issues related to preservation are shared, ensuring sustainable networking in the region. “The level of success was visible through the camaraderie shared among the participants, organizers, instructors and sponsors, which can leave us with much optimism about the future abilities and potential for communication, sharing, support, from both personal and professional perspectives”.


The APOYOnline team would like to thank the presenters and instructors, and the enthusiastic, thoughtful, and energetic participants who represent the robust, creative faces of the cultural heritage field in the Americas and Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries.


APOYOnline team


To celebrate our 30th Anniversary the “APOYOnline 30th Anniversary Conference and Workshop on Photographic Conservation” will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from September 23 to 27, 2019 in collaboration with Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz Foundation, Casa de Rui Barbosa Foundation and University of Delaware. Tru Vue will be sponsoring the event among others. 200 people from Latin America, North America, and Europe are expected to share their experiences in networking, preventive conservation, risk management, digital preservation and education in conservation, and to carry out another “MANOS A LA OBRA” initiative for a local institution in need.

This article is intended for educational purposes only and does not replace independent professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinion or position of Tru Vue or its employees. Tru Vue does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented.

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