How Cultural Divide can put Cultural Heritage at Risk

The seismic events that have damaged cities and towns in central Italy in recent years destroyed, or irreparably damaged, important examples of architecture. Behind several of these damages, it is known among experts in the sector that bad management of the safety interventions of the buildings must be recognized. Emblematic cases can be identified in the earthquakes that, between 1997 and 2017, struck the regions of Abruzzo and Umbria in Italy.

Image of the vault of the upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, which collapsed after the 26th September 1997 earthquake. The use of reinforced concrete beams in the roof was suspected to be a possible cause of the collapse, in which four people died while carrying out an inspection to detect damage caused by the previous night’s shock. Image: Wikipedia
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Earthquakes and Cultural Heritage: the STOP Vademecum to help first responders limiting damages to buildings

Earthquakes pose a big threat to cultural and heritage buildings. Normally, historic buildings are more vulnerable to seismic actions than ordinary ones. So, also the artifacts that such buildings normally protect are subject to damages, due to the debris and, sometimes, to fires ignited by earthquakes.

Cover of the the STOP Vademecum published by the CNVVF (Italian National Fire and Rescue Services)
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Safety of historical wood structures. A Workshop in Rome

The Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (Rome). The wooden roof collapsed roof on August 30th, 2018. Causes are still under investigation. Credits:

On August 30th, 2019, a large portion of the wooden roof Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami suddenly collapsed, damaging the interior and some of the paintings and artefacts preserved inside. The event, happened in the most historical part of Rome, has interested a sixteenth century building, whose construction had been funded by the Corporation of the Carpenters.

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3D Scanning and Emergency Management of Cultural Heritage Buildings after Earthquakes: the St. Francis of Assisi Integrated System

3D scanning of the three levels of the St. Francis of Assisi Basilica (Assisi, Italy) -courtesy of Prof.  Fabio Garzia – La Sapienza University, Rome (Italy).

One of the main problems of emergency management in case of damage reported by historic buildings after an earthquake is represented by immediate damage assessment. In fact, nowadays it is not possible to use techniques other than the personal evaluation carried out by first responders.

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Damages to Cultural Heritage caused by 24th August 2016 Central Italy Earthquake


On August 24th, 2016  a severe earthquake has hit an area in Central Italy approximately among the city of Amatrice and Norcia. The quake, that has been followed by months of replicas (especially on 26th October and 30th October) has killed nearly 300 people and damaged or destroyed a number of heritage buildings (churches, houses, walls, towers etc.).

In many cases, it has not been possible to implement with the necessary timing temporary shoring or putting in safety measures. Therefore, in the shocks happened the weeks after the 24th August, some buildings that had been damaged, but  not  destroyed, have collapsed.

The numerous debris, which was not possible to remove, due to administrative difficulties in moving them in appropriate areas, have prevented sometimes to approach the buildings  and, therefore, to let firefighters operate safely.

Moreover, the sheer size of the area affected and the number of works to be protected caused delays in the processing of putting in safety works projects. The projects, in fact, must be drawn from engineers,  but have to be approved by the competent body for the protection of cultural heritage.

Fire Research Database – FReD – English Heritage

EnglishHeritage This database was set up by the public body English Heritage to enable all those responsible in any capacity for historic buildings to share information on related fire safety matters.

The database has now been expanded to allow PDFs of research reports to be attached, as well as giving contact points for current or planned projects and details of published reports.

this is the link to FReD Web page:

Audioguide System for Rescue Operations in Museums

DSC_6990An innovative system developed under EU funds to help rescuers during emergencies in museums has been presented on September 15th, 2010, in Turin (Italy) in the Villa della Regina building, which is one of the royal buildings in Turin. Such system is based on the use during emergencies of the same devices used to guide people during their visits to museums and other cultural or historical buildings.

The European project MAP (mobile adaptive procedures), developed under successive EU funding, is aimed at the creation of a system that, among other functions, improves the operation of Fire Brigades in particular contexts, such as events relating to the safety of historical heritage. This topic was the subject of the conference held September 15 in Turin.

The conference was organized by the european-funded MAP project (coordinated by the Italian Ministry of Interior), Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco (National Fire Brigade) and the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage.

The central topic of the conference was the pilot project for a system intended to improve the management of emergencies by the Fire Brigade. This system, which allows the Fire Department to be informed and guided in real time during emergencies, is the first of this kind, and is based on a series of fact sheets, developed by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which have been stored on the server of the local Command of the Fire Brigade in Turin. The contents of these cards are used by the Fire Department rescue personnel during the emergency and allows operators to know the priorities of the actions they are supposed to develop. They are informed using a code very similar to the “triage” conducted in an emergency department of a hospital . For the artifacts to be saved were defined key parameters such as response times for removal, weight and transportation techniques, as well as a classification of the level of historical or artistic interest.

Data transmitted through the MAP system allow the Fire Department to improve  rescue operations. In addition, thanks to devices scattered throughout the museum (the same devices used for audioguides during normal museum operations) and an innovative algorithm, data can be monitored constantly by the fire brigade control room.

Castle destroyed by fire in Ebelsbach (Germany)

1On October 10, 2009, the 16th-century Schloss Ebelsbach, the main landmark in the small Barvarian village of Ebelsbach, (built between 1564 and 1569 by Baron Matthew von Rotenhan) has been destroyed by a fire occurred during the night .

Flames were first spotted coming from the building at 4:30 am. By the time police arrived at the scene, the roof was already totally engulfed

Sprinkler Corrosion and Fire Safety Issues in Historic Buildings

1Ageing firefighting installations can cause severe reliability problems in historic buildings.

We publish the link to an interesting article  (Corrosion Process Inside Steel Fire Sprinkler Piping, by Bruce W. Christ, Ph.D) published on the Fire Protection Engineering website, based on a review of the engineering and scientific literature pertaining to biological and nonbiological metal corrosion processes.

The review indicates that several metal corrosion processes can occur inside pressurized, water-based, metal fire sprinkler piping. The scientific literature of electrochemistry is rich with examples of corrosion processes other than MIC that can deteriorate metals. For example, “oxygen corrosion” is a nonbiological process that can corrode certain metals. Moreover, “acid-oxygen corrosion” is a nonbiological process that can corrode certain metals even faster than oxygen corrosion.

The article discusses also nonbiological corrosion processes that are spontaneous under the conditions of temperature and pressure that prevail in pressurized, water-based, metal fire sprinkler piping systems:

Do Risk Index Methods Fit to Historical Buildings?

Rome's Anfiteatro di Marcello means of egress
Rome's Anfiteatro di Marcello means of egress

Assessing fire risks in historical buildings may be a complex task. Normally, means of egress, structural fire resistance, decorations and other fire related aspects of historical building present  important differences from what prescriptive rules ask. So, sometimes the only option to evaluate a fire safety project remains the use of the performance based approach. Such approach, on the other hand, cannot be used in a relaxed way, since there’s still a huge need of data about fire behavior of archaic materials and fire causes. Moreover, performance based approach implies the need of  performing fire simulations in complex environments. As a consequence, normally the fire engineering assessment will hardly be performed in the needed comprehensive manner.

A possible shortcut to avoid wasting time assessments (as performance based can frequently be), which can be always subject to criticism due the complexity of the problem, has been hypothesized in using methods based on risk indexes. Such methods are not new and are based on the attribution of values to parameters used to help  in the assessment. A severe lack of transparency in such methods can be found in the difficulty found in identifying objective paths to attribute values to parameters.

Given such a situation, do Fire Risk Index Methods fit to the actual needs of cultural heritage safety?

We welcome any comment about this argument.

The Arson Threat to the Built Heritage and Historical Buildings

We publish the paper concerning the arson threat to the built heritage already published by the COST Action C17: Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings in its Final Report Part 1 (pages 90-92)

La Fenice Venice

On Friday 30 March 2001, a court in Venice found two electricians guilty of setting fire to La Fenice opera house in the city in 1996. Enrico Carella and his cousin, Massimiliano Marchetti, were found to have set the building ablaze because their company was facing heavy fines over delays in repair work. Mr Carella, the company’s owner, was sent to prison for seven years, while Mr Marchetti received a six-year sentence. The rebuilding of the famous theatre, for which Giuseppi Verdi composed several operas, was delayed and did not re-open until 2004. The fire on 29 January 1996 happened as the Teatro La Fenice was being renovated. The subsequent rebuilding did not go according to plan and the original German-Italian consortium of Holzmann-Romagnoli had asked for supplementary and fee waivers before the work was re-tendered by the City Mayor Paolo Costa.

Sinsheim Mosque, Germany

On the 18 November 2004 unknown individuals threw a Molotov cocktail at a mosque near Heidelberg in Germany. A glass bottle filled with flammable liquid was tossed against the entrance of the Sinsheim mosque. The fire was discovered and extinguished after it caused around €10,000 damage to the wooden door and the glass window.

Wooden Churches, Poland

In Poland, wooden church were found to be particularly at risk. Between 1999 and 2000, 50 churches burnt down. The most frequent cause of fire is not damage to electric installations, but a fire lit deliberately. Poland has a substantial amount of sacred wooden architecture, which make an important, often unique, contribution to European heritage. It consists in part of wooden churches, built between the C14 and C19, mainly Catholic, but there are also other churches, including Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic-orthodox, Dukhobor, Jewish and Mariavites churches. Wooden religious architecture also includes chapels, belfries and morgues. The scale of the task is significant, given that presently there are 2,785 items of religious wooden architecture in Poland and six of them (from the C15 and C16) are on the World Heritage List.

The Arson Threat

It is difficult to be precise about the growth in arson globally due to statistical variations, but there is good evidence that in many developed countries arson is a growing problem. The CTIF Centre of Fire Statistics demonstrated that, in 8 selected countries [Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, Japan, USA and UK] between 1993 and 1999, intentional fires accounted for 18 percent of all building and structure fires. This represents a huge level of unwanted and unwelcome activity, given the fact that a significant part of any country’s built environment contains numerous heritage sites (in some major cities like Edinburgh, Venice, and Rome the figure is very high) and that certain property classifications (like religious buildings) are subject to regular attacks of the sort identified earlier. To illustrate the growth trend in the UK, according to the UK Arson Prevention Bureau, the incidence of arson in occupied buildings has steadily increased over the past decade, as shown in the following Table.



Arson is now one of the most serious threats to heritage buildings throughout the world. The reasons for this form of attack vary enormously, from economic fraud to cultural disaffection. The nature of the attack can likewise arise from sophisticated fire raising by criminals using science and technology, to sudden unplanned attacks by vandals using any locally available materials. The impact however, regardless of the initiating event, may be the total loss of all the physical property both of contents and structure. The following real examples illustrate that the target can be a high-profile internationally-known building or a more generalised category of building-type. They serve to illustrate the task being confronted.

Whilst there are many documented causes and solutions to the arson threat, there are also particular circumstances related to heritage buildings that raise the risk presented from intentional attacks. For example, historic structures may

• Contain or be constructed in materials particularly vulnerable to fire, like wood

• Elements of structure will contain voids due to adaptations that spread fire and its products

• Modernisation may hide building services and associated features or structural elements that heighten the risk of undetected initiation or early structural failure

• Transfers and unclear ownership may lead to poor risk management

• Economic and funding priorities sometimes prevent investment in mitigating passive or active systems of fire defence

• Hazardous materials may be present on industrial or military heritage sites

• Criminal activity such as smuggling or theft may give rise to arson to cover the original crime

There are many documented responses to combating arson that suggest there is a strong onous on the heritage community to develop a sustainable and internationally-supported strategy to help preserve the national heritage of each country.

This is especially so when it is realised that within the European Union there are few special requirements placed in law on heritage buildings. A recent study supported by the European Union Community Action Programme in the Field of Civil Protection coordinated by Raddnings Verket, the Swedish Rescue Services Agency, found that no heritage-specific fire safety legislative requirements were in force in Austria, Belgium, Denmark (except a 5 yearly inspection), Finland, Germany (other than a building permit for certain uses), Greece, Sweden, The Netherlands (subject to some heritage and safety controls) and the UK. In Ireland, Italy and Norway, guidance or in Italy’s case technical controls, exist.

The proposal, therefore, is that the Cost Action C17 Working Group 3 should consider extending its investigations into the area of arson reduction and protection. This will require research into national statistics, identification of the national risk profile and subsequent identification of preventative action. Whilst there are cultural and national variations in the risk presented in any approach, there is high value in sharing best practice to help improve sustainability and add intelligence to create an effective response to what is an increasingly alarming threat.


In the earlier section, threats arising from vandals, criminals and activists have been described. Unfortunately, it is now necessary to add to that form of attack the increased threat of extremist action from disaffected groups in society. Prior to 11 September 2001, it was the case that the number of lethal terrorist incidents in Europe had declined, although the total number of incidents rose. The escalation of the terrorist incidents that had occurred in Europe and Eurasia were, in fact, often acts of arson or vandalism. However, terrorism has become an increasingly worrying threat to all those responsible for national icons or places of large public assembly. This, in part, reflects the paradigm shift that occurred in New York when vehicles like aircraft became weapons, instead of buildings being defended against weapons. Major sites that have crowds offer the terrorist anonymity and are internationally recognisable. Frequently, they offer hard construction materials that cause maximum personal damage and lead to economic losses, including tourism. They have become the new targets. Well-known and frequently visited heritage buildings and sites that fall into this category are therefore susceptible. In addition, security measures at higher-risk sites like government centres, can serve to move the terrorist further away from the obvious iconic or transport centres to softer geographically open locations. It is, of course, important to retain a sense of perspective. Lethal events are often infrequent, and in comparison to the routinely accepted loss of life in any country, are of a low order of magnitude. Usually, the risk is simply disruptive, as with left luggage (one example is 2.5 million emergency calls to unattended bags in a 10-year period in a transport environment, with no active explosive devices found). Society, however, demands active consideration of this threat and positive action to reduce both the possible occurrence and mitigate impact. This demands a sensible and systematic review of the likelihood and practical measures. In many areas action taken to reduce prevalent and active life-threatening events such as fire and security, will coincide with action designed to contain this extremist threat. There are many previous examples of this type of attack, especially where intolerance has existed, when individuals over generations have attempted and sometimes succeeded in destroying artefacts or symbols that they consider represent that intolerant burden.

Currently trans-national ideology based upon an Islamic fundamentalist cause that is globally, not geographically, regionalised, together with localised extremism, is seen as the new threat. This, some commentators suggest, is a misunderstanding of a threat that in reality comes from local groups that may share a common ideology, but act independently and in sympathy, without any central direction or control. Personal relationships and sympathetic supporters therefore form the basis of the unstructured network of loose alliances. This is considerably different to the earlier, and in some cases still current, more usual form of threat, in which the perpetrator belonged to an organisation that wanted to find a balance between mass innocent casualties and its political aim. That form of terrorist attack was often characterised by a warning and the terrorist seeking to escape and survive.

The economic cost of mounting a terror attack is low, yet the economic impact can be extremely high. Reducing the risk is also difficult from the perspective of vigilance, since the defender has to be systematically in advance of the terrorist, who needs only one success. This is a problem that some observers say will remain a real issue for some time, with terrorism of this kind expected to last the next 20-30 years.

Again, the practice of risk evaluation supported by sound policy and practice is the key. Co-ordination of best practice, education, investigation, advice, crisis management, business continuity planning, threat monitoring and risk assessment are all required. Technical issues that arise include the threat to people and contamination of the heritage site or workplace, physical violence, and detection of weapons and malicious actions. The identification of specific high-risk sites and event scenarios, like those affecting faith premises as already observed in acts against Muslim and Jewish places of worship, is priority action, since in this threatening environment, physically high levels of protection of all sites is impractical.

Intelligence, and the recognition of connections attributed between causes (as with the desire to see the USA leave Islamic countries or resolve the Palestine issue) are important features to research and understand. Whilst these are simplifications, they do serve to raise the matter as an important concern for those who have a responsibility to protect national heritage.


There is a real and urgent need to evaluate the risk presented at heritage sites from malicious acts of vandalism, criminal attack and local or international terrorism. Many of the issues have common features. There would be a benefit in gathering intelligence and knowledge collectively. That task could be an extension of the current role of the COST Action C17 activities. The proposal would require modest financial support, to initially scope the issue and to prepare a more definitive action programme bid, seeking financial support from the European Union.

Cultural Heritage Fire Safety Standards – Italy

The effects of the fire that on 29 January 1996 destroyed the Gran Teatro della Fenice in Venice (Italy), The fire, that threatened also the surrounding historical buildings, is iconic of the vulnerability of the Cultural Heritage buildings and built environments (image: Wikipedia)


In order to understand how cultural heritage fire safety is addressed in the world, a series of posts will describe legislations of different countries. The first post, published with the Author’s permission, is the updated version of a paper presented during the international conference  “Toward a Safer World”  – ESREL 2001. The paper illustrates the Italian rules concerning fire safety of cultural heritage: Stefano Marsella – Performance-based codes vs prescriptive rules: the case of the application to fire protection of cultural heritage in Italy.

According to the EU Construction Product Directive, fire protection of buildings can be designed using either performance based approach (engineering methods) or prescriptive rules. In his work, the Author describes as the application to historical buildings is carried out in Italy, showing the main problems which arise with the use of prescriptive rules in a context extremely rich and complex as italian heritage and showing how, in an fire engineering approach, the special task to protect heritage and the people could be addressed.

When engineers approach the protection of cultural heritage and, at the same time, try to safeguard human life letting people to use and enjoy buildings, the main problems they have to face in the most of historical building lie in the difficulty to meet the mandatory prescriptions. The utmost variety of architectural solution, urban situation and fire load, together with the severe needs of conservation, makes it quite difficult, if not impossible at all, to follow prescriptive rules, which will soon become not acceptable. Regarding this point, we must consider that, in Italy as well as in other countries, fire protection is carried out with a series of rules, prescriptions and standards which were been defined having as a goal new constructions and new building elements. Moreover, hygiene and occupational workplace safety rules must be enforced without any regard to the age or the historical value of the building. Another matter that has to be addressed in the upgrading of heritage to standards of safety is connected to the accessibility requirements of urban environment, matter that the ageing of population and the growing consciousness of people make a primary issue even in solving the fire evacuation problems.

In the following analysis, the Author will examine only the fire protection rules, but is intended that the problems which arise in applying fire protection rules to heritage are quite similar to the ones which accessibility and workplace hygiene and safety bring.
Looking at the problem from another point o view, it must be stressed that the authorities have to face the need to allow the public into these buildings, for political reasons, but also for the need to raise funds for their upkeep. Generally the owners, public or private, have a vested interest in preserving their property and content and should take the matter seriously enough if a definite set of rules would exist, even we must consider that exist a different challenge if the public are to be brought in. In Italy there not exists a national building regulation, neither common prescriptions for public safety, and the only prescriptions that could be used are the fire prevention standards for cinemas, theatres and dancings. So, in the case of public let in a heritage building, the primary interest in protecting people has to face the difficulty to meet a group of rules that were set specifically for buildings built to  receive a great amount  of persons.

Probably, the only reasonable approach to the problem of protecting the heritage lies in the use of a non prescriptive approach, in a framework of performance based rules which simultaneously fix the need to be satisfied with reference to accessibility, public safety and workplace safety.
In the following consideration no reference will be done to cost analysis, for the lack of data in Italy about this issue make it impossible a serious evaluation of the impact this issue on the definition of fire prevention strategies applied to cultural buildings.

1.    Cultural Heritage Safety in Italy
The problem of protecting against fire italian heritage is a main issue in the policy of safety. The worst fires occurred recently in Italy, in fact, have hit mainly important historical or cultural buildings (Teatro la Fenice – Venezia, Cappella guariniana – Sacra Sindone – Torino, Teatro Petruzzelli – Bari).
Starting from the definition of heritage, according Italian laws, may be considered historically relevant any building older than 50. In Italian heritage there are at least 95.000 monuments and churches, 30.000 historical buildings, 3.500 museums, 2.000 archeological sites and 900 theaters. In these figures we must consider that entire town centers, if not entire towns are part of the heritage, with all the risks that technological improvements bring in a so bound environment. Moreover, the most of churches and interesting buildings date back to the last ten centuries, with a great difference of construction materials, structures, content, state of conservation and use. The only amount of libraries scaffolding is several thousand km and, this statement, lets the possibility to remember that bounds don’t exist only in the works to be done inside the buildings, but also in the extinguishing substances that can be used.

2.    Italian rules on the heritage
The common challenge to the authorities, when the problem of fire protection of heritage is addressed is three‑fold:

  • to preserve the building and content from the effects of fire,
  • to protect life (includes fire-fighters) from fire.
  • to limit the impact of fire precautions on building fabric.

If it is clear that in the most of cases something needs to be done, the challenge is on what standard and by what principles should the fire precautions be based. We know that would not be appropriate to apply current standards to historic buildings.
In Italy, common buildings where people work are subject to the rules concerning their accessibility, their hygiene and health conditions and their fire protection features. With regard to such arguments, we may say that a lot of laws, regulations and codes have been enforced by Public Authorities which  concern design, construction stages and maintenance management. Moreover, if the building is considered as a part of the cultural heritage, there exist special laws which will make it extremely difficult to modify the building itself, even if in the case of works intended to preserve it. An important issue to be taken into account, is that, as a general rule, the level of safety and accessibility that laws ask must be assured in every case, so it is not possible to accept in any kind of building, say the historical or artistical heritage building, lower safety and accessibility standards.
Focusing on fire protection (which, nonetheless, is strictly bound to some accessibility prescriptions as well as to the occupational safety), in Italy there exist two prescriptive codes, which are applied in the case of historical building used as places of assembly and as archives. In both cases, emphasis has been given to the human safety, specially in order to means of egress characteristics.
May be useful to add that in Italy the specific activity of fire prevention and fire extinguishing is passed on the National Fire Department, coming from Department of Internal Affairs (Ministero dell’Interno), organised into Brigades by Province, while preservation of historic buildings (public or private owned) is bound by the Board of Architectural and Environmental Heritage (Sovrintendenza ai Beni Artistici e Ambientali).
Until now, we may say that prescriptions for fire prevention have been issued from the new building experiences having, as unique goal, people safety, but nowadays is stronger the common perception that for historic heritage the safety of inhabitants should be reconciled with the need of safeguarding historical and architectural value of buildings as well as goods contained within them.
Looking at the procedures needed to achieve the prescript level of fire safety, it must be said that a list of activities, which are subjected to periodic surveillance, is specified in a Decree of 1982. The only case where the building itself is subject to fire safety control independently from the activity held is the case of heritage buildings. Nonetheless, the control for these buildings hasn’t been in the past so strict as necessary, due to the reluctance of many Boards of Architectural and Environmental Heritage to accept the minimum required safety features and the inherent difficulty to define such features.
For any heritage building, the following obligations are established:

  • acquisition of preliminary approval, on behalf of the territorial qualified Provincial Fire Department Brigade, for rehabilitation works, including normative adaptation and changes in purpose of use;
  • acquisition of the ”fire prevention certificate” following on‑site inspection by the provincial fire Department Brigade, after the completion of the works.

In general, the aim of fire prevention rules, prescriptions and standards issued for different activities or workplaces looks at providing operators with an instrument unequivocally applicable in all cases. Designers must observe rigid bounds, which sometimes are too hard and difficult to be respected so that they are often compelled to ask for derogation through a trade off among Customer, and local Fire Department Brigade. In the case of cultural heritage has become immediately clear that it was impossible to issue fire protection standards. Too many differences and too many bounds made it impossible asking even low impact prescriptions. In order to safeguard building conservation and to assure at least safety of human life, the relevant Ministry issued two historical building oriented decrees:

  • D.M. n. 569, issued on May 20,1992, “Regolamento concernente norme di sicurezza antincendio per gli edifici storici e artistici destinati a musei, gallerie, esposizioni e mostre” (Regulation concerning fire safety norms for historical and artistic buildings destined as museums, galleries, exposition centres, and shows)
  • D.P.R. n. 418, issued on June 30,1995, “Regolamento concernente norme di sicurezza antincendio per gli edifici di interesse storico‑artistico destinati a biblioteche ed archivi” (Regulation concerning fire safety norms for historical-artistic buildings destined as libraries and archives).

Reading such rules it becomes clear that, perhaps violating the general rule that oblige to assure the same safety level to everybody, prescriptions to protect human life are softer than in other non – historical buildings, while the building and its content aren’t perhaps so protected as necessary.

3.    the approach to fire safety in Italy
In order to take a look to the approach followed until now in fire protection in Italy, we must consider that other relevant regulations exist for specific activities, which we may find in historical buildings, that must be applied without any gap to those buildings.
As common rules to be applied actually in evaluating the fire resistance of elements, there are three different methods for determining the class of resistance: experimental methods, as specified in Ministry of the Interior circular n° 91 of 14th September 1961 (new reference: ministerial decree 16 February, 2007); simplified methods, by checking tables drafted by interpolating the data resulting from the experimental investigations in statistical series (UNI standard 9502/89, UNI standard 9503:89, UNI standard 9504/89); analytical methods, in accordance with the calculation methods indicated in the UNI standards referred to above and in the Eurocodes (1,2,3,5,6) (new reference: ministerial decree 16 February, 2007).
The experimental method asks that the duration of resistance to fire is determined on the basis of the results of a standardised fire test carried out by simulating heating with a fire chamber, applying a standardised temperature curve internationally accepted.
The brief list intends to show some of the rules that have to be compulsorily respected in planning the fire protection of  any building, explains that the framework in which a solution could eventually be found is extremely well defined, making rather difficult to individuate the different solutions that such special buildings need.

4.    the fire protection engineering approach
Fire protection engineering is addressed in the works of ISO Technical Committee 92.  Actually, the Technical Report 13387 (1999), which sets the most of the rules that have to be followed in an engineering approach to fire protection does not address the specific field of heritage, but states that, in the future, a specific branch of this discipline will study the characteristics of the analysis of fire protection in cultural and historical buildings.
In our context, where the problem is not designing brand new buildings but upgrading existing ones, the main interest of the engineering approach is bound to reach the equivalent safety level, which implies to select, alternative protective and preventive technical measures, based on the evaluation of the fire risk, in order to reach acceptable safety conditions for an activity.
Starting from this base, legislation shouldn’t indicate mandatory requirements about “what to do” but provide an information based both on the procedural and scientifically recognised methods of analysis and calculation, in order to offer alternative solutions. After a new approach has been brought in Italy with Legislative Decree n° 626/94 (now Legislative Decree n° 108/08), which incorporates the Community Directive for “improving the safety and health of workers at places of work” and with Ministry Decree dated 10.3.98, which implements it as far as concerns the risk of fire, this goal seems to be nearer, but with reference to historic or artistic value is still needed the specific knowledge that will let to enforce such approach in such a critical area.

5.    reasonable answers  to problems
When considering heritage, given that is impossible to apply prescriptive fire safety rule, performance-based approach has to be necessarily followed to solve the problem.  According to this approach, in the evaluation of the fire scenarios equal attention has to be given to life safety and heritage preservation. Moreover, the facts have demonstrated that the worst fires in historic buildings and towns have occurred in construction, renovation or restoration sites , that implies the need of a special attention to responsibilities of managers, in order to avoid unappropriate risk situations and to mantain always the level of fire safety that the risk analysis has shown as acceptable (fire drills, staff preparedness).
On the other hand, the very large number of rules that simultaneously has to be met (workplace heath and hygiene, accessibility), makes it difficult to imagine that a so wide range of prescriptions could be overtaken with a risk-assessment based process. Under this point of view, an appropriate package of precautions that meets the requirements the different regulation but which would allow performance design, is the only foreseeable solution. A check‑list, could be organised according to the following phases:

  • Identification and listing of the risks of fire in relation to the sources capable of sparking one off;
  • Forecasting of the danger of sparking off a fire in relation to the structures of the building.
  • Forecasting of the way in which the fire will develop.
  • Analysis and assessment of the means of escape.
  • Analytical valuation of the protective measures that can be adopted.
  • Definition of specifications for safety measures ‑ automatic detection systems and extinguishing systems on the basis of the ruling regulations.

Another point that is worth to be addressed is the use of simulations. There exist a certain list of experiences and records about their use in historic buildings. For historical buildings it must be stressed that simulations are due when their outputs could be used for assessing the actual safety of the means of egress. Therefore if their capacity is very large and their accessibility is sure, of course no simulation is advisable. On the other hand, simulations can be very valuable for assessing the actual need of interventions suggested by prescriptive standards. In other words, prescriptive standards often force to perform building interventions that have a hard impact of the original structure (e.g. divisions in compartments, safety staircases, etc.). Perhaps, in some conditions not all those interventions are absolutely needed: simulations can demonstrate it. Once more, if little or no intervention is required by prescriptive standards, simulations of the smoke flow patterns are unnecessary. Finally, simulations are affordable when boundary conditions are properly set. Under this point of view. First of all, one should verify is the boundary.

Given that the current situation shows that prescriptive rules can’t be used in protecting heritage, in the short period efforts must be done in order to acquire more profound knowledge of fire engineering approach. After having reached an adequate sensibility to the matter (both for public control officers and fire prevention designers), fire-risk analysis will probably make possible to select accepted procedures and sets of technical features (including a small group of mandatory rules necessary to assure the minimum safety and accessibility leve) that will meet both people and heritage safety and conservation issues.

Special aknowledgements has to be done to Mr A. Dusman of the Italian National Engineers Council, who is daily involved in the improvement of the culture of italian safety engineers.

L.Nassi, S.Marsella – La sicurezza antincendio per i beni culturali, UTET, Torino 2008

Building an Emergency: Museums and Other Cultural Institutions Planning and Management

The experience of the damages that museums and cultural institutions in general have suffered from fire or other sudden events shows that a fundamental role in the mitigation of the damage is linked to the management of the emergency and, therefore, also to its preparation.

The training of the teams and their building are one of the most important aspects to take care of, in order to integrate the safety gaps that, especially in historic buildings, the design fails to completely resolve.

Some of the most significant documents published on this topic are listed below

The Getty Conservation Institute has published on its website the “Building an Emergency Plan”, which is the result of a GCI project that began in 1995 as a proposed series of training workshops to follow the 1992 workshop.

In the process of identifying written material to support these activities, the Authors recognized the lack of a clear, step-by-step guide to developing emergency plans tailored to meet the specific needs of museums and other cultural institutions. With that realization, the efforts have been focused on creating a publication that would fill this need.

the image shows the cover page of the guide
The “Building an Emergency Plan: A Guide for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions”, published by the Getty Conservation Institutions” is ” designed to guide an institution and its staff through the process of developing a team-based emergency preparedness and response program, which results in the creation of an emergency preparedness and response plan”

Among the main topics of the Guide there are:

Continue reading “Building an Emergency: Museums and Other Cultural Institutions Planning and Management”

Damage Limitation Teams: How to Improve Safety Management in Museums

Management is an important part of fire safety of the built heritage and of cultural resources.  To ensure permanent risk awareness it’s vital to keep documents of premises and collections, to assess artifacts at risk and structures to regularly update documents. Documentation on interventions (training, emergency rescue services‚ near misses, restoration and conservation) and documents of organisation (charts of hierarchy, Management Plans, regulations and controls) are important too.

The execution of exercises of the personnel assigned to limit damage in the event of events that put the historical artifact at risk is essential to deepen the understanding of the operational difficulties that operators would encounter during a real emergency.

Organizing Damage Limitation Teams it’s another part of the strategy. Every structure, in fact, should have the availability of a group of persons who can help rescuers in taking in safe places every object could be damaged by a fire.

Mr Wolfgang Kippes (Schönbrunn Company) explains how fire safety is managed in Wien’s Schönbrunn Castle. The slides that can be downloaded were presented during the 2008 International Conference  in Siena (Italy) Cultural Heritage and Fire Protection Issues:


Evaluating Physical Interventions as a Function of Hazard and Risk

Because historic structures vary by condition, extent of surviving historic fabric, past and proposed use and other factors, no universal means exists to evaluate inherent fire safety or the impact of potential improvements. Further, buildings have different roles in the ongoing operations of their institutions, ranging from organisations where exhibition of the building is a primary purpose, to those where the primary value is associated with the ability to house the functions required of that organization, eg schools or commercial ventures. Decisions regarding physical interventions should be appropriate to recognised hazards, which may be identified by a building survey or by review of relevant statistics.

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Higher risk hazard occupancies such as residential uses, or higher hazard     operations such as those using flammable materials, warrant higher levels  of intervention than occupancies presenting minimal risk. Each building  warrants an assessment of its unique hazards, as identified.

Fire risk assessments are tools for analysing site-specific hazards, and       ultimately selecting fire safety interventions that will satisfy an    organisationÕs established objectives. For historic buildings, fire risk  assessments consider the hazards in the context of the ability to undertake  architectural improvements, or to install technological systems in a manner    that has an acceptable physical and visual impact, and the approaches  established by building regulations or permitted alternatives.

Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database. Annual Report 2008-2009


The Minute of Agreement between Historic  Scotland and the Scottish Fire and  Rescue  Services  for the development of The Scottish Historic  Buildings National  Fire Database (SHBNFD)  continues to provide the structure to enable  Scotland to  remain a world leader in the  protection of the built heritage from the  devastating  effects of fire.

Mike Coull of Grampian Fire and Rescue Service  continues to serve in the role  of Heritage Co-  ordinator for the Scottish Fire Services. This post is  considered  crucial in not only delivering the key objectives set out in the Minute of  Agreement, but also to enable further research developing strategies with the Fire S ervice that will contribute to the protection of the built heritage.

The current Minute of Agreement was signed in October 2007 and sets out a wider set of outcomes to reflect the fact that the SHBNFD is much more than a database, it is a project setting out objectives driving forward the protection of the built heritage. To meet those objectives it was vital to ensure effective partnership working, through this it has been possible to establish protocols with each of the eight Scottish fire and rescue services for the exchange of information on Category B-listed buildings.

This Annual Summary Report aims to demonstrate that significant progress has been made in many of the outcomes identified within the Minute of Agreement over the past twelve months. In addition to the agreed outcomes, two significant tasks have been undertaken; a major International conference on ‘Fire Protection of the Built Heritage’ was held at Elphinstone Hall, Aberdeen on 5th May 2009 and a research project involving a series of fire tests on historic doors. Further details of these two initiatives are included within this report.