During the international conference on safety issues of rescue operations in underground structures, held in Rome (Italy) on march 3rd, 2011, the argument of visitors’s safety of secret wartime tunnels in Dover has been discussed.
The presentation, made by Mr Steve Emery (English Heritage) has focused the attention on how fire safety engineering can be used to improve safety in historical buildings. In particular, the premise are underground. The first tunnels under Dover Castle were constructed in the Middle Ages to provide a protected line of communication for the soldiers. During the Napoleonic Wars, this system of tunnels was expanded to fortify the Castle. Seven tunnels were dug as barracks for the soldiers and officers. These were capable of accommodating up to 2,000 troops.
In May 1940 the tunnels became the nerve centre for ‘Operation Dynamo’ – the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French troops from Dunkirk’s beaches. In the Cold War the tunnels were further expanded to form a Regional Centre of Government in the event of nuclear war.
The presentation, taken from the Conference proceedings, shows how fire simulations have guided in developing a correct safety management for visitors:
A Firefighter died of his injuries when the roof of the 14th century Zunfthaus (the carpenters’ guildhouse) in the centre of Zurich collapsed during a fire. The fire alarm was raised at 23:28 on Wednesday, 15th November 2007.
Firefighters first prevented the spread of fire from the four-storey building to neighbouring buildings, then entered to extinguish the fire. Unfortunately the roof collapsed, causing fatal injuries to one firefighter. Firefighters worked through the night to contain it and prevent it from spreading to neighboring buildings, but the bulding was pretty much destroyed. Seven other firefighters suffered minor injuries.
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.