Consortium for Earthquake-Damaged Cultural Heritage


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Cultural resource management in the disaster zone: A report on a voluntary initiative for the information-gathering of the earthquake-damaged cultural heritage in Japan

CAA2011, Beijing, 2011.4.12-16


Cultural resource management in the disaster zone: A report on a voluntary initiative for the information-gathering of the earthquake-damaged cultural heritage in Japan

Yasuhisa Kondo1, Akihiro Kaneda2, Yu Fujimoto3, Yoichi Seino4, Hiroshi Yamaguchi5, and Tomokatsu Uozu6

1 JSPS*/Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan 2 Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Japan 3 Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan 4 Kyoto University, Japan 5 JSPS*/International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, Japan 6 Otemae University, Hyogo, Japan * Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Research Fellow)


Challenges for cultural resource management (CRM) in the disaster areas

   The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeastern coastal regions of Japan on March 11, 2011 caused immense damage to the residents, social infrastructure, and cultural heritage in there areas [1]. In a press release on April 11, 2011, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology stated that at least 466 registered cultural assets were damaged, including four national treasures, 130 important government-designated cultural properties, and 68 historical sites (Figure 1). The whole situation has not yet been fully grasped because these numbers do not include prefecture-designated, municipality-designated, and undesignated cultural assets; also, the situation in the tsunami-devastated areas has not yet been reported due to the lack of accurate information. The following three factors prevent the acquisition of information:

  1. The lack of necessary resources and means makes it difficult for local CRM officers to gain access to the heritage assets and inspect the condition.
  2. The sheer size of the devastated areas, their complex topographical settings, such as small coastal plains surrounded by steep hills and mountains, and wreckage as a result of the earthquake and tsunami make acquisition of information extremely difficult.
  3. The disaster hit six prefectures that differ in terms of CRM-related administrative procedures, and this makes it difficult to integrate information at a supra-regional level.

   It should also be underlined that buried cultural properties or archaeological sites underground might be destroyed when debris is removed without notifying the local CRM offices as per the special measures of the Cultural Assets Preservation Act, as announced by the Agency of Cultural Affairs on March 25, 2011. Thus, expeditious processes for protecting the cultural assets is are extremely important at the moment.


Consortium for Earthquake-Damaged Cultural Heritage (CEDACH)

   In order to protect the endangered cultural properties amidst such difficulties, we not only have to mobilize the most advanced methods and techniques available but also organize a network of experienced and motivated individuals who can fully utilize them. For this purpose, our group, which includes archaeologists, historians, and CRM officers, is making preparations to establish a “Consortium for Earthquake-Damaged Cultural Heritage” (CEDACH) by using social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter.

   The consortium plans to organize a task force for “Cultural Properties Damaged by the Earthquake and Tsunami” (CUPDET) (Figure 2). It comprises a data management team and an on-site technical support team. The data team will create a web-based geospatial database system for the compilation, management, and analysis of information on CUPDET. On the other hand, the on-site support team will provide local CRM officers with a guideline for the measurement and conservation of CUPDET. This poster focuses on the plan of the data management team. 

Figure 2. Provisional scheme of the Consortium for Earthquake-Damaged Cultural heritage (CEDACH).

Figure 2. Provisional scheme of the Consortium for Earthquake-Damaged Cultural heritage (CEDACH).

   The restoration of CUPDET can be divided into the phase of rescue, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, which is similar to that followed for restoring the local communities and social infrastructure (Table 1). At present, we are still at the first phase of rescue, during which the CEDACH members should be prevented from entering the disaster areas, as top priority is given to saving lives, maintaining the health of the population, and restoring the basic social infrastructure such as electricity, gas, and water supply; the roads; railway; and other public facilities. The data management team is now planning the schema of the data acquisition system and GIS (see below). In the second phase of rehabilitation, the administrative, residential, commercial and industrial functions will be restored. Then, the team will collect fundamental information for the database and will map the data for analysis and further planning. In the third phase of reconstruction, the team will establish a sustainable data center in order to support long-term local inspection and management of CUPDET. 

Table 1. Provisional time schedule of CEDACH’s activities.
Phase Time Data Management Team On-Site Technical Support Team
Rescue Until end of April? Planning the database and the mapping system Planning the way to support on-site inspection
Rehabilitation Until the end of 2011? Collecting fundamental information for the database and map the data Finding out the needs of the local CRM officers and conducting preliminary on-site supports
Reconstruction 2012 – 2020? Establishing a data center and analyzing the data Conducting on-site supports and establishing a support center for sustainable CRM


CEDACH Data Acquisition System

   The data management team will create a CUPDET database that conforms to the international standard set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in order to ensure global system applicability. For this purpose, the data acquisition method is designed so as to achieve a balance between technical standardization and urgent on-site projects. The fact that the potential users of the developed system are local CRM officers and volunteers rescuing/inspecting CUPDET, and that some of them may have limited PC, database, and information handling skills should also be taken into account. Such users would be too busy to be deeply involved in planning the tools and guidelines for collaboration. Therefore the data management team attempts to apply the methodology of “working-oriented approach (WOA)”, in which the system is designed to fit the on-site process of inspection and all data acquired in day-to-day fieldwork are managed as “survey data objects” [2].

   According to the current plan, the CEDACH data acquisition system will be an improved version of a field survey system named “Survey Data Archivist (SDA) for Client” (Figures 3). SDA for Client is based on the concept of WOA and is compliant with the ISO 191XX series. The application schema requires slight modifications to fit the on-site inspection of CUPDET in order to meet the needs of local CRM officers (Figures 4).

Figure 3. Screenshot of SDA for Client, a WOA data capturing program.

Figure 3. Screenshot of SDA for Client, a WOA data capturing program.
Figure 4: Current application schema of SDA for Client (colored classes).
Figure 4: Current application schema of SDA for Client (colored classes).

   In addition to field data acquisition, the team is planning to gather voluntary flash reports of CUPDET from the disaster areas. In fact, a barrage of news and rumors about CUPDET were posted to Facebook, Twitter, wikis (e.g., savemuseums@wiki [3]), and Internet message boards (e.g., Conservation Network for Historical Documents in Miyagi [4]). This flow of information helped us to grasp the condition of CUPDET. However, the information accumulated in high volumes and very rapidly, and therefore, was difficult to organize. This instance was our first experience of the overflow of disaster-related information via social networking services. It is essential to define a standardized procedure to extract and sort important information from disorganized flash reports.



   The data management team also plans to employ a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to map the location of CUPDET by using information acquired during the on-site inspections in order to obtain a quick overview of the situation. The principal purpose of the system, tentatively named “CEDACH GIS,” is the generation of concrete, useful information to aid CEDACH activities. From the technical viewpoint, the CEDACH GIS is designed to accomplish two tasks (Figure 5): Firstly, it contains (1) topographical maps, (2) aerial and satellite imageries captured before and after the tsunami, (3) map of the earthquake intensity distribution, and (4) locations of local museums that will act as CEDACH activity bases. All of the above-mentioned types of information are necessary for analyzing the geographical extent of the disaster and planning the documentation and conservation of CUPDET. Secondly, the system maps CUPDET by using the data acquisition system and an original site database. The campaign includes not only CUPDET designated by nation, prefectures, and local municipalities but also undesignated CUPDET that are popular with local people. The only exceptions are unpublished private collections that are protected for the purposes of privacy and security. The system also contains geotagged pictures, videos, and other records documented during on-site inspections. GIS is employed for integrating all these data to analyze the situation of damage and diachronic change of the inspected heritage (Figure 6).

Figure 5. Scheme of CEDACH GIS.

Figure 5. Scheme of CEDACH GIS.
Figure 6. An example of CEDACH GIS
Figure 6. An example of CEDACH GIS
tsunami area (purple polyline as boundary) and archaeological sites (green dots) of the Onagawa Bay, Miyagi Prefecture. The background aerial photograph was taken on March 19, 2011, and georectified to the orthoimagery by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan [5]. The boundary of the tsunami area was crosschecked with the information provided by the Tsunami Mapping Team of the Association of the Japanese Geographers (AJG) [6] and Open Street Map [7]. The distribution of archaeological sites is based on the site database hosted by the Nara Research Institute for Cultural Properties [8].



   CRM in such an immense disaster is a literally unprecedented task. In order to make the consortium as effective and expeditious as possible, our group is discussing the following agenda.

  1. How should CEDACH establish liaison with other governmental and academic organizations?
  2. What categories of CUPDET should CEDACH target? Should these include undesignated cultural assets and private collections? 
  3. How does CEDACH define the geographical range of work?
  4. How will participants serve CEDACH? Will their work be voluntary or paid?
  5. How will CEDACH be funded? Will they receive governmental grants-in-aid, scientific grants-in-aid, or donations? 
  6. How will CEDACH publish information abroad?

   It is also underlined that the methodology and tactics implemented by CEDACH could be applied to CRM in the natural and human disasters anywhere else in the world. We welcome suggestions and support from our international colleagues attending CAA.



   This paper was originally submitted as special poster to the 39th Annual Conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology, held at Beijing, April 12-16, 2011. The authors are grateful to Dr. Koji Mizoguchi (Kyushu University) and Dr. Simon Kaner (Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures) for editing the original abstract. The information provided in this paper is provisional and subject to change.


References cited

[1] Enomae, T. and Higashijima K. (forthcoming) Cultural heritage damaged by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the need for recovery aid. Proceedings of 39th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation, Philadelphia, PA, USA, Mat 31 – June 3, 2011.

[2] Fujimoto, Y. (2010) Information standards for cultural heritage with the ISO 191XX series. Proceedings for the 22nd CIPA Symposium held at Kyoto TERRSA, October 11 – 15, 2009 (USB drive version).