Authors: Helena de Jong, Miranda Dandoulaki
The last decades have seen a series of disastrous events that were costly in terms of cultural heritage. Fires, earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis, land and mud slides, wind, and storms are among the major causes of loss and damage of cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage is commonly defined along the lines of ‘the archaeological and historical built environment and moveable heritage’ (Taboroff in Kreimer et al., 2003). This heritage serves a role in preserving local identity and personality, but also local knowledge; preserving heritage has educational purposes in awareness raising, as the layout of a city (plazas, avenues), the construction of buildings (for example earthquake resistant) and infrastructure (multiple escape routes) may reveal a logic that is often more in tune with urban exposure to natural hazards than today’s urban development. The following definition of cultural heritage is used by UNESCO: ‘’the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations’’ (UNESCO website).
Cultural heritage is seen as a major component of quality of life and plays an important role in society and community wellbeing (Tweed and Sutherland, 2007). The loss or deterioration of heritage can seriously affect local and national communities for several reasons:

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Direct contact with cultural heritage enables history to come to life, and contact with culture inspires, humanizes, and enriches people, Alexander (n.d.) noted. Cultural items, he continues, contribute to the ‘spirit of place’. When a disaster occurs, the destruction of this ‘spirit of place’ can weaken a person’s sense of identification with a place and affect the determination to rebuild. On the contrary, a strong ‘spirit of place’ can inspire disaster survivors to overcome the obstructions they face due to the disaster and reconstruct not just their functional environments but also those that represent their heritage (Alexander, n.d.). The psychological impact on communities due to the loss of cultural heritage to which they are closely associated should not be underestimated. Local communities and individuals feel a socio-psychological need to see and feel that the familiar environments with which they identify are not totally wiped out (Wijeratne in ICOMOS, 2008).
Milko Morichetti, an Italian art restorer, expresses this sense of identification as follows:
“Without the culture that connects us to our territory, we lose our identity. There may not be many famous artists or famous monuments here, but before anything, Italians feel proud of the culture that comes from their own towns, their own regions. And when we restore a church or a museum, it gives us hope. This is not just about preserving museum culture. For us, it’s about a return to normalcy” (Medina, 2009)
Moreover, during the post-disaster and post-conflict phase, heritage landmarks and the continuation of traditional cultural practices may contribute to the recovery of a community and help vulnerable people recover a sense of dignity and empowerment (UNESCO website).

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The historic built environment not only provides a city with character and a sense of identification for local communities, it can also boost the local economy and create jobs. Cultural heritage is repeatedly identified in both academic literature and policy documents and by regional and national governments as an economic source that can provide employment and realize profit and local development (Loulanski, 2006). Heritage and its preservation have long been regarded as oppositional to economic development (it is either historic preservation or economic growth) but they are increasingly seen as effective partners in development, as Loulanski (2006, p.56) argues. By investing in cultural attractions and infrastructure, cities seek to secure a niche position on the international tourism map. Tourism also represents an important source of financial resources for the preservation and restoration of the heritage (Russo and van der Borg, 2002), including traditional crafts, practices, skills and knowledge. It is for instance noted that in Europe, heritage is vital to the competitiveness of tourism, which is valued at 586 billion euros per annum and employs 9.7 million people (Jigyasu et al., 2013).
Moreover, cultural heritage attracts investments and promotes locally based jobs related to a wide range of activities such as tourism, conservation, construction, arts, and the production of crafts. It is therefore also a powerful asset for inclusive economic development (Jigyasu et al., 2013).
Disasters therefore not only cause material damage to heritage sites but they may also severely affect the livelihoods and the incomes generated through cultural heritage.

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Heritage can play an important role in reducing a disaster’s impact on people’s lives, properties and livelihoods (IFRC, 2014).
Cultural heritage in both its tangible and intangible forms may serve as a factor contributing to the survival of communities from disasters, both psychologically and materially. Traditional knowledge systems embedded in cultural heritage can play a substantial role in DRR (Jigyasu et al., 2013). Disaster risk may for example be reduced through traditional knowledge associated with environmental management and building techniques (IFRC, 2014). Cities, their identity and building techniques are for a great deal influenced by their environment and the threat of hazards. People adapt the built environment to adjust to living with risks in places where they are frequently exposed to hazards. These patterns become embedded in cultures over time (Moore, 1964 in IFRC 2014, p. 124).

This accommodation is reflected in the design of buildings and the materials and construction techniques. Heavy earthquakes in Southern Europe have for instance spurred major changes in architectural design and practice on several occasions (Buforn et al., 2004 in Bankoff, 2015).

In Dordrecht, the Netherlands, so called flood board are positioned in flood prone streets to prevent the water from entering shops and houses.
Moreover, traditional knowledge developed over time, enables communities in risk prone areas to recognize changes in the atmosphere, or the behaviour of flora and fauna, and prepare themselves (Jigyasu et al., 2013).‘’Protecting heritage from disasters is, therefore, not a luxury, but a fundamental consideration to be given priority together with other humanitarian concerns (…)’’ (IFRC, 2014, p. 123).

From the above, the following points are distinguished that may harness the strength of culture as a tool to reduce disaster risk (see also Jigyasu et al., 2013).

  • Draw on traditional knowledge and blend scientific knowledge and technological advances with capacities and resources already available at local level
  • Draw on traditional building techniques and locally available material as to inform modern day practice

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Cultural heritage is often concentrated in urban areas where trading and business activities have spurred the production of different displays of religious, civic, and private creativity. Such cities are often located in disaster prone areas, for example in coastal areas or alongside rivers or close to fault lines, and therefore vulnerable to natural disaster (Taboroff in Kreimer et al., 2003).

When disaster strikes, the loss of cultural heritage causes a wide range of destructions. Well known examples are the Italian city of L’Aquila where the earthquake of April 6, 2009 caused the destruction of many of the city’s historical and monumental heritage. Amongst others, several churches, the city’s oldest gate built in 1548, and the National Museum of Abruzzo, housed in a 16th century castle, have collapsed and/or are too unstable to enter. Another EDUCEN case study, the Italian region of Umbria, a landlocked region in the centre of Italy, has been hit hard by a series of earthquakes in August and October 2016. Damage to cultural heritage has been severe. In Norcia, one of the affected towns, the Basilica of St Benedict dating back to the XIV century, survived the August shock but the force of the October earthquake proved too powerful, and caused the church to collapse.

In Istanbul, the likelihood of a devastating earthquake is estimated at 62% within the next 30 years. Istanbul is not only the financial, commercial and industrial centre of Turkey, producing 56.6% of the nation’s export, but is also the cultural cross-roads of eastern and western heritage. The city has the highest number of museums of the country and hosts some of the most important monuments of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires (Johnnides, 2010).

Despite the serious nature and consequences of the destruction or damage of cultural heritage, the number of heritage properties that have developed a proper DRR plan is surprisingly low (UNESCO 2010). Nevertheless, the last decades have seen several initiatives at international and regional levels in the field of cultural heritage and DRR. These initiatives aim on the one hand to introduce DRR into heritage protection and management, and on the other to intensify and mainstream heritage concerns in larger DRR initiatives (Jigyasu et al., 2013).
A major challenge for the protection and preservation of cultural heritage is the fact that it is managed through a very diverse set of ownership or management arrangements, including among others private foundations and national and local governments. To reduce the risk to cultural heritage, heritage managers have to collaborate with disaster management authorities, universities, NGOs, political leaders at national and local level, the private sector, and the public.

The commitment of local governments, in particular mayors, is also vital to the protection of cultural heritage and DRR. In 2012, mayors from cities throughout Europe adopted the ‘Venice Declaration on building resilience at the local level towards protected cultural heritage and climate change adaptation strategies’. Fostering partnerships between these different actors and that protect and draw on cultural heritage- on international, regional, and local level- for DRR is therefore vital.

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As explained above, disasters often severely damage the built environment and in it immovable tangible cultural heritage. Individual buildings, groups of buildings, whole neighbourhoods and settlements of historic or vernacular (traditional) character, under preservation status or not, are damaged at various degrees or even collapse. It then becomes a major issue to decide what to keep from what existed before the disaster and at what price in terms of resources, money and time.

Difficult trade-offs present themselves in a time when pressures to the response mechanism are severe and often overwhelming. Should all buildings deemed to be dangerous be demolished as soon as possible and what procedures should be followed? Should owners of dangerous historic buildings be allowed to proceed with engineering interventions for removing dangerous elements or even for the demolition of the dangerous building? In case of listed historic buildings that are deemed damaged beyond repair, should protection of heritage be considered to prevail over protection of lives? Apart from historic buildings and monuments, what should be done with damaged (in some cases damaged beyond repair) traditional buildings and neighbourhoods that are not listed as monuments to be preserved? How long should recovery be delayed in order to protect tangible cultural heritage either already listed or not? Who should deal with such trade-offs and make decisions and how should this be arranged?

Especially in earthquake disasters, damaged buildings can be dangerous for people, for instance during aftershocks. Even more, people feel threatened by buildings; old buildings are often seen as dangerous without exception. In these conditions, preservation of existing buildings and neighbourhoods appears to be a luxury at best and an unnecessary present threat and future risk at worst. In the midst of emergencies and urgent needs, it takes a long term outlook to see the significance of heritage for future quality of life and sustainable development.

Saving historic and vernacular buildings after the Konitsa, N. Greece, earthquake disaster
Konitsa is a remote town in Northern Greece. In the ‘90s, it was a town of about 5,000 people mainly living on agriculture and services. Parts of the town and many buildings were of a vernacular form. There were also numerous listed monuments and historic buildings.
In 1996, Konitsa suffered an earthquake disaster. A first destructive earthquake caused severe damage to the building stock and great fear to the people. Yet, it was the main shock a week later that caused devastation and panic. The population did not have previous earthquake experience.
After the devastation, the population and the Municipality put pressure for the demolition of all old damaged buildings. Even buildings under preservation were at risk from demolition in haste. A trusted central government agency responsible for earthquake protection intervened and acted as consultant to the Municipality, advocating for the protection of vernacular and historic buildings and for preservation of the image of the place. Furthermore, the previous good practice of the city of Kalamata, in Southern Greece, in preserving cultural heritage after the earthquake disaster of 1986, about ten years earlier, was communicated to the Mayor of Konitsa via informal networking among Mayors. In the heart of the emergency, the attitude of the Municipality shifted towards preserving the identity and the vernacular character of the city and with it the stance of the population.
As a result, Konitsa preserved its vernacular and historic identity which together with its rich natural resources has now become a tourism asset. (Dandoulaki 2010)

Every disaster is unique in its socioeconomic, historic and geographical context. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription towards the protection of cultural heritage in a disaster. There are some commonalities in observed positive cases, though. In societies and areas with disaster experience, the knowledge that the disaster is not the end but a phase, assists in maintaining a long term view. In such cases, the city and the society realise more that they will have a future and that the foundations of this future lay in post-disaster decisions. If there is no local disaster experience, consultancy and know-how by trusted knowledgeable external agencies can be very helpful (see the example of Konitsa, Greece). What counts more, though, is the attitude of the devastated society towards culture and cultural heritage, history and continuity. Perception of cultural heritage and its value is different in different societies, so is the meaning of preservation of cultural heritage (Heritage Council of Victoria, 2014. HLF, 2015).

Activities for saving historic and vernacular buildings, groups of buildings, neighbourhoods and settlements cannot be postponed for long, beyond the emergency phase or some elements to be preserved will be ruined or even demolished in the chaos and panic of post-disaster situation. During the emergency phase (typically the first 72 hours after the disaster) cultural heritage is under a range of new risks such as (UNESCO 2010, p. 41):

  • Theft of fragments or movable objects of the property.
  • In case of flooding, contamination through pollution and mould growth.
  • Risks arising from the surrounding environment or habitat.
  • Insensitive actions by relief agencies or by volunteers due to lack of awareness; for example pulling down damaged structures or causing damage from water used for extinguishing fires.
  • Risks by inappropriate damage assessment of heritage.
  • Confusion and delays due to lack of coordination and preparedness.

Salvation and preservation of cultural heritage should therefore start as early as possible after the disaster.
Emergency intervention measures of technical and non-technical character should be taken promptly. Technical measures include special damage assessments, documentation of the building and its condition (photos, drawings, reports etc.), emergency propping, removal and safe storage of significant elements of the building, emergency repairs. Non-technical measures refer to emergency planning concerning cultural heritage salvation, the deployment of special emergency response teams with clear roles and responsibilities for each member and equipped with safety equipment and appropriate material resources. It is also essential to have built complementary pre-disaster capacity and to have initiated educational and communication actions. No matter how well prepared, it should be expected that existing planning, preparedness, as well as knowledge and knowhow will be challenged by unexpected post-disaster circumstances.
At any case, pre-disaster awareness of the significance of cultural heritage pays off during the pressing emergency phase and also, having in place a strategy for the preservation of cultural heritage including institutions and legislation, as well as inventories and documentation of historic buildings and their contents. Furthermore, it would be greatly advantageous to already have a disaster governance structure in place that integrates the cultural heritage community.

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Authors: Helena de Jong, Anne van Tilborg
Remembering hazardous events has important value to communities. Memories of previous disasters not only inform people’s knowledge of their environment and vulnerability, it also influences their interpretation of risk and their response to future disaster. Memories of disaster may be expressed in public life in different forms, ranging from memorial plaques to myths. Over time, these manifestations of memory of disaster provide communities with the knowledge, practices and techniques to survive in a particular environment, and enable them to make sense of a disaster in recovery phase.
Memories play an important role in determining the way people respond to disaster risk, engage in disaster management practices and accept disaster relief in an emergency situation. It is therefore vital that response agencies become aware of, and accept the different logics and rationalities that people rely on when faced with disaster.
A valuable concept in this regard is ‘cultural memory’. Cultural memory ensures that meanings and interpretations of disasters are recorded and handed down from generation to generation. It provides a means by which following generations can understand, contextualize, prepare for, and recover from catastrophes.
But wat is cultural memory? When does memory become ‘cultural’?

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When does memory become ‘cultural’? To answer this question it is helpful to make a distinction between collective memory, sometimes also referred to as social short-term memory, and cultural memory, also known as social long-term memory. Collective memory is based on oral tradition, shared by the group, often the family, and tends to disappear with the death of the last eyewitness of the event. Cultural memory goes further back and is understood as a social long-term memory based (at least in part) on written and material sources (Pfister et al., 2010). By contrast, cultural memory needs to be underpinned with documents such as newspapers, archives, pictures, and monuments (Pfister, 2011). Besides texts, images and rituals, Assmann argues that cultural memory may also exist in the form of narratives, songs, dances, rituals, masks, and symbols. For cultural memory to materialize, communities need to come together on certain occasions, for instance through a joint celebration (Assmann, 2008 p. 109-118). Thus, whereas collective memory fades with the death of the last eyewitness, cultural memory lasts for generations.
Cultural memory is not about how the past is scientifically investigated, but refers to how we remember the past, and how we (re-)interpret certain events. This explains why it is called memory and not knowledge about the past (Assmann, 2008). Moreover, processes of remembering are selective, and subject to emotions, moralities, politics and historical -many times unequal- social relations (Ullberg, 2014 p. 3). In brief, cultural memory of disaster encompasses how “catastrophic events” are absorbed into history (Alexander, 2000). It reveals how communities adapt their cultural reservoirs over time in light of disastrous events.

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Cultural memory may be expressed in many different forms. It is manifested in practices and structures as diverse as storytelling, small talk, myths, official discourses, monuments, rituals, landmarks, and arts. A distinction can be made between tangible and intangible cultural memory.

Tangible cultural memory

Tangible cultural memory refers to the ‘touchable’ or visible forms of cultural memory. Memory of past disaster can for example be materialized through mnemonic tools such as museums, archives and memorials (Ullberg, 2014). This tangible form of cultural memory of disaster can also be found in Dordrecht, a city in the southwest of the Netherlands that experienced flooding disasters in 1421 and 1953. A clear example of tangible cultural memory of the 1421 flood can be found in the form of a monument in the city centre of Dordrecht. The monument is an inscription on the wall which states in Dutch:
‘’t land en water dat men hier ziet, Waren 72 parochien , na s’ kronyks bediet; Geinundeert door ’t water krachtig, In ’t jaar 1421 waarachtig’’
The text refers to the supposedly 72 villages that have been ruined by the water.
Cultural memory of the 1953 flood is also present in the city. At several locations high water marks can be found on walls of public and private buildings, which show how high the water got in 1953. Such marks serve as a way to remember and compare the frequency and severity of floods over time. Another noticeable form of tangible cultural memory are the 40 photos on street corners throughout the city that portray the same street just after the flooding of 1953.

The Museum of the City of Volos (Greece) enhances cultural memory of historical events in the city’s history, including the earthquake disasters of the 1950s. However, it is not within the museum’s purposes to advance disaster risk awareness. EDUCEN makes an effort to bridge the gap between knowle- dge about the history and culture of the city, past disasters included, and trig- gering awareness and action towards disaster risk awareness and protection. Therefore, the project acted as mediator between the Museum of the City of Volos and the Earthquake Planning and Protection Organisation of Greece (EPPO).Moreover, EDUCEN pushed for the development of tools to advance visitors’ disaster awareness and to inspire taking measures towards disaster protection at an individual, family and school level. EDUCEN, in agreement with the Museum and EPPO, opted for the development of tools speci cally directed at teenagers who were considered as one of the most challenging group of visitors.

Another well-known form of tangible cultural memory are memorials. Memorials in the public sphere are well suited to recall the memory of historical disastrous events. They serve as a place to call to mind what happened. Frequently, they also are a location where people gather in annual commemorative events. Memorials can take a variety of forms. The Katrina National Memorial Park for example commemorates the damage done to by hurricane Katrina to the city of New Orleans in 2005. The curving lines in the design of the park suggest the traditional spiral shape of a hurricane
Marks on public buildings are also frequently seen manifestation of tangible cultural memory on disaster. High water marks carved on the walls of public or private buildings for example present a typical form of cultural memory. They serve as a way to remember and compare the frequency and severity of floods over time. High water marks are for example visible in the wall of the “Gartenhaus” situated on the bank of the Tauber River in Southern Germany (Pfister, 2010 p.9). A total of 24 marks are visible on the wall, serving as a point of comparison for each subsequent flood.
Another form of cultural memory on disaster can be found in commemorative plaques which often serve as remembrance of what happened and the lives that were lost. These commemorative plaques sometimes also contain poems. Poems present another form in which cultural memory on disasters comes to the fore. An example of an expression of cultural memory in the form of poetry can be found below. It is documented for the flood of the Drac River in Grenoble in France, 1733. The poem was published two months after the event.

The ground vanishes, the mountains descend;
Observably, brooks and rivers rise;
Grenoble and its surroundings are below a real sea;
Everything trembles, the cattle, the birds, and humans;
Grenoble, you are lost. The monster swallows you.
(Pfister, 2010 p.8)

Moreover, tangible cultural memory can be manifested in books, paintings, and photos, news clips and movies. As present-day disasters are more easily recorded through modern communication tools and social media, they are less prone to change over time (Erll, 2008). Media technologies and the circulation of media products nowadays play an important role in the transmission of cultural memory of disaster. Moreover, mass media construct narratives about disastrous events, thereby influencing how a disaster is remembered.

Museums can provide a good starting point for working with cultural memory of disaster. Education is considered one of the most important activities in learning to deal with disasters. Museums are commonly used by the public and therefore particularly well suited to teach people on disaster. Particularly well suited for cultural memory of disaster are museums dedicated to specific disastrous events, or museums with sections dedicated to such an event. Such museums enable their visitors to rediscover the experiences of previous generations in their area and can be used to encourage problem-based learning and interactive teaching. Museums’ strength is that they can be both entertaining and educational.
An example of a museum that uses cultural memory to enhance disaster risk awareness is the Dutch Watersnoodmuseum which has as a mission to ‘’remember, learn, and look ahead’’. The exposition has a strong focus on education, awareness raising, and information and tries to link the experiences from 1953 to current insights on water policies and practice ( In disaster museums, using audio, visual, virtual, and physical activities such as simulations and virtual tours are suitable to enhance cultural memory of disaster and increase current disaster risk awareness.
In the Educen project the Museum of the City of Volos was involved to bridge the gap between knowledge about the history and culture of the city, past disasters included, and triggering awareness and action towards disaster risk reduction. In its quest to do so, the project acted as mediator between the Museum of the City of Volos and Earthquake Planning and Protection Organisation of Greece (EPPO).How:

  • Explore whether there are museums on previous disaster in the area
  • Find out what collections on previous disaster they have
  • Are they interested in including interactive elements?
  • Are they open to using a serious game and/or a walking tour on cultural memory (see other tools in this section)
  • Provide them with the EDUCEN information on organizing a walking tour and serious game on cultural memory

Intangible cultural memory

Intangible cultural memory refers to the less visible manifestations of cultural memory such as stories, myths, rituals and ceremonies, festive events and performing arts such as music and theatre. Telling stories is a well-known example of intangible cultural memory of disaster. There are many stories and myths that attempt to explain or come to terms with natural disasters. An example of how a narrative keeps the memories of the 1421 flood and its consequences alive can be found in the EDUCEN case study city of Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
In several Dutch museums, such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Hof van Nederland museum in Dordrecht, a story is told on a child named Beatrix de Rijke (Beatrix the lucky one) who survived the flood of 1421 in the Netherlands. The story goes that her cradle miraculously floated on the water because a cat kept the cradle in balance. When the crib washed ashore in Dordrecht, the municipality decided to take care of the costs of the orphan girl. The story of Beatrix was first published by the city historian Matthijs Balen in his 1677 Description of the City of Dordrecht. However, an image of the cradle with the cat can already be found as one of the details on a panorama of the flood by the Master of the St Elisabeth Panels, displayed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
After a disaster, communities feel the need to make sense of what happened and search for answers- supernatural, religious, or scientific- to explain the event, Cashman and Cronin (2008) note. In an attempt to come to terms with a disastrous event, existing cosmological, ancestral, or scientific frameworks may be adapted and transformed into stories that offer myth-like explanations. The narratives often contain a merger of metaphors, heroic exploits, rumours and scientific explanations and commonly emphasize the event as the responsibility of a higher power, often a god, monster, giant, or ancestor (Cashman and Cronin, 2008).
Examples from Iceland and Japan illustrate how such narratives continue to play a role in modern communities.
In Iceland, the consequences of an volcanic eruption are kept alive through narratives, especially in rural communities, where heroic stories about narrow escapes and bravery during an eruption have been passed on to the younger generation (Johannesdottir and Gisladottir, 2010 p. 414). Research by Johannesdottir and Gisladottir on people’s perceptions of Katla, a sub-glacial volcano in southern Iceland, found that several legends and myths exist. The respondents in their research repeatedly mentioned two legends, the legend of Krukkur and the legend of Katla. The legend of Krukkur is about prophet from the middle ages, Krukkur, who had predicted that if the outburst flood of Katla had reached a certain place, the eruption of Katla would cease and change its starting place and erupt at sea. In 1918, the flood reached the specific place and in 1963 and 1973 two huge eruptions occurred at sea not far from Katla. Some residents then indicated that the predictions of Krukkur had proven valid and that Katla would not erupt again. In the legend of Katla, respondents refer to Katla as a female. This has its roots in a legend from the Middle Ages about a female who threw herself into a crater after a conflict with residents in the community. Soon after, there was an eruption which was seen as revenge of Katla. An eruption of Katla is seen as ‘’the return of Katla’’. In the affected communities, ‘’strong oral traditions and storytelling serves as a constant reminder of the hazardous environment they live in’’, Johannesdottir and Gisladottir (2010 p. 418) argue.
Another example of intangible cultural memory in this form can be found in the Japanese stories on earthquakes. According to a popular myth, the tremors of the earth are caused by restless catfish (or Namazu in Japanese) underneath the earth’s surface (Bestor, 2013). Namazu is one of the yo-kai or ‘’monster’’ creatures of Japanese mythology that have been seen as causing misfortune or disasters. Namazu are also found in printed form, on posters or pamphlets. The first known Namazu prints date from shortly after the Edo (modern Tokyo) earthquake of 1855. Nowadays, Namazu prints can also be found on earthquake safety posters (Reitherman, 2013).
Besides stories, folksongs commemorating disasters have a long tradition. The songs often share certain elements like recounting of the details of the event and the suffering of victims and survivors, and serve a common function in helping to heal society (Carr, 2004). Songs also illustrate the psychological impact of disastrous events, often illustrating the relationship between the hazard and the community (Cashman and Cronin, 2008).
Another example of intangible cultural memory are rituals and events like public commemorative silence. These (often national) commemorative events have become an important part of the history and identity of past and present communities throughout the world (Eyre, 2007). ‘’Event specific public activities such as memorials provide a communal forum for the outpouring of intense emotions, public recognition of the collective loss, and the reassurance that the group, while damaged, continues (Hawdon and Ryan, 2011 p.1368). Such rituals and events are often performed on disaster anniversaries and may for example include the laying of wreaths, lighting candles, or reading the names of the diseased.
The following table provides a non-exhaustive list of different forms of tangible and intangible cultural memory of disaster.

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Cultural memory of disaster, tangible and intangible, on disasters serves several purposes for communities.
First, cultural memory functions as a knowledge repository of historical experiences. Cultural memory in the form of a monument or oral traditions can provide communities with crucial information on, for example, precursory signs of the hazard, descriptions of the event –including specific vulnerable locations, directions, timing and duration, impact on the local population, and pre- and post-hazard changes in the landscape. It may furthermore provide information on community hazard mitigation, such as past areas of danger, safe areas, and evacuation routes. The research of Johannesdottir and Gisladottir (2010) on the villages of Alftaver and Vik, Iceland, for example revealed that most residents had first-hand knowledge on the outburst of volcano and the risk of a tsunami from former residents in the area. They acquired their knowledge from their ancestors who experienced outbursts in 1860, 1823 and 1918 (Johannesdottir and Gisladottir, 2010).
Specific knowledge on the presence of hazards has proven extremely valuable in the case of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean where different ethnic groups of Aceh, Indonesia were hit unfairly: whereas about 170,000 Acehnese and Minangkabau people died, in the same region, only 44 Simeulue people passed away. The research shows that the Simeulue detected the tsunami very early due to their knowledge of the environment which enabled them to escape to the mountains. Research found that their knowledge on tsunamis is rooted in oral accounts of an event that occurred in 1907 killing between 400 and 1800 people. About 85% of the surveyed population said they were aware of this event, which they learned from their parents and grandparents. Its precursory signs such as sea withdrawal had been remembered and passed down from generation to generation. After the earthquake people went to check if the sea was withdrawing, spurring immediate evacuation. In this case, oral traditions on tsunamis documented the experience of past generations and provided a means through which following generations understood what was happening (Gaillard et al., 2008).
Second, cultural memory of disaster provides communities with interpretations and response plans (Schenk, 2015). This has important implications for the ways people explain an event and react to it. When remembered, memorialized and compared, experiences of disasters may for example inspire the invention of social practices and techniques in dealing with recurrent hazards. As stated by Engel et al. (2014), ‘’communities living in hazard-ridden or disaster-prone areas develop an array of coping mechanisms as well as more deeply embedded practices to deal with threats and opportunities their environments encompass (…)’’. ‘’Experiencing recurrent disaster pushes communities to develop cultural strategies and practices to deal with these adverse events and ensure increasing levels of resilience’’. Historical records and architecture have provided evidence of cultural adaptations to environmental threats (See also Bankoff, 2011).
Although Dordrecht was among the areas that narrowly escaped the destroying impact of the flood, several forms of cultural memory on the flood can be found in the city. Adaptation to physical hazards posed by the water has led to a range of coping mechanisms, including engineering solutions such as the well-known Delta Works. Moreover, the risk of flooding is seen in the adaptation of houses in risk-prone areas and the use of flood boards in the main street of the city. Examples of architectural adaptation can also be found in the parishes of Itteren and Borgharen in the south of the Netherlands. In Itteren, the majority of houses have built their first floors as high as, or higher than, the highest flood levels reached before the house was built (Velotti et al., 2011). This enables them to stay in their houses when the parish is flooded and keeps most of their private goods safe from the water (Engel et al., 2014). Memory thus has an instrumental value to communities as it spurs the development of problem-solving tools, serving as a community education tool, that over time proves to be valuable to surviving in a particular environment (see Schein 1999, p. 43, Engel et al., 2014).
Third, cultural memory on disasters provides people with an explanation. Psychological studies on the aftermath on disastrous events have shown that trauma can shake the foundations of a person’s faith and generate a search for answers- may they be supernatural, religious, or scientific. An important component of community resilience to hazards is accepting the event. Such acceptance may be realized through the adaptation of existing cosmological, ancestral, or scientific frameworks, but may also be done through creative and artistic expressions or myth-like explanations. Simple explanations, whether or not in the form of myths or superstitions, enable communities to make sense of the experience (Taylor, 1999). When such explanations are not available, psychological recovery from a disastrous event may be hindered. Besides the positive aspects of cultural memory it is important to note that the search for explanations can also misinform behaviour of communities or hinder mitigation measures of outsiders. Oral traditions, myths or other explanations for an event that are transmitted effectively may for example replace ‘’rational calculation’’ in a community’s response to disastrous events (Paine, 2002). Moreover, people may also use cultural and historical explanations to minimize fears and to live a normal life, increasing their vulnerability. Such explanations may very well differ from scientific explanations and if not well understood, hinder adequate disaster response of disaster risk managers as we will see below.

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The influence of cultural memory on people’s knowledge, behaviour, and ability to find explanations and make sense of past disaster has important consequences for disaster risk management practice. For disaster managers this entails that communities sometimes might not respond the way them expect them to behave. As stated by Dash and Gladwin (2007 p.70) ‘’Although emergency managers and others assume that people will act rationally- hear a warning, realize the danger conveyed in that warning, and leave when told to do so (because the cost of staying outweighs the benefit)- more often than not, many of those at greatest risk choose not to take protective measures each time a warning is given.’’ People’s protective response to warnings is a consequence of the perceptions they have. Most of the time, people evacuate and take shelter only when they find themselves being in imminent danger and if they perceive that taking action is appropriate considering the threat (Mileti and Peek, 2000).

Risk perceptions often rely on intuitive risk judgements and beliefs rather than on rational deliberations, and therefore may considerably differ from risk assessments by experts. As Alexander argues ‘’decisions about whether to mitigate a natural hazard are often not a function of how dangerous the hazard is in absolute or objective terms but how dangerous it is perceived to be’’ (2000 p.73). A frequently noted factor as shaping risk perception of natural hazards is previous experience with, and memories of previous hazards. Cultural memory of disaster may thus influence risk perception. In the case of the Mulde river in Germany, no one seemed to have anticipated that the river could rise as high as it did in 2002. Most of the affected people had previous experience with floods but because they thought they understood the river and its variations, they could not envisage the 2002 flood (Kuhlicke et al., 2011). Memories and previous experience with hazards in the above cases led to inaccurate perceptions of risk. Such flawed perceptions could result in a lack of preparation and mitigation measures, and damage and victims that could have been prevented.

Cultural memory plays an important role in determining the way people respond to disaster risk, engage in disaster management practices and accept disaster relief in an emergency situation. Warning information and activities of disaster risk managers are processed through the social and cultural lenses of communities which are constructed by their particular cultural context, and amongst others, by their own experience, knowledge, and explanations of disaster. It is therefore vital that response agencies become aware of, and accept the different logics and rationalities that people rely on in the face of risk. The presence of monuments, museums, high-water marks, and stories and myths incorporated in collective long-term memory of communities may present important clues for community perceptions and behaviour to disaster risk managers.
Having disaster risk management informed by cultural memory and its potential impact may help to reduce misunderstandings and inefficiencies and improve communication and interaction between disaster managers and local communities.

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