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Disaster management and cultural heritage:
An investigation of knowledge and perceptions of
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Brigade Captains

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2006-1

Disaster management and cultural heritage:
An investigation of knowledge and perceptions of
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Brigade Captains

Kristy Graham, School of Environmental and Information Sciences, Charles Sturt University, P.O. Box 789, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia. E-mail: kgraham@postoffice.csu.edu.au
Dirk HR Spennemann, School of Environmental Sciences and Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O. Box 789, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia. E-mail: dspennemann@csu.edu.au
Keywords: Disaster Management, Heritage Protection, Rural Fire Service, Attitudinal Barriers, Education

Kristy Graham

School of Environmental and Information Sciences,
Charles Sturt University,
P.O. Box 789, Albury,
NSW 2640,

Dirk HR Spennemann

School of Environmental Sciences and Institute of Land, Water and Society,
Charles Sturt University,
P.O. Box 789, Albury,
NSW 2640,



The protection of life and property will always be the priority in any disaster situation. At the same time other considerations often fall by the way side and short-term decisions are made that have irreparable implications on environmental and cultural heritage issues. Anecdotal information and pilot studies suggested that there are a number of barriers that limit disaster planning for cultural heritage resources. In an attempt to provide empirical evidence of these barriers a postal survey was distributed to Rural Fire Service Brigade Captains throughout New South Wales (Australia). The results highlight limited understanding of cultural heritage issues, limited exposure to dealing with such resources in disaster situations and limited communication between heritage and disaster management agencies.

Disaster management and cultural heritage:
An investigation of knowledge and perceptions of
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Brigade Captains


The multi-disciplinary nature of natural disasters is recognised as not only a study of science but also as a field of social science (Blong 1997; Bogard 1994; Chapman 1999; Dolan 1995; Kates 1994; Quarantelli 1994; Waugh 2000; White 1994). Cultural heritage forms part of our social environment and it is inherently linked to our identity (Australian Heritage Commission 1999; Davison and McConville 1991; Marquis-Kyle and Walker 1996; Latreille et al 1982; Pearson and Sullivan 1995). While the preservation of life and property will always be the priority in any disaster situation, other 'assets', such as the preservation of cultural heritage places has also become significant elements in disaster management (Spennemann 1996). Studies have found that the preservation of heritage items can assist communities in the recovery from these events (Carment 1996; Ellsmore 1992; Henry 1991; Hollow and Spennemann 2001; MacIntyre 2000; Nelson 1991; Read 1996; Strong 2000; Wells 1993).

Attempts at investigating disaster management and the impacts on cultural heritage sites has largely focused on the physical impacts and their mitigation (cf. Allen et al 1991; Bear 1991; Bonneville et al 1991; Cox 1992; Croci 2000, 2001; Donaldson 1998; Spennemann and Macar 1999). The concern for proactive disaster planning for cultural heritage resources has received international attention, and a result some very effective and generic guidelines have been developed (James 1993; Nelson 1991; Tweedy 2000; Roy 2001; Stovel 1998). Some of these have been developed to provide some site specific examples (Eck 2000; Estes 2000; Croci 2000; McLane and Wust 2000).

Yet, when it comes to an actual disaster event, many of these principle are not applied, guidelines not followed with the heritage places suffering as a result. A systematic review suggests that a number of barriers, both and administrative and perceptional, exist for disaster planning for cultural heritage. To date this is largely based on anecdotal evidence. Understanding these barriers, however, is essential in developing effective disaster planing for cultural heritage resources.

In 2001 a postal survey was conducted to investigate the knowledge and perceptions of the interface between cultural heritage and disaster management. This research was designed to provide empirical evidence of the current range of attitudinal barriers towards disaster planning for cultural heritage. This gap in understanding has well been acknowledged in the literature (Spennemann 1996; 1998a; 1999a; 1999b; Spennemann and Look 1998b; Stovel 1998), however this is the first attempt to quantify the extent of these issues. This has enabled a cross sectional view of the current range of attitudes to be compiled. The focus of this study will be on the responses of Brigade Captains from the Rural Fire Service in Australia. Other samples assessed in the study were the Local Controllers of the State Emergency Service (Graham & Spennemann 2006a) and heritage managers employed by the local governments (Graham & Spennemann 2006b). Although the results of the study are specific to Australia, the findings are relevant to most industrialised nations.

Cultural heritage and natural disasters
The impacts of natural disasters are usually severe and immediate and often irreparable. Cultural heritage places and items are particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters as they are finite, scarce, valuable and non-renewable (Spennemann 1998c). Much has been written on the conservation of heritage items and its protection from slow acting decay agents such as raising damp, white ants and structural destruction. Only recently have we seen this same development in literature regarding the management of the impacts of natural disasters for cultural heritage. Prior to this the focus tended to be on the management of institutionalised resources in disaster situations, such as museum collection, archives and libraries (Kidd 1998; MacIntrye 2000; National Library of Australia 2001; Lyall 1993; Illinois State University Library n.d.).

The interest in the subject is of course exemplified after each disaster in which we see a loss of cultural heritage resources. In Australia such situations are demonstrated by disasters such as Cyclone Tracy 1974 (Carment 1996; Walker 1980, Wilkins 1980), and the Newcastle Earthquake 1989 (Henry 1991; Dean-Jones et al 1980; Wells 1993). The anecdotal information from these situations indicates that emergency managers were unaware of the specific needs of cultural heritage resources in these natural disaster situations. The same was also evident for heritage managers, with little knowledge of the impacts of natural disasters on cultural heritage resources (Spennemann 1999a, 1999b; Look and Spennemann 2000; 2001; Stovel 1998).

In the past decade volumes of information were produced about the impacts of natural disasters on cultural heritage as well on mitigation options in various disaster events such as earthquakes (Collins 1991; Langenbach 2001; Sullivan 2001; Sykora et al 1993; Wight et al 1992), floods (Baldrica 1998; Bucher 1994; McLane and Wust 2000), bushfires (Gleeson and Jones 2000; Spennemann 1999a ; Traylor et al 1990), tornadoes (Reed 2000), cyclones/typhoons/hurricanes (Bird 1992; Nelson 1991; Alderstein 1990; Frey 1980; Look 1991; Spennemann 1991; Walker 1980; Wilkins 1980), cyclonic surges (Spennemann 1998), landslides (Hardfield 2001), terrorist attacks (Osborne 1998; 2000) and salinity (Spennemann 1997; 2001; Spennemann and Macar 1999). Even seemingly slow-acting events such as drought have the potential to expose archaeological sites which would normally be overed by water or topsoil (O’Halloran 2000; O’Halloran and Spennemann 2002; Williams 1996; Toner 2001).

Although these studies document the disastrous effects of natural disasters on cultural heritage, there is a lack of clear policy and application especially in Australia. If our cultural heritage is fortunate enough to survive the physical impact of the disaster itself, it faces another threat: will it survive the decisions made during or after the disaster (Spennemann 1999a)? Documentation of several events has demonstrated that poor disaster management and recovery have actually increased the damage to irreplaceable resources (Craigo 1998; Karitos 1998; Traylor et al 1990). The effects of ill-considered management action can be devastating. There has been an acknowledgment of the need for disaster planing for cultural heritage, and some specific planning mechanisms developed (James 1993; Nelson 1991; Stovel 1998).

While it has been acknowledged that there is a need for disaster planning, there is a lack of application within Australia. Anecdotal information and a pilot study (Spennemann 1998b) suggest that a number of attitudinal barriers exist. The following study was designed to further investigate these attitudinal barriers.

The study
To examine the knowledge and perceptions of Australian disaster managers in towards cultural heritage in disaster situations, a self-administered postal survey was designed and distributed in April of 2001 Local Controllers of the State Emergency Service and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) of New South Wales. From the emergency management sector the study drew of on the experiences of volunteers which make up the backbone of the organisations and also provide local liaison and frontline response. The heritage managers of New South Wales Local Government Areas were given a self-administered postal survey to assess their under standing of natural disasters and how they would protect cultural heritage in disaster situations.

This paper will report on the knowledge and perceptions held by the RFS Brigade Captains, by far the largest group of disaster managers throughout the state. The findings relating to the other two sample populations are discussed elsewhere (Graham & Spennemann in press a; in press b).

Research methodology

To investigate the knowledge and perceptions towards disaster planning for cultural heritage, a self-administered postal survey was developed. The frame of reference for the development of the survey was the Total Design Method (Dillman 1978). Which was developed on the principles of social exchange theory, ie that an individual’s desire to complete an action is directly related to their analysis of the costs and benefits of doing so (Dillman 1978). This technique of developing and implementing postal surveys has been used very successfully and is a respected method in social research (Axford, Carter and Grunwald 1997; Dillmann 1991). A pre-test of the survey and initial comments strongly influenced the survey design. The survey length was kept to four pages (two sides printed front and back). Two styles of questioning writing were used in the survey. The Likert scale is an effective means of measuring attitudes (Mueller 1986; Neuman 2001; Babbie 2001). This involves structuring the questions on a scale which ranges from a positive to negative response, with a neutral middle value. The second style used was close-ended questions. This style simply involved the respondent ticking the appropriate box, which reflected their opinion.

Each participant received two separate mailings. The first consisted of a package containing a cover letter outlining the aims of the project and the value of their participation and a copy of the survey. Two weeks after the initial mail out Brigade Captains received a postcard. This postcard thanked those participants who had returned their survey and requested that those who had not done so, if they could please do so.

As with any methodology there are inherent weaknesses or limitations. Attitudes and values relating to cultural heritage values are two very intangible items, which are even more difficult to measure. It is acknowledged that the reliance on closed ended questions may not have facilitated the respondents the opportunity to freely express their views. To assist with this limitation respondents were encouraged to add qualitative comments in the spare space on the survey.

Accessing the sample
Fire Control Officers provided a list of Brigade Captains for their area. This allowed personalising the surveys. In some instances mailing information was provided to the researcher and compiled for the distribution of the survey. Other Fire Control Officers preferred to distribute the survey on the researchers behalf. Time provided by these Fire Control Officers was greatly appreciated, which meant that in cases where they distribute the surveys the cover letters could not be personalised.


Response rate
The overall response rate for the Rural Fire Service (RFS) was 44%. Although every effort was made to ensure correct mailing information was obtained, nine packages were returned due to incorrect addresses or the individual no longer resided at that address. Two individuals declined to participate. One as he had only been recently appointed Brigade Captain and did not feel he possessed the necessary experience to participate. Another declined as he was conducting his own research. Personalisation had a positive effect on the response rate, with 54.9% of responses (n=730) compared to 38.5% who received the survey through their Fire Control Officer (n=667).

Who are the RFS Brigade Captains?
As the RFS is predominantly a voluntary organisation it is instructive looking at the occupations of the Brigade Captains. The sample is very diverse, with almost half of the respondents being primary producers (48.4%). Other occupations, which were strongly represented in the sample were retires (22%) and tradesmen (12.6%)(n=512).

Respondents were asked to identify if they were a member of the State Emergency Service or one of the Heritage organisations (table 1). Almost one in five were also member of the State Emergency Service (18.1%) but only a very small number of participants indicated active involvement in historical or heritage organisations through membership to a Historical Society (2.1%) or the National Trust (0.9%).

Knowledge of natural disasters in their shire
As can be expected RFS Brigade Captains nominated fire related disasters as having occurred or likely to occur in their region (Figure 1). Respondents also nominated climatic events such as severe storms (87.2%), drought (81.0%), and flooding (46.6%). Clearly, these responses are strongly coloured by the personal experience of the respondents and the nature of events that were called out to assist. Confirming this, by comparison, salinity was identified by only 21.8% of respondents.

Figure 1: Natural disasters which RFS Brigade Captains (in %) nominated as
having occurred or were likely to occur within their shire.

What constitutes cultural heritage?
RFS Brigade Captains were presented with a list of heritage items and were asked to indicate which of them they regarded as heritage places (table 1). The second part of the table contains those additional items which respondents could nominate themselves. These have been grouped to reflect thematic elements within the data. European orientated heritage received the highest degree of recognition with historic houses (92.5%) followed by cemeteries (82.9%). Industrial heritage was poorly recognised (15.4%), as were power stations with 8.5%. Amongst the sites relating to Indigenous culture, RFS Brigade Captains recognised Aboriginal art sites (70.6%) ahead of Aboriginal occupation sites (55.2%). The conceptual framework represented in the answers shows a high recognition of popular perceptions of heritage (European buildings, cemeteries, Aboriginal art sites) while ethnic minority sites (eg Chinese market gardens) and industrial infrastructure sites are outside the familiarity envelope.

Table 1: Level of recognition for listed and nominated cultural heritage resources by RFS Brigade Captains
Listed on survey
n %
Historic houses  
Historic gardens  
Botanic gardens  
Aboriginal occupation sites  
Aboriginal art sites  
Chinese market gardens  
Industrial sites  
Power stations  
n %
Depends on selection criteria/recognition framework  
Rural landscapes/resources and farming practices  
Natural features/gardens  
Minority heritage  
Intangible heritage/associations/festivals  
Industrial/ land uses  
Ticked other but did not state  

Awareness of formal frameworks for cultural heritage
Government responsibility is distributed across three levels in Australia, heritage places are reflected across all three levels of management. The Commonwealth government deals with items of national significance. State government agencies are concerned with heritage protection at the state and local level through legislative frameworks implemented by various agencies (in NSW the NSW Heritage Office, the Department of Planning, and National Parks and Wildlife Service. The third consists of local government, where heritage of state and local significance is managed through local planning controls. In addition, there is the National Trust, a non-government agency that recognises and lists places of heritage significance. It has no legal power in the protection of places, but projects influence through its reputation.

RFS Brigade Captains were asked whether they were aware of the formal heritage recognition frameworks and whether they could quantify the number of places thus protected. The study showed that only a small percentage of the population were familiar with the formal frameworks for developed cultural heritage. The results indicate that 21.6% of RFS captains were unaware of the Local Environment Plan (LEP) which is used at the local level. State heritage frameworks were also poorly recognised with 22.2% of respondents indicating they had no idea of the number of sites listed for their local area, with 56.4% of respondents choosing not to answer the question. Similar results were also evident for the Register of the National Estate and the National Trust. Of the respondents 15.2% indicated that they were unaware of the number of sites listed under the Register of the National Estate and 64.0% did not respond to this question. Responses to the National Trust were similar, with 21.8% indicating that they did not know and 58.1% not responding.

This low recognition of formal frameworks for cultural heritage protection shows that the Brigade Captains were neither grained in the matter, nor were they closely involved in the protection of heritage places from natural disaster. Joint disaster response planning would have familiarised them with such concepts.

Table 2: Awareness of RFS Brigade Captains of heritage frameworks
  Heritage framework n %
Did not know   Local Environmental Plan  
State Heritage List  
Register of the National Estate  
National Trust  
Able to list the number of sites   Local Environmental Plan  
State Heritage List  
Register of the National Estate  
National Trust  
Non Response   Local Environmental Plan  
State Heritage List  
Register of the National Estate  
National Trust  

Perceptions of managerial and disaster threats to cultural heritage
The responses were scored from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) and mean scores as well as standard deviations were calculated. Common to all responses were fairly uniform standard deviations of the magnitude of approximately one full rank (with the notable exception of earthquakes).

RFS Brigade Captains were generally more aware of the threats which natural diasters pose to cultural heritage then the listed managerial issues (Figure 2). Those issues which respondents did not feel were of concern were decay (mean response 2.63), and recreation (mean 2.25). As would be expected RFS respondents identified bushfires as the most prominent natural disaster to pose a threat to cultural heritage resources (mean 4.35). Also acknowledged was the threat which severe storms pose to cultural resources with a mean response of 3.77. The threat that an earthquake could pose demonstrated a low level of concerned with a mean response of 1.84, possible due to the fact that such events are seemingly few and far between.

Figure 2: RFS Brigade Captains perceptions of managerial and natural disaster related threats to
cultural heritage (“In your opinion, to what extent do you see the following issues
as a threat to cultural heritage within your shire?”)

Perceived levels of concern of various stakeholder groups
RFS Brigade Captains regarded all the listed stakeholders as concerned for disaster management involving cultural heritage (Figure 3). Those specialising in heritage matters were perceived to be the most concerned with historical societies ranking first (mean 4.44), followed by local (mean 4.27) and state heritage planners (mean 4.06). Brigade Captains perceived their own organisation (RFS) to be concerned with disaster planning for cultural heritage resources with a mean response of 4.07, which was slightly higher than that for the SES (mean 3.94). Those in local government, on the other hand, were perceived to have low levels of concern for the issue: Elected council representatives scored a mean of 3.78, local council representatives only 3.73. The community as a whole was perceived to have the lowest level of concern (3.52).

Figure 3: Perceived levels of concern of various stakeholder groups
(“In your opinion, what do you believe are the attitudes of the following groups in your shire
to the potential threats to cultural heritage as a result of a natural disaster?”)

Experiences and training
Overall, RFS Brigade Captains felt that the protection of cultural heritage resources was important (mean 4.11). Yet only few members had been involved in natural disaster situations involving cultural heritage (mean 2.84), few had met the heritage officer for their shire and even fewer had been involved in training for such an event (mean 2.06). Respondents indicated a lack of knowledge of cultural heritage resources within their shire (mean 3.23) (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Experiences and training involving cultural heritage in natural disaster situations
(“Please respond to the following assertions in regards to your knowledge of cultural heritage within your shire”)

Disaster planning for cultural heritage
RFS respondents indicated that disaster management plans should be prepared for all cultural assets (mean 3.82), and not just for key heritage assets (mean 3.15). The large standard deviation (1.37), however, highlights a large degree of variation in perceptions. Brigade Captains also indicated strong support (mean 3.99) for the development of strategic plans to address specific approaches to heritage sites in natural disaster situations (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Responses by RFS Brigade Captains to assertions regarding disaster management

A large majority of RFS Brigade Captains (62%) nominated that the development of disaster management plans for cultural heritage resources, should be a combined approach of several agencies rather than by individual elements (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Agencies which RFS Brigade Captains (in %) would like to see involved in the
development of disaster management plans for cultural heritage (multiple responses possible).

Recovery operations for cultural heritage
Recovery operations are important phase in disaster planning for cultural heritage. State government bodies should be involved (51.3%) with assistance provided by Local council (29%), and the National Trust (27.5%). Brigade Captains felt that this responsibility should not lie with property owners (16.9%) or community groups (8.7%). There was a mixed response to the role of other emergency management agencies in recovery operations with 23.5% of Brigade Captains indicating that these agencies should be involved (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Agencies which RFS Brigade Captains (in %) felt should be involved in developing
disaster management plans for cultural heritage (multiple responses possible)

Perceived impacts of natural disasters and their effect on cultural values
Views expressed by Brigade Captains indicate that the loss of a small number of cultural heritage places does not impact on the overall integrity of the shire’s heritage (mean 3.74) (Figure 8). A smaller group perceived that it is more difficult to repair cultural heritage without the loss of significant cultural values (mean 2.91).

Figure 8: Responses by RFS Brigade Captains to assertions how natural disasters affect cultural values.

Communication between heritage managers and disaster managers
While there is a perceived need for communication of emergency and heritage managers to communicate regularly before and during a natural disaster (mean 3.76), there is currently little actual communication between the two (1.69 ) (Figure 9)

Figure 9: Responses by RFS Brigade Captains to assertions regarding
communications between emergency and heritage manager

Funding and disaster management
When it came to an assessment of the costs to society, Brigade Captains believed that the cost of developing and implementing disaster management plans for cultural heritage resources did not outweigh the loss of cultural heritage (mean 2.87) (Figure 10). They also indicated that that their organisation was inadequately funded to deal with natural disaster involving cultural resources (mean 2.25).

Figure 10: Responses by RFS Brigade Captains to assertions regarding funding issues
and disaster management for cultural heritage resources

Disaster management who's responsibility?
Respondents indicated uncertainty whether the protection of cultural heritage resources in natural disaster situations should be the responsibility of paid professionals (mean 3.00). An equal amount of uncertainty was demonstrated in relation to the role of volunteers (mean 3.02). Respondents were unaware of whom to contact if recognised cultural heritage sites were damaged in a natural disaster situation (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Responses by RFS Brigade Captains to assertions regarding the
responsibilities and disaster management for cultural heritage sites


A number of perceptions for disaster planning for NSW Rural Fire Service Brigade Captains were identified in the study. The following discussion raises a number of key findings and their relationship to the broader paradigms of disaster planning for cultural resources.

Knowledge of cultural heritage
Although there is a general awareness of cultural heritage resources, the study indicates that they had not been considered in the context of a disaster situation. For example the occurrence of flooding was acknowledged as a natural disaster which has occurred or is as likely to occur in the respondent’s area. When asked if they considered flooding as a threat to cultural heritage, the response indicated that they did not. The ability to protect cultural heritage during a natural diaster situation, is reliant on the ability to recognise it as such.

Those heritage items respondents were able to recognise as cultural heritage, reflected predominantly European values. Minority and industrial heritage received a much lower level of recognition. This indicates a need to educate the RFS Brigade captains about the diversity of cultural heritage resources. As stated by Spennemann and Look (1998b p. 183) ‘…the sensitivity of disaster managers to the specific needs of cultures other than the dominant Anglo-Saxon European Conglomerate is required.’ The subjective manner in which cultural heritage is identified contributes to the complexity of this problem. Stovel (1998) has also acknowledged a general resilience of risk preparedness professionals to incorporate heritage issues.

Policy and implementation
Each district is required to develop a Bush Fire Management Operations Plan. This document is prepared by the Bush Fire Management Committee and is a legal requirement under the Rural Fires Act 1997. Districts such as the Hume Shire have included a list of cultural heritage sites in their operations plans (NSW RFS Albury Hume District 1998), with the locations of sites included as an appendix. This information was taken directly from the Local Environment Plan, which is a planning tool used to recognise sites of significance. Although this is an excellent source of information for the RFS, it relies on the premise that the information contained within the LEP is up to date and comprehensive.

The ability to assist emergency management agencies understand cultural heritage is reliant on the heritage system being effective. Respondents were asked to indicate the number of heritage items listed under the Local Environment Plan for their Local Government Area. Only 20.7% of respondents could do so, 21.6% of respondents indicated that they had never heard of the LEP or did not know, and 56.4% did not answer the question.

Further commitment to the protection of cultural heritage by the NSW Rural Fire Service is evident through the Environment Service Standard (NSW Rural Fire Service 2001 p. 1-2) which states:

The environmental consequences of activities undertaken by the Rural Fire Service shall be minimised having protection of air, water, land protection, protected areas and wilderness, threatened species and their habitat, Aboriginal, historic heritage and the management os pest species, erosion and the prevention of wild fire. The best way to achieve these environmental outcomes is through appropriate planning prior to the event rather then when an emergency arises.

Although this policy acknowledges the need for the consideration of cultural heritage, there is a need to extend this further to include the implementation of these objectives. Very few respondents indicated that they had attended training that dealt with the specific needs of cultural heritage in natural disaster situations. The need for such training is demonstrated by a greater number of Brigade Captains having dealt with such situations.

Due to the top down management structure of the organisation , change needs to begin at the senior level and filter down the ranks to those operating at the local level, as these are the individuals responsible for fire management in their area. The Rural Fire Service acknowledges the value of local knowledge held by their captains, however at times there is a reluctance to share information. The RFS is trying to combat their culture of possessing but not sharing information, so that it may be used for the greater good.

Benefits exist to cultural heritage as sometimes natural and cultural values are inherently linked in the physical composition of the resources, such as a cultural landscape. Some heritage professionals believe that to distinguish between cultural and natural values is artificial (Applin 2002). When people have been adversely effected by the onset of a disaster the ability to identify with ones surrounds is of importance. The ability to identify sometime thing familiar in the landscape has been reported to have positive impacts of the recovery of communities after a disaster. The relationship between a place and identity is often in the historic fabric of a place, that which is the most vulnerable (Look and Spennemann 2000).

Previous experiences have indicated that natural disasters involving cultural heritage require an enormous amount of co-ordination between agencies (Henry 1991; MacIntosh 2001; Spennemann 1999; Roy 2001). Not only do emergency management agencies seem to have limited interaction with one another, but also this interaction does normally not include heritage managers. The results in a situation in which emergency managers are unaware of the cultural heritage in their area, and the specific needs for its protection. Inversely, emergency managers are not communicating with their emergency managers to understand the impacts which disasters pose to cultural heritage and the frequency and intensity in which they may occur (Graham and Spennemann in press). This places cultural heritage resources in a limbo land, intensifying the risk that cultural heritage may be lost during disaster situations, not only from acts of malice but from a lack of understanding and training (Henry 1991; Spennemann 1999; Spennemann and Look 1998).

Issues relating to Indigenous heritage
The issue of the sensitivity of Indigenous sites was also raised, with many Indigenous communities reluctant to share locational information. There needs to be a balance in regards to the knowledge of the presence and whereabouts of Indigenous sites and their protection. This issue raises involvement of the National Parks and Wildlife service who under the legislative power of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 are responsible for the protection of indigenous heritage resources. The role of Indigenous communities in such situations was also raised. It may be difficult to know whom to contact. Dealing with Aboriginal sites and disaster situations are no exception, requires knowledge of protocol and the Aboriginal culture (Yalmambirra 2002).

Recent amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 2001 , have raised the question of liability. Under the pervious act (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974) an individual most of knowingly destroyed an Aboriginal site or resource.

A person who, without first gaining consent of the Director –General, knowingly causes or permits the destruction or defacement of or damage to, a relic or Aboriginal place is guilty of an offence against this act. Section 90(1) National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

Under the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Act 2001, this element of intent has since been removed. This places the RFS in a difficult situation. Steps need to be taken to ensure that that bushfire do not damage Aboriginal heritage sites. Also this is reflected in the service standards, and needs to be implemented.

Transfer of knowledge
It is essential that knowledge and basic skills be developed for RFS members. Disaster situations may require that members attended situations outside of their local area. For this reason it is important to develop training which provides members with the necessary skills to identify items of possible heritage significance. During the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction a series of web conferences were held to facilitate cross communication between a number of heritage and emergency management personnel (United Nations-International Decade for National Disaster Reduction 1996) the same principles could be applied here. Spennemann and Green (1998) have raised the possibility of developing special interest networks. The RFS is in the early stage of developing and utilising GIS technology.

At present the program is generally used for the identification of vegetation types. The possibility of incorporating a similar system for cultural heritage was acknowledged. This was acknowledged by the RFS, however the funds for doing so are limited. GIS has been used successfully in the past to identify places of significance through the mapping of sites. Such exercises have been completed at Cape York Peninsula (Abrahams et al 1995), Quebec City (Moss Simoneau and Fiset 1998), Iowa (Artz, Martur and Doershuk 1998).

Where do we go from here?
The investigation of these perceptional barriers indicates that there are a number of obstacles for effective disaster planning for cultural heritage. This problem not only exists in Australia, but also is a worldwide issue (Stovel 1998). Until these issues are addressed cultural heritage will continually be at risk not only from the impacts of natural disasters but also from poorly informed decisions. The development of policies for the protection of cultural heritage by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service is a positive step. The actioning of these policies through training and specific planning will assist to ensure that we are all doing our part to protect the past for our future.


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