How this open-source mapping project aims to boost resiliency for Europe’s architectural treasures

ROME — After four earthquakes shook regions of Central Italy already struggling to recover from previous temblors, a project hatched on a European-wide scale to protect heritage sites.

In mid-January 2017, just as Italians were just getting back into daily life after the extended holidays, quakes rolled through Abruzzo, Lazio, the Marche and Umbria regions. The quakes, which also triggered an avalanche that flattened a hotel, occurred in a seismic gap in the same areas hit hard by the August 2016 earthquake, the October 2016 earthquakes and 1997 events in Umbria and Marche.

About a month later, The Increasing Resilience of Cultural Heritage project – or ResCult for short – launched. The goal: to create a database to safeguard and boost resilience for cultural assets in the face of earthquakes, floods and fires. Funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the project pools brainpower from six partners including the United Nations office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and research institutions in France, Germany and Italy.

In a three-hour afternoon session at the recent European Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction (EFDRR), partner members walked participants through the European Interoperable Database (EID), diving into hazard layers, showcasing 3D models and offering up videos of drone surveying footage. The project runs on open source — employing QGIS, PostgreSQL, PostGIS — and gathers crowdsourced information as well as a offering knowledge-sharing component.

No flying buttresses here

For an idea of how it works, consider the basilica of San Nicola of Tolentino in the Marche region. The church’s expressive marble facade sits wedged in the corner of a main square of the town of 20,000, though the complex stretches back to include two external chapels, a library, a leafy cloister, a convent and walled garden.

Now picture that facade — fruit of masterful tinkering from the early renaissance up until completion in the 1700s — wrapped in white scaffolding with only the cross protruding from the roof after damages from the 2017 quake.

With access to the six web interfaces of the database, information can be shared with local authorities and emergency personnel. It offers varying level of detail (or LOD for short – so. many. awkward. acronyms.) that can reveal everything from links to the official website to the digital surface model gleaned from the UAV survey.

More prosaic information about elevation, building materials previous damage and restoration is also available. Another layer allows you to mash up risk analysis parameters from previous hazard studies, whether seismic, geological, architectural or general urban context, with the values normalized from zero to one. The interface also allows you to query adjacent or common buildings at once as well as to add other layers that might be useful for risk analysis or damage assessment.

LOD1 of the basilica, with earthquake damage information.

Picking up wisdom from the crowd

The interface that allows residents to upload data to the project has some parallels that are interesting to the Resiliency Maps project. Dubbed “crowd acquiring” this web interface allows regular folk to upload specific types of data to the platform.

The hope is (at least in the future, for us) that this part of the project will run on open source and open principles as much as the database itself. Researcher Francesco Moretti of SITI tells us that for now access to the database is not open to the general public and the crowdsourcing runs on Google Maps.

Cover photo // CC BY NC

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