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The Protection des Biens Culturels (PBC, Protection of cultural property), or how to prepare for natural disasters, fires, and acts of vandalism.

La berce PBC constitue un dispositif de première urgence en cas de menace sur les collections

When a conservation building is suddenly prey to unexpected phenomena that could destroy the collections or the premises themselves, and threaten the lives of the staff and the public, the emergency can be measured in minutes. The men and women responsible for institutions of cultural and historical interest are duty-bound to act quickly and effectively. This means being seriously prepared in terms of how to respond to events, and providing for the necessary human and material means to meet the risk. Hence the Protection des Biens Culturels (PBC, Protection of cultural property).

The historic fire that destroyed the Library of Alexandria is engraved in the collective memory. The blaze in the former Ecole de chimie building in Geneva and its library in 2008 made plain the lack of emergency procedures for the city’s heritage institutions. Thus, the Bibliothèque de Genève became the first city institution to be given an emergency plan. The Bibliothèque was ideal then for organizing in 2012 a pilot exercise which was essential to city management and required nearly 6 months of preparation. And through the Building administration unit, the Bibliothèque has been tasked with coordinating the BERCE PBC project, a large storage container of first-response emergency equipment for the collections. The project is also the origin of an offer to train its own staff and the staff of other institutions.

Emergency plan and training

In November 2012, the Bastions building was the theater of a special evacuation exercise of people and cultural property carried out in collaboration with the PBC department. The exercise involved some 40 different agencies, including the Bibliothèque de Genève, the Fire and rescue services (professional firefighters), the city’s volunteer firefighters, the Cantonal police department, paramedics, the Airport security services (SSA), as well as the Cantonal disaster and emergency services (PC), nearly 240 people in all. Multiple objectives were involved, i.e., test the response plan in case of an emergency (water-fire) by putting library personnel and first responders in a 1:1-scale real-world situation of a fire in the building; evaluate operational coordination between the various emergency agencies in managing a major event; assess the gains made during the theoretical and practical training sessions put together by the Bibliothèque; draw post-exercise conclusions in order to improve procedures.

The Bibliothèque hopes to reinforce this preparation by, in the short term, drafting emergency plans for all of the library’s sites, while continuing to work with its staff in learning effective first-response gestures through regular exercises  and continuous monitoring of security documents and verification.

Les pompiers du SIS lors de l'exercice réalisé en 2012

The berce PBC

When a fire or flood occurs in a museum, library, or repository of some historical or cultural significance, the collections often suffer damage after the incident. The absence of any response plan, the lack of preparation on the personnel’s part, or the use of inadequate equipment can have disastrous consequences for the evacuation of cultural property. This is why the Executive board, wanting to ensure the best possible protection of the city’s cultural property, has appointed a steering committee to work out a proposal for the protection of cultural property (PBC). One of the committee’s missions has been to acquire suitable equipment and devise a storage system that is efficient and mobile, making it possible to rapidly store, transport and deploy such specialized tools. The Bibliothèque de Genève is tasked with coordinating this project, called BERCE PBC.

Promenade des Bastions 8
1205 Genève

T: +41 22 418 28 00
F: +41 22 418 28 01

Thierry Pellissier

Head of Buildings and security
T: +41 22 418 28 26
P: +41 76 563 07 35