Saving collections in crisis

Saving collections in crisis

When there is a fire, or a flood, or any form of crisis, what to save first is a critical question. Emergency responders and heritage staff need quick clear directions to take the most important items in a collection to safety. That’s why ICOM-Austria and Blue Shield Austria, with the support of Blue Shield International, have developed a special tag to clearly and consistently mark objects that should be saved first from storage, making it easier for organizations and evacuation teams responding in crisis to find and rescue them in an emergency.

The tag marks objects that should be evacuated as a priority, and is easy to see thanks to its highly reflective surface. The design and all guidance is available open access online – as long as it is used in accordance with the rules for international emblems.

The blue shield distinctive emblem is a protective symbol used during armed conflicts. Its use is regulated at all times by national law, international humanitarian law, and customary law, through the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its Second Protocol of 1999.

Label showing a blue shield with an orange border saying "Priority"

“Having a consistent tool that prepares responders for crisis is very important. The blue shield is an internationally recognised emblem that identifies important objects that should be protected in a conflict – those preparations can also help in disaster and crisis. Blue Shield was delighted to support this initiative – sometimes it’s the smallest practical tools that can make a big difference”.

The tag was developed in coordination with the Austrian Emergency-Platform for Museums and Libraries and the Historical Monuments Office under the conditions of the Austrian Federal Fire Brigade Association. It will be used in all museums in Austria: many regional responders have already undergone training and exercises.

The website also provides guidance for prioritizing collections and for evacuating them safely (also repeated in the Rules for Use).

Order plaques to identify cultural assets to be evacuated as a priority in depots.

The badge is not intended to be displayed in exhibition rooms (in this case, the marking should be done in consultation with the responsible fire brigade, e.g. by markings on plans in the fire brigade plan box).


Badge LARGE: Size 148 x 297 mm, made of 0.3mm hard foil, with hologram effect silver on both sides and rainbow shading, highly reflective. The badges will be handed over at cost price of EUR 3.50 per piece plus shipping costs.

Badge SMALL: Size 75 x 149 mm, made of 0.3mm hard foil, silver hologram effect on both sides and rainbow shading, highly reflective. The badges will be handed over at cost price of EUR 2.00 per piece plus shipping costs.

“Too often our heritage is lost because we simply weren’t prepared. We encourage anyone responsible for any type of collections to think about emergency response. Once there is a crisis, it’s far too late. Only by being proactive in peacetime, by prioritising collections, and training with emergency responders, can we protect the items we hold in trust. As those who wrote the 1954 Hague Convention knew, “damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world; [so …] the preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance”. I hope this tool helps protect collections into the future”.


Get the details on the ICOM Austria website

Looking for resources on evacuation and safeguarding? See our Library 

Visit the website of Blue Shield Austria

Find out more about the work of our national committees or contact a national committee

Learn more about the 1954 Hague Convention in our Law Library


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