This is an updated version of a post originally published on 13 October 2022

The United Nations General Assembly has designated 13 October as the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR), to promote a global culture of disaster risk reduction, increasingly important as the globe and its citizens weather the effects of climate change.

In 2023, IDDRR highlights the reciprocal relationship between disasters and inequality.

Inequality and disaster vulnerability are two sides of the same coin: unequal access to services, such as finance and insurance, leaves the most at risk exposed to the danger of disasters; while disaster impacts exacerbate inequalities and push the most at risk further into poverty.

IDDRR is also a key date in the calendar for all collecting institutions, big and small, entrusted with the care of irreplaceable cultural heritage.

On this day, the Library joins Blue Shield Australia and other major Australian cultural institutions in raising awareness about the importance of Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery to protect and preserve our collections and the stories held within them.

Barefoot staff using brooms to push the flood waters of out Coles Bourke Street Melbourne Store sometime in the 1960s or 1970s
Barefoot staff using brooms to push the flood waters of out Coles Bourke Street Melbourne Store No. 200. Coles Myer Ltd., ca. 1960 – ca. 1975; 
YMS 13468, MS BOX 4546/9

Collection Disaster Preparedness and Response at the Library

The Preservation team, within the Collection Care branch, manages the Library’s Collection Disaster Preparedness, Response (CDPR) program, part of the Library’s broader disaster response plan. The purpose of the CDPR is to protect the collection from damage as the result of a disaster, natural or man-made.

Disasters may take many forms. The most obvious disasters that come to mind are fire, earthquakes and floods, though the most common risk is water damage caused by water leaks.

Blue grey cardboard archive boxes on grey metal shelving. The boxes are labelled, identifying them as collection material of State Library Victoria. Some of the boxes are partially wet due to a leak.
Water-damaged manuscript boxes as a result of a leak

The four facets of disaster preparedness are: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. In line with this approach, the foundation of the CDPR program is preparedness for all potential disasters. This begins with a trained staff and a well-equipped, well-organised and well-managed Disaster Store, stocked with a range of supplies including fans, rags, mops, buckets, gumboots, bins, paper towel, etc.

Shelving in a storeroom with disaster response supplies including various coloured plastic buckets, electrical extension cords, bags of rags, gloves and dust masks.
Disaster Store
Around eight blue and black wet and dry vacuums in storeroom. Hoses are detached and hanging above vacuums which are sitting on the floor.
Wet vacuums in the Disaster Store
Large metal and plastic floor fans in storeroom. Some are covered with clear plastic, others are not.
Fans in the Disaster Store
Sign taped to a cream-coloured brick wall which reads, 'LEAK BINS, Empty bins to catch leaks, Useful to transport buckets, rags, plastic, etc. to the site of leaks.' Also visible are the heads of six brand new, still in packaging, upturned Oates brand floor mops. These are blue and yellow.
Mops in the Disaster Store

Yellow disaster bins are also placed within collection storage areas for ready access to rags and buckets in the case of an emergency.

Large yellow wheelie bin, labelled 'Disaster Bin, State Library Victoria' located in collection store. Grey metal compactus shelving to the right of the bin contains books.
Disaster bin in collection storage area

Response and Recovery teams primarily consist of Preservation and Conservation staff, however a number of personnel from across the Library also receive training because disasters don’t always occur during business hours!

Two images side by side. The left image shows plastic covered shelving with books, in a public reading room. There is a green plastic bucket on the floor surrounded by rags. The right image shows plastic covered grey metal shelving with books in a collection storage area.
Protective plastic covering for collections
Water-damaged books placed vertically on their spines on a tabletop. The books are fanned out to facilitate drying of the pages. Some have sheets of paper towel tucked between pages.
Recovery of water-damaged collection items
Two images side by side. The image on the left shows Conservation staff in a lab assessing water-damaged books on a long table. The image on the right shows a Property staff member draping clear plastic sheeting over grey metal shelving containing books.
Collection Care staff undertaking recovery of water-damaged collection (left), Property staff member covering collection (right)

To ensure the response to any disaster is efficient and organised, procedures have been established clearly outlining responsibilities and expectations. In the event of a disaster, especially out of hours, there is a clear line of reporting and delegation, ensuring the most appropriate staff members are called in. Staff on call will be contacted to assess and respond to a potential threat or actual disaster. Preservation staff in the Response team and Conservation staff in the Recovery team may be called in to assist, along with Security and Property staff and Collection Managers.

As you can see, a huge amount of planning, training, and resourcing goes into the development and implementation of the Library’s CDPR program, often for a ‘rainy day’ scenario – pardon the pun!

However, it can’t be emphasised enough how important it is to review disaster preparedness plans and resources regularly.

In the background there is dark metal shelving containing disaster response supplies including coloured plastic buckets and electrical extension cords. In the foreground to the righ a Preservation staff member is completing a stocktake of the contents of a yellow wheelie bin labelled 'Disaster Bin'.
Stocktake of collection disaster bin

What you can do

So… for all the archives, libraries, museums, galleries, heritage places, historical societies, local history groups, and other cultural heritage organisations out there, large or small, today is the day to:

  • update your Emergency Contacts List and make sure it’s accessible to everyone who needs it
  • review your current disaster preparedness plan or develop a plan that covers a key activity in each of the four basic protection measures:  prevention, preparation, response, and recovery
  • contact your regional GLAM colleagues
  • as a GLAM group, connect with your local council and emergency services contacts

Thanks to Blue Shield Australia for the above checklist. Make sure to head to their website for upcoming events and a suite of useful resources. Additional links below.


Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material – disaster resources

Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material – find a conservator

UNDDR International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Blue Shield Australia

Sustainable Development Goals

State Library Victoria – conservation guides

State Library of Queensland – salvaging damaged collections

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