n.an event, whether natural or man-made, that disrupts normal operations, often inflicting some level of damage to collectionsHolmes 1943, 99Two of the arguments most frequently heard against centralization are, first, the lack of space in the National Archives building, and second, that it is unwise in case of wars and disasters to have all the nation’s valuable records concentrated in one place.Rundell 1967, 551Once the material is reproduced in toto, the originals are preserved from continued wear and tear. Furthermore, with the dispersal of photocopies, the danger of the material being destroyed through some disaster is lessened. As Thomas Jefferson put it, there should be “. . . such a multiplication of copies as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”Ziegler 1975, 191I believe that a Vital Records Program, to ensure that the records of the institution can be substantially reconstructed should some disaster befall them, is an urgent matter.Langelier and Wright 1981, 47The disaster may be a fire, an extensive water spill caused by a broken main, or wind and water damage from a serious storm; it may be an “act of God” in the case of an earthquake or a flood or an “act of man” in the case of severe vandalism. The agent damaging archival collections may be fire, smoke, water, mud, oil, sewage or even shattered glass.Marrelli 1983, 273–274A disaster usually means that there is a great number of unpredictable variables. Inform yourself as much as possible about the technical problems with which you will have to deal, find reserve facilities that are appropriate for your collection, and talk with as many people as possible who have experienced an archival disaster. It is most important to have your institution’s cooperation as well as the freedom to act if disaster strikes. Yet you must establish effective communication channels.Gertz 1990, 225Our collections face grave threats to their survival: the deleterious effects on paper and other media of temperature and humidity, pollution, and ultraviolet light; fires, earthquakes, and other disasters; human mistreatment; and the embrittlement of paper due to its acid content.UNESCO 1999, 2A library or archives disaster is an unexpected event which puts collections at risk. No institution can be excluded from or is immune to the possibility. Disaster planning is a matter of basic security for libraries and archives, their staff and their collections.Rekrut 2003, 157Disasters are often forewarned. Chapter six begins with actions which might be taken following warnings of fire, flood, earthquake, severe weather, explosion, power failure and civil disturbance, terrorism or military conflict. (While the World Trade Center towers were burning on 11 September 2001, building ventilation systems were shut down at nearby cultural organizations such as the Museum of Jewish Heritage, preventing tremendous potential damage from disfiguring and hazardous dust. Many organizations took such simple precautionary measures in the minutes prior to evacuation.)Ritzenthaler 2010, 106Whether brought about by human error or natural events, emergencies and disasters pose the ultimate threat to collections.Kahn 2012, xiLarge and small, public and private, all types of institutions and businesses need to plan for disasters. Disasters come whether or not we are prepared.Harvey and Mahard 2020, 40Developing good observation skills is invaluable, as observing indicators of threats to collections can result in the early application of cost-effective measures to prevent the progression from threat to damage and, ultimately, disaster.Harvey and Mahard 2020, 55The term disaster may be misleading. A disaster in this context is any sudden, unforeseen, calamitous (or not so calamitous) event that brings about great (or localized) damage and loss to property and people (or not) and whose effect will cause an interruption of normal operations. Disasters in cultural heritage institutions are common. Small leaks or spills are likely to occur in any building; major catastrophes will occur less frequently or, ideally, not at all. In most disasters, whatever their size, water and fire are most likely to be the cause of damage, but the physical destruction of buildings by earthquakes, war, hurricanes, and the like, is, unfortunately, not uncommon.Joffrion and Cloonan 2020, 133While risk management aims to reduce the probability of disaster, disasters do occur.
The term emergency is often used interchangeably with disaster, although emergency usually implies an event smaller than a disaster. Disasters may be natural, including fire, flood, and earthquakes, or they may be man-made, including HVAC failure, theft, malicious destruction, error, cyberattack, and war.