n.an event caused by natural forces or humans 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.Minogue 1946, 25From this discussion it will be apparent that although fire and water damage have always ranked high among the enemies of records and have caused the complete destruction of enormous quantities of them in the past, such damage should not, in most cases, be considered irreparable. A high percentage of salvage from all but major disasters is generally possible if the problem is approached and handled promptly in a logical and orderly manner based on the physical requirements rather than on the intrinsic value of the records affected.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.”Stender and Walker 1974, 521The wars of the twentieth century brought disaster to great cultural assets including libraries and art galleries.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.Walch 1977, 16The repository director must, therefore, take care to provide security against water damage by flooding, broken or frozen water pipes, and sprinkler systems. Repository water pipes should be checked regularly to minimize the possibility of disaster.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.Russell 1982, 50While the number of serious disasters that occur in the region each year is small, the number of minor disasters is high. The [Northeast Document Conservation] Center receives an average of about one disaster call per week, ranging from major floods to coping with the aftereffects of an intruding skunk.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.Walters 1998, 166Perhaps the most important preservation function is to provide an optimal physical environment to house the archival collections. The physical facility should maintain acceptable temperature, relative humidity, light, and air quality levels, as well as protect against fire and water damage, and other forms of man-made and natural disasters.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.)Eskander 2004I truly hope that no country in the world experiences what we experienced following the fall of the dictator. I also hope I can give you an honest and frank explanation of what took place in Baghdad in mid-April 2003, when most cultural institutions were looted and burnt. It was a national disaster beyond imagination. Within the space of 3 days, Iraq National Library and Archive lost a large portion of Iraq’s historical memory. Hundreds of thousands of archival documents, historical records, and rare books were lost forever.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.
Disasters may be caused by natural events, including fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or typhoons, earthquakes, and pandemics; or they may be caused by humans, including HVAC failure, power failure, construction accidents, water main breaks, civil unrest, theft, vandalism, cyberattack, and war.