Natural disasters and disaster plans

In recent months many areas of Australia and New Zealand have experienced very serious natural disasters. These natural disasters have had significant impact on schools in the affected areas. Many schools continue to operate in difficult conditions or are temporarily operating off site.

Queensland floods

Severe flooding occurred across many parts of Queensland during December 2010 and January 2011. These events resulted in three-quarters of the state being declared a disaster zone.

A total of 92 state schools were affected by floods. All but three schools opened in some capacity on 24 January 2011. Contingency plans were in place for students attending the three schools not opened to be relocated to education facilities close by. A further two schools which experienced significant damage in some classrooms continue to have a few classes relocated to other school sites.

All schools have been safe to occupy, but some structural damage will take time to be repaired, and cosmetic work such as replacing carpet, repairing swollen joinery or warped bookcases will take longer to be completed.

Victorian floods

Very high rainfall in mid-January 2011 caused major flooding across much of the western and central parts of Victoria. More heavy rainfall following Cyclone Yasi caused repeated flash flooding in many of the communities affected by January’s floods.

Schools around Swan Hill and Mildura in the north-west of the state, in Gippsland, to the east of Melbourne, and in Melbourne’s south-east were severely affected by floodwaters, causing schools to close for some time.

Tropical cyclone Yasi

Severe tropical cyclone Yasi crossed the Far North Queensland coast overnight on Wednesday 2 February 2011. More than 300 schools and TAFE campuses were closed as the storm approached. Education facilities began reopening from Friday 4 February 2011 as essential services were restored and facilities were deemed safe for staff and students to return.

While some schools and TAFE campuses were severely affected by Cyclone Yasi, thanks to the hard work of school staff, parents and the community, campuses were cleaned up and restored to operation quickly

Christchurch earthquake

In the middle of the day on 22 February 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 hit Christchurch on the east coast of the south island of New Zealand. In September 2010 the same area of New Zealand was damaged by an earthquake.

As of mid-March 2011, most schools and early childhood services in Christchurch City have reopened following Civil Defence advice about emergency management.

Sink holes and liquefaction on roads Avonside in Christchurch

Once the news media go home

While the media may no longer be reporting the continuing situation for an area devastated by a natural disaster, there is still a vast amount of recovery work being undertaken. We may know of people in the affected areas and have an ongoing understanding that recovery from major events like flooding, cyclones and earthquakes takes a significant amount of time and effort. If a school has reopened it does not mean the recovery is complete. This is the situation for many schools in the areas affected by natural disasters.

School library disaster plans

A disaster plan, to have documented and acted upon, is highly recommended for any school library. Library associations provide information on how to create your disaster plan for your school library. The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) provides a template on their website to help create a comprehensive plan. More information is available from

Natural disasters are only one of the many types of emergencies that can confront a school library. Identifying all the different types of emergencies, which include disasters such as water damage, is an important first step in considering all the varying responses. Water damage could occur as a result of a fire, flood or rain. The emergency services may use water to control a fire elsewhere in the school, but the library may sustain damage from the water. A blocked rainwater gutter or downpipe (often tennis balls are the culprit) could cause damage to the inside of buildings.


The process for regular backing up of data is one of the important actions for any school library to undertake. Libraries can have digital and electronic resources which need to be considered in regular backups to protect them from computer failures and loss, as well as external disasters such as water damage. The library management system (LMS) is a significant tool for school libraries to enable them to operate efficiently. LMS vendors will provide advice on how to perform the backup on their LMS and how often this process should be undertaken. Keeping backups of data off site has also been another process to help protect data. If your LMS is backed up to the school server, where is the school server data backed up to protect its data?

Check that your school library has a plan to be able to deal with disasters. Familiarise yourself with the plan and propose changes to bring it up to date if needed. If you haven’t got a disaster plan, then now may be the time to establish one, before something serious occurs. We all hope that never happens, but in the meantime you need the plan, just like insurance!

Anthea Amos
SCIS Projects & Information Services Coordinator