Canterbury Earthquake, 4 September 2010

The 7.1 earthquake that struck the Canterbury region was devastating and weeks after the aftershocks are still causing further damage to already frayed nerves of Cantabrians and compromised buildings. Like all of my colleagues within the Heritage sector I began to worry about the many other beautiful collections I know to exist within the Canterbury region and within days the record and archives, library and museum community within the Canterbury region were discussing the extent of damage their collections either had or had not incurred through an email listserv which most of the heritage groups in Canterbury belong to.

This earthquake was within the category of major earthquake capable of serious damage over large areas. So not only did we have the worry of our own personal safety but also that of those around us, our work environments and the wider community. Each disaster is unique and therefore needs to be treated as such. Here are some of the most important things I think most of us have learnt from this disaster which I would like to pass on.

  • No salvage of any collection material can take place until the building has been inspected and is safe to enter. This can take days or even weeks and with every aftershock buildings may sustain further damage making this process one that may need to be assessed a number of times. This can be very frustrating and cause further distress if the collection is at risk
  • An earthquake can cause damage to collection items in many ways ranging from books being tossed from their shelving, items being broken to buildings collapsing or be condemned. If buildings have not collapsed, there could be structural damage which could cause fires and further damage to collection items such as water damage from fire hoses or sprinklers
  • Do not underestimate your reactions to seeing your collection scattered, damaged and possibly destroyed as this will have an enormous affect on you whilst you are dealing with the salvage process.
  • You will be both physically and mentally exhausted and need to remember that everyone reacts in different ways during a situation like this
  • Taking the time to ask others three very important words How are you? can really makes a difference
  • The amount of time spent assessing, recording, and re-housing will determine the long term preservation of what items you have been able to salvage. It might take days to do this or it could take weeks, even months, depending on the size and condition of your collection
  • Disaster planning is essential so don’t leave it until one occurs to start thinking about what to do. The most important aspect of a disaster plan is the assessment and management of risk with appropriate procedures and staff training in place. Lessons learnt then need to be incorporated into any future disaster plans

Eva Sullivan
Archivist Christchurch City Council

For further information on how to cope during an earthquake please visit,

Archives New Zealand, <>

Canterbury Disaster Salvage Team, <>


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Filed under Canterbury Quake, Disasters, Learning

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