The group at Birkbeck teamed up with our colleague from Romania (Dr Elena Badea) also working on SafeCult to monitor moisture sorption in leather samples by neutron imaging at ISIS IMAT STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire at the end of August for one week. These samples included historical leather samples and leather samples treated in previous projects with novel nano-based conservation materials. The effect of moisture sorption in these samples had already been measured by other techniques and now non-invasive neutron imaging was being used to show the distribution of moisture in these materials and rate of uptake. One of the aims of the treatment is to reduce the ability of the leather to moisture uptake and so protect it from environmental damage including effects from disasters. Samples of painting canvases have also been investigated at other times. Heritage materials can be exposed to extreme humidity conditions in addition to wetting in floods and so knowledge of their sensitivity to moisture can help conservators prioritise items for recovery.

The number of natural, climate and man-caused disasters is constantly increasing with both people and cultural heritage being affected. Examples of two such disasters involving flooding were recently reported at the ICOM-CC meeting in Valencia in the Preventive Conservation working group. The first paper reported on floods that had occurred from 12 to 15 July 2021 in Belgium and the work is reported in the paper by Collanges et al., 2023) [1]. In the conclusions the authors write that a major crisis due to climate change and involving floods calls for new methodologies to assess and respond to the emergency. After the presentation of this paper the SafeCult project was mentioned by one of the Birkbeck group who attended the meeting and information about the project was disseminated. The second case of flooding was also reported at this meeting and described recovery following floods in Lismore (New Suth Wales, Australia) [2].

A recent study, Invited perspectives: A research agenda towards disaster risk management pathways in multi-(hazard-) risk assessment is a perspective paper on research focused on multiple hazards happening together in the EU during the last decade. [3] It is expected that the number and the intensity of climate-related hazards will increase during the 21st century therefore the change from managing disasters to managing risks.

An important point in risk management was made by the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005 – 2015, HFA) which was an outcome of the World Conference for Disaster Reduction (Kobe, 2005) which was the first to describe detailed procedures required to reduce disaster risks.1

More attention is required towards multi-hazard risk assessment as the interaction between different hazards can lead to a greater impact than the sum of single-hazard effects. Therefore, focus was given to research on the topic of multi-hazard risk assessment during the last decade in the EU. A key factor to consider is the interconnectedness of hazards and risks, which needs to be considered in disaster risk management so that strategies to avoid a certain risk do not increase risks to a different disaster. For example, a wood-frame building would perform well in an earthquake but would present increased risks in case of flood and fire.

The study identified certain key challenges such as a diverse terminology used to define terms regarding multi-(hazard-)risk and a lack of overview of existing techniques and tools which are dispersed across multiple languages, disciplines and publication types. This also leads to a lack of a clear framework and guidelines for the assessment and management of multi-(hazard-)risk. Another challenge is caused by the poor understanding of the implications of an action might have due to the changes in hazards, exposure and vulnerability. For example, changes such as agricultural practices, vegetation removal or surface and subsurface works can amplify risks or even cause natural hazards. Further issues are caused by not assessing the effectiveness of disaster risk management plan across hazards, sectors and periods of time.

An important question asked by this study is “What DRM pathways are available to develop a sustainable future in region Z that account for trade-offs, synergies, and interactions across relevant hazards and sectors and consider interregional linkages?” and will be implemented in the project MYRIAD-EU (Multi-hazard and sYstemic framework for enhancing Risk-Informed mAnagement and Decision-making in the EU), an EU Horizon 2020. The tools that this project aims to provide might prove to be important when producing a more specific disaster risk management plan for a library or archive. Ideally, the risks would be reduced in the first place if the whole area they are part of would have a plan to deal with multi-(hazard-)risk.

Libraries and archives are directly affected by all these issues as climate change increases risks of disasters. Considering recent climate events such as the wildfires and floods taking place all over the world, the training SafeCult will provide is necessary for institutions to be prepared in case of disaster, to prevent damage and to recover as much as possible if the damage cannot be avoided.

Future activities will see the SafeCult project represented in the online conference “Written heritage: new challenges and perspectives” of the European Research Centre (ERC) for Book and Paper Conservation–Restoration on 2nd & 3rd Nov. 2023. The preliminary programme can be viewed by clicking the button below

Figure 1 Instrumental setup for the neutron beam exposure