Award-winning role for Moreton Bay libraries during disasters

It’s wet. Very wet in fact. Has been for days. Flood waters are rising. Roads are cut.

After a trip to the shops, you are having car troubles. Your housemates have texted you to say they are flooded in. You can’t get to your house.

You are new to the area and have few, if any, options for help. You feel your anxiety levels rising, almost matching the rising flood waters. Where do you go?

This was exactly the situation a young man found himself in on 25 February 2022.

His solution? He went to his local library. But it wasn’t to borrow a book. Initially, he was simply hoping to charge his mobile phone and figure out what his next steps would be.

Thanks to Moreton Bay Regional Council’s (MBRC) innovative Places of Refuge (POR) program, the young man not only got his phone charged, he grabbed some food, took some time and space to manage his anxiety, and found a nearby evacuation centre.

The POR program was developed after council’s library management and disaster management teams saw an opportunity to expand the role of libraries from day-to-day community access to places of refuge for those affected by natural disasters.

At the program’s core was a vision that in addition to a friendly face, an empathetic ear, and the knowledge and skills to link displaced people to vital services, library officers could also assist those in need by providing personal comfort when required – a blanket, a cup of tea, or a dry towel.

The POR initiative, conceived in October 2021, had its baptism within six months when historic levels of rainfall landed on south-east Queensland throughout February and March 2022.

Many locations within the Moreton Bay region recorded 75 per cent of their average annual rainfall within a three-day period, resulting in widespread flooding.

Feedback from the community about the POR program was overwhelming.

Thousands of likes, and hundreds of comments and shares on MBRC’s website and Facebook reflected the community’s appreciation of this additional service in a time of need.

Keen to build on the POR program’s success, MBRC has included libraries as part of their integrated response to disasters.

Additional funding has been provided to grow the program’s capabilities and MBRC has identified the need for future library development to include more storage space to accommodate POR materials.

The success of the innovative POR program saw MBRC declared joint winners of the Local Government category at the 2023 Queensland Resilient Australia Awards.

The RAAs recognise the importance locally led organisations play in communities when faced with natural disasters, a virtue that MBRC’s POR program demonstrated.