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Come Hell or High Water

Calgary Public Library, AB

Innovation Summary

On June 20, 2013, the city of Calgary experienced a flood which became the biggest natural disaster in Canada’s history. The Calgary Public Library worked with CEMA, Calgary Emergency Management Agency, to open libraries in evacuation centers and implemented strategies to support Calgarians during and after the crisis.

Problem Statement

On June 20, 2013, a state of emergency was declared when Calgary experienced the worst flooding in its 100-year history. Schools, post-secondary institutions and federal buildings were shut down, neighborhoods were evacuated and over 75,000 people were temporarily displaced. City Hall and the Central Library both sustained extensive damage and were closed for many weeks. The challenge was to identify ways that the Library, in spite of compromised capacity, could be most helpful to the community during this ongoing crisis. Day 1: The majority of the city shut down, many areas were evacuated and the Mayor of Calgary advised citizens to avoid all non-essential travel. Consequently, the Library asked staff to stay home and all Library locations remained closed. Day 2: Working with CEMA, the Calgary Public Library opened those libraries located in City-designated evacuation facilities for community members who had been displaced from their homes. Day 3: Once travel limitations had been lifted, the Library opened 15 out of their 18 locations without technology, as the Library’s Data Centre had been compromised by the flooding. The Central Library, which was badly damaged, did not reopen until August. Using social media as the only means of communicating with the community, Library staff came together to provide Library services that were aligned with the City’s direction and supportive of community need.


The Calgary Public Library worked with CEMA to open those libraries located in City-designated evacuation centers. Once technology infrastructure was restored, libraries provided computer access to displaced community members to enable them to connect with family and friends. Libraries also provided a welcoming, comfortable space; the opportunity to connect with neighbors; books, magazines, and DVDs; and friendly staff to share in the hardship. As the evacuation period grew longer, libraries in these temporary shelters provided evacuees with a much needed oasis of rest and diversion from the endless wait to get back to their homes and their lives. In one situation, residents from a nearby senior’s lodge were evacuated with just their medical supplies and caregivers. Library space provided a safe and comfortable environment with access to magazines, books, movies and some semblance of normality. A Flood Recovery Resources brochure was created. Ten thousand brochures were delivered to severely affected neighborhoods by over 100 volunteers. The Calgary Public Library Foundation provided additional funds to all Library locations to help provide services to customers in need, and to cope with up to 40% increase in traffic at some locations. The funds were used to purchase snacks, activities, games, and prizes for impromptu events. In response to an overwhelming outpouring of community support, the Library Foundation established a flood recovery fund with more than 1,000 donors, and held a city-wide book drive, “20,000 Books Under the Bow,” inspired by Jules Verne’s classical novel, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” The result was a world record of over 270,000 books, DVDs and CDs donated on a single day. Volunteers spent over 1,000 hours collecting and sorting materials.


The Library is seen by the City of Calgary and its citizens as an essential community resource that is there for all in good and bad times. It is a community gathering place that provides comfort and the opportunity to connect with neighbors and distant family and friends. During the crisis, the redeployment of staff to other Library locations, in particular 150 displaced Central Library staff, provided an opportunity to cross train and broaden staff understanding of service delivery across the city. It resulted in team building, a demonstration of resiliency , new work opportunities, and a renewed belief in the Library’s ability to continuously adapt to changing circumstances. As a result of the flood, the Library’s Disaster Response, Recovery and Preparedness Plan was updated and the IT Data Centre has been moved to the City’s Central Data Center to ensure continuation of service in the event of a future disaster. Recognizing that many citizens were caught off guard by the flood, the Calgary Public Library is now developing a “Flood Story web-site” which documents the history of flooding in the region as far back as 1870, and brings a greater knowledge and understanding of the fact that the city is built on a flood plain.