Monday, April 27, 2009

Hurricane Preparedness: The Importance of Planning

It’s simple right? Like the kids cartoon/story about the grasshopper and the ant. The grasshopper goes through life partying without a care. The ant plods and plans. When bad times come (like a hurricane), the grasshopper hurts and the ant survives. The moral: planning for hurricanes is not glamorous. But, as every library manager who has been through a hurricane will tell you, having a plan helps. Specifically, a plan can:
  • Enhance our abilities to mitigate potential hazards;
  • Enable us to better respond to emergency situations; and,
  • Make us quicker to begin to recover from disasters.

A hurricane enables to more quickly respond through the cycle of emergency planning, crisis reaction, and recovery.

The Alabama Public Library Service, State Librarian, Rebecca Mitchell, believes that public library hurricane disaster planning function is so important that she has re-directed one of her consultants, Jim Smith, to work full time with Alabama public libraries on developing their plans. Jim is using D-plan developed by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). Contact Jim Smith for further information. The Southeast Florida Library Information Network (SEFLIN) has collected member disaster plans and resources as an aid to other libraries planning efforts. Take a look at the University of Texas, Austin’s Hurricane and Related Disasters Emergency Plan and the Library of Virginia’s Workbook for Disaster Planning.

How You Can Help: This blog post is provided by the Florida State University’s Information Use Management & Policy Institute. The Institute has been awarded a grant to examine how public libraries can aid their communities to better prepare for and recover from hurricanes. See a project summary, article, or radio interview for further information. One aspect of the recently awarded FSU Information Institute’s project is to develop a model public library hurricane/disaster plan. To do a good job we need to draw on the plans libraries have already developed as good examples. Help us all out by sending your library’s hurricane or disaster plan – as well as any other related experiences – to Charles R. McClure or c/o FSU, Information Institute P.O. Box 3062100, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2100.

Information Institute Launches Public Library Community Hurricane Preparedness & Recovery Project

Background: Florida State University’s Information Use Management & Policy Institute has been awarded a grant to assist communities to better prepare for and recover from hurricanes by better utilizing public libraries. Note the emphasis on how can a public library help their community rather than how can the library restore itself. See a project summary, article or radio interview for further information. A key part of the project is to identify public libraries that have helped their communities to better prepare for and recover from hurricanes, and document the roles the libraries played so that other libraries may learn from their experience.

How You Can Help

Initially the project team is looking for three types of information:

Are you experienced? Do you and your public library have experience assisting your community prepare for and recover from a hurricane? If so, send an e-mail to Charles R. McClure, with the following information: public library contact information [public library name, website url (if the library has), postal address, phone, fax, contact name , job title, phone (if different than library’s)] and a brief description of the role(s) your public library played when helping your community prepare for and recover from a hurricane. Note: a project team member may contact you for further information.

Hurricane preparation & recovery materials: Can you send the project team any materials (or links to them) your public library developed or found useful when assisting your community prepare for and recover from a hurricane? The materials might include: plans, checklists, policies, procedures, forms, standards, guidelines, recommendations, descriptions, newspaper articles, and best practices. If so, send an e-mail to Charles R. McClure with material in electronic format or send paper material to Charles McClure, FSU Information Institute, 142 Collegiate Loop, P.O. Box 3062100, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2100. Be sure that the material’s author and library name appears on each document.

Project Update

The project team looks forward to using this blog to share what we find and provide periodic updates to you on this project.

Hurricanes and Libraries: Emergency Management Activities

The Information Use Management & Policy Institute at Florida State University has been awarded a grant to examine how libraries, responders and communities have united to better prepare for and recover from hurricanes. Public libraries can play an important role in each phase of hurricane season’s lifecycle. One way of dividing the hurricane lifecycle is offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a guide entitled "Producing Emergency Plans." The guide identifies four primary phases of the emergency management as: mitigation, planning, response, and recovery. To provide librarians with a better appreciation of the scope of activities which could surround a comprehensive hurricane preparedness program, each of those phases are briefly explained.

Hurricane preparedness is not a single event. It is a set of interrelated activities, which extends from the initial design of the library structure, through the recovery and rebuilding efforts to reestablish the library as a fully functional community asset. Activities within this emergency management chain of events include:

Mitigation – Mitigation refers to reducing the impacts a hurricane will have on library collections, services and on the communities the library serves. Recent studies, as "The 2004 and 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes: Evolving Roles and Lessons Learned for Public Libraries in Disaster Preparedness and Community Services", indicate that during hurricane events, libraries may become rescue and recovery centers. Public libraries may provide vital community services, supporting the public’s need for information, communication, internet connectivity, and also assists in the coordination of recovery operations in the local area. In order to offer hurricane continuity of service and meet emergency demands, public libraries’ service and facilities infrastructure need to be carefully planned to resist the impact of hurricanes. The Disaster Mitigation Planning Assistance Website provides a wealth of information for cultural institutions, including libraries, museums, historical societies and archives, providing recommendations that will help mitigate damage to collections in the event of a disaster.

Planning – Planning is essential to assuring a high level of readiness and in addressing the crises conditions that surround an emergency event, such as a hurricane. Public libraries need to be at the table as local emergency responders develop and refine disaster plans. Within the public library, the preparation of informative documents, policies, online and web based services/resources, and operational plans that identify the emergency procedures are critically important. Such plans allow an organized and efficient reaction during a time of crisis. Such internal planning also helps librarians communicate and coordinate with responders at the local, state, and national levels. Librarians may wish to check out the disaster response plans and other emergency planning materials offered on the California Preservation Program website.

Response – This segment of the chain begins with the notification that a hurricane strike is imminent and continues through the event, until the end of the emergency. During this period of time, the library’s exterior and interior assets must be secured and protected from the impending danger. The library may be transformed to enable emergency service provision. This means securing necessary resources, reallocation of staff and increased flexibility. The public library will become an active emergency organized to meet the high demand for communications, services, and support activities required by the emergency response teams and the public’s need for crisis information. A good example of a Library Disaster Response Plan is provided by the Cornell University Library.

Recovery – Recovery is the period after the hurricane event where the library and community begins to react to the aftermath of the events and takes initial steps to return to normal operations and services. Library damages must be identified, assessed, and repaired. The library must assist the community to do the same with homes and business repairs. The Disaster Recovery for Public Records Custodians, Archives and Libraries website offered by the State Library of Florida provides many recovery related resources in the areas of records recovery, storage, media repair, and provides general conservation advice. SOLINET offers classes and training for library staff, preservation services, consulting, and recovery related electronic resources and library products. The SOLINET corporate brochure provides an overview of what SOLINET can offer you and your library.

As we learn from these experiences, the knowledge gained must be used to improve how the library can better prepare for future emergencies. A formal assessment of how the library and staff survived the disaster can help identify how the library can better serve the community in the future should a similar disaster occur.

How You Can Help: Do you and your public library have experience assisting your community prepare for and recover from a hurricane? How do these above phases compare to your experiences? Please send an email to Charles R. McClure with any thoughts you may have. By offering and describing your preparedness and response efforts, and related experiences, you will help to identify a set of best practices that will help all libraries and communities more effectively work together during emergencies situations. See our project summary, article, or radio interview for further information.