Natural disasters and ALA

I’m back a couple of weeks now from ALA in New Orleans and am still processing everything I saw. Of course, I have been thinking more about the effects of natural disasters on communities. The poor, and the most vulnerable are always the most at risk, and usually the most affected when a disaster strikes. Apparently Laura Bush agrees,

“The poorer people are usually in the neighborhoods that are the lowest or the most exposed or the most vulnerable. Their housing is the most vulnerable to natural disaster. And that is just always what happens.”

but I don’t know if it’s motivating her to start acting on strategies for change. There was some talk at ALA about preservation and recovery efforts for collections, but not enough (some, but not enough) about preparedness and mitigation. The FEMA led workshops were, well, not very well organized. I walked out of that training session thinking, man, FEMA needs to get it’s act together. Don’t they realize they have an IMAGE problem?!! I thought in my very best Comic Book Guy voice, “Worst powerpoint ever!”.

And, can you believe it, but ALA still doesn’t have a Disaster Preparedness committee, interest group, or round table!! At least not that I could find on the ALA website. When are people going to realize that disaster preparedness is more than making sure you have enough flashlights in the basement. As public institutions, libraries, especially public libraries, need to start thinking about how they can play a role in their communities duriing a disaster. It should be part of standard operating procedure during a disaster, not the idea of creative and empathetic individuals or organizations. I know libraries pitched in during the Hurricane Katrina, bringing books to children, doing storytimes in shelters, keeping the computers going so people could contact family and friends, and later, apply for FEMA and other relief money. We should be doing a lessons learned, case study approach to how they helped NOLA during the crisis. If somebody is, please, please tell me about it!!

As libraries can help build communities and fight poverty, we should be looking at ways to protect people from natural disasters. Loss of life can be prevented. The same storm in Cuba kills no one while in Haiti, the most disaster-vulnerable country in terms of infrastructure and socioeconomic factors in Latin America, the same storm would kill many. Preparation matters. So lessons could be learned from the country, according to Oxfam, with the best hurricane preparation system in the world. Of course, what the trade-off is …

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