Catastrophe Readiness and Response: Proactive Roles for Public Libraries

The PLA session Catastrophe Readiness and Response: Proactive Roles for Public Libraries was not as well attended on a the session on 2.0 technology I had attended that morning, which to me reveals that many librarians are not yet making the connection between their work and a community disaster preparedness plan. You could also argue that the sparse attendance was because it was late in the day.

I was late to the session, but I was able to catch the majority of the two case studies that were presented. The first presenter was from Long Island, and she explained the process her library went through to develop an online catastrophe information clearinghouse for Long Island. It was fascinating to listen to the steps they went through to develop this impressive resource. First, library staff sought out and attended as much training in disaster preparedness and emergency management as they could find. They developed partnerships with relief agencies, government organizations such as FEMA, local elected officials, the business community, local non-profits, and engaged citizens. These partnerships paid off as they were marketing the clearinghouse, developing programming to educate the community, and asking for continuing funding to broaden it’s scope to cover information from a broader region.

The second presenter was from Pasco County in southern Florida. Pasco Library employees, as city employees, serve shifts during disasters (usually hurricanes) in an information center that sets up during the disaster. It was incredible to see how well integrated the information workers of the library were in the overall information dissimination plan for the county. Links here …

The Q & A session was also fascinating as librarians from all over the country shared their own disaster stories, from the “little Katrina” in Kansas to the San Diego wildfires. They told stories about how they positioned their libraries during disasters, such as letting the firefighters use their bathrooms, letting FEMA workers use their computers, opening the community rooms up as shelters, to being part of the community disaster preparedness plan as the information center for the community. One librarian from a small rural community said that during a pandemic the residents in her community may not know the phone number of the health department, but they do know the phone number of the library. After the disaster, librarians are helping those impacted by the disaster “return to normalcy” by conducting storytimes for children affected by disasters and assistance to the community to find insurance and relief information online.

The session brought up interesting ideas about how the library’s role during disasters as the information and community center.

What can you do as a library to help your community prepare for a disaster?

  • Create a display that shows the contents of a “Go bag” along with information on how to buy or create one for the home
  • Create a website or online database of local information on shelters, evacuation routes, medical relief, pet help, and other important information to have during a disaster
  • Attend a training or get certified in emergency management
  • Create a program to teach kids and parents about what to do in a disaster
  • Create programming to educate the community about what to do during a disaster. Ideas for a program include: bring a speaker from FEMA or the Red Cross, insurance companies, create a Go Kit with families, …
  • Create a disaster plan for your library
  • Create a COOP (Continuity of Operations Plan)
  • Update monthly staff contact information on a zip drive
  • Read this Weekly Tip to find more information on how your library can prepare for a disaster

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