New listserv for librarians interested in disaster preparedness

I’ve been on DISASTER-OUTREACH-LIB from NLM/NIH for a couple of months now, and I see some pretty good information come through. It’s not a super-active list, so it’s easy to keep track. There is a f ocus on health information, since it sponsored by the National Library of Medicine, but I’ve seen other topics covered as well.

Find more information about it and other NLM resources here.

Job Opportunity: Medical Librarian with Focus on Disaster Preparedness

Interesting opportunity in Bethesda, Maryland for someone with a health library background to engage more directly with disaster preparedness.

Seniors vulnerable during disaster

Seniors are often the most victimized by a disaster.  During Hurricane Katrina, many were caught because they physically could not leave the city.  This article talks about a service that helps seniors during disasters.  One of their pieces of advice involves making personal disaster plans that involve places they may go every day, like the library.

Native traditions offer valuable disaster prep advice

I heard this story on NPR a few days ago and it made me think of how libraries could have several big wins with this.  One, making connections with native american stories and storytellers could be a great way for non-native americans to enrich their understanding of their community and to start building relationships between native and non-native communities.  Two, as Crawford in this story points out, backing up advice with a story brings a point home that much more clearly.  Imagine a storytime where you teach kids disaster preparedness by telling them a story where the characters react to the disaster.

Developing a Disaster Plan (Live Online)

SOLINET is offering a live online class on developing a disaster plan. The audience is for staff members responsible for organizing, writing, and implementing an institution-wide disaster-preparedness plan in academic, public, and special libraries, archives, and historical societies.

Here is the description:

To prevent unnecessary loss of materials, institutions need knowledgeable staff and written plans for dealing with emergency situations so that fewer disasters occur and damage is minimized. Disaster planning requires the support and commitment of staff from many departments, including facilities and fiscal affairs. Plan preparation is more successful and effective when undertaken by a committee with staff representatives from across the institution.
This web-based class is designed to support the work of an institution’s disaster planning committee. Homework assignments will require input and support from a variety of staff members. Taught in three two-hour sessions over the course of six weeks, it guides participants through the development of a written disaster plan. The modules cover establishment of a planning structure, information gathering, including risk assessment and resource list development, setting recovery priorities, an overview of recovery procedures, plan development, and working with disaster recovery vendors. Participants are invited to submit their completed plans for review.

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

Preparing for catastrophes at PLA 2008

When I’m at library conferences, I tend to seek out everything that is related to international librarianship and disaster recovery and prep.  This afternoon, I’ll be attending a session at PLA 2008 about Catastrophe Readiness and Response: Proactive Roles for Public Libraries (see session 220) which should be interesting.  I have to say, however, that I’m a little disappointed that this is the only session on disaster preparedness at the conference this year.  I would love to see more research and sessions on how public libraries can be part of a community’s disaster preparedness plan.

It seems that academic libraries spend more time and energy on their own internal catastrophe planning, because they usually house collections that are either unique or hold more monetary or historical value. Not that public libraries don’t have collections that hold value.  When I attended the ALA Annual Conference 2006 in New Orleans, during a volunteer clean up day, I saw a collection of local African-American history in the Treme Library that we were gutting.  The Treme library had been a children’s library in a New Orleans neighborhood that had been home to musicians and other creatively engaged citizens of New Orleans.  The library had taken about 12 feet of water, and almost the entire collection was destroyed.  What was lost was not only a community center which had been an afternoon and weekend hangout for the local kids, but also this small tangible piece of the city’s history.

John Wood, of Room to Read, opened the PLA conference and shared with about 1000 librarians his vision and plan to educated 10 million children in the developing world by the year 2020.  He talked about the reason why Room to Read entered Sri Lanka right after the devastating disaster they experienced. He had read somewhere that for children, after a disaster, a return to normalcy was a very important part of their healing.  And for children, what does a return to normalcy include?  Why, school of course.  So Room to Read went in after this year will have rebuilt or built new 80 schools.

I can imagine children’s storytimes, afternoons at the library reading books and playing computer games would also seem like a “return to normalcy” to children affected by a disaster.  For adults, public access computers could be a vital link to applying for FEMA aid, contacting loved ones by email, contacting insurance companies, etc.?

I would also love to see any training for library staff in disaster preparedness that is similar to what Red Cross and other disaster recovery organizations go through.  Or, at least significant partnerships with disaster recovery organizations so that libraries are included in their disaster prep plans. At the least, it would be great to see some research sponsored that would survey what public libraries are already doing.

I wrote in BlogJunction a longish post about ideas on global policy intersecting with local policy, and the importance of collaboration that might be interesting to readers of this blog.