Ports in a Storm: The Library as Community Disaster Recovery Center


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When disaster strikes, where do you go? After Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in late October 2012, people went to their local library. Many community libraries were pressed into service as ad hoc Disaster Recovery Centers, and were in the forefront of providing services and information to those in need, often times working alongside of first responders.

Residents flocked to their local libraries the morning after the storm to access computers, use the free wireless to conduct business or work from “home;” to contact relatives or their insurance companies; find tree removal specialists; fill out FEMA forms; or just to power up their devices, warm up and have a cup of coffee. Libraries truly served their communities as ports in a storm, even though many were not prepared so serve in this capacity.

Ports in the Storm: The Library as Community Disaster Recovery Center was presented at a disaster planning & recovery summit in New Jersey on April 8, 2013, and at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago on June 28, 2013. This presentation will help to prepare your library and staff to step up into the role of a community Disaster Recovery Center. You will learn how to work with your local emergency responders and to provide resources to your community in times of greatest need.

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  • Primary goal of presentation is to help prepare libraries to be betterpartners in community disaster response and recovery.To provideinformation to position libraries as unofficial Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) & to fulfill this vital community service when the next disaster strikes. Embrace the role libraries and information professionals play in supporting emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts. Any size library can serve as a DRC, & help its community in some way after an emergency. Be open, flexible, resilient. Be prepared, have a plan of action in place for the future.
  • (Caldwell, NJ & Lakeville, MA)What is a “Disaster Recovery Center?”An official federal designation, refers to a “readily accessible facility or mobile office where applicants may go for information about FEMA or other disaster assistance programs. Some services may include giving guidance regarding disaster recovery, housing assistance and rental resource information, checking the status of FEMA applications, and disseminating SBA program information.”Sites identified &prequalified before by FEMA (Lakeville, MA library is an official site, but the Caldwell, NJLibrary is not). DRC’s oftenlocated in schools, malls, municipal facilities, senior centers, car dealerships--places with large spaces that can handle crowds.DRC’s are expensive to setup & FEMA does not have resources to staff every library after an emergency. But,libraries have served as “unofficial” DRC’s, providing many of the same services. Librarians have worked alongside government agencies after an emergency, providing assistance to the community. 
  • Libraries serve as “second responders.”Support "first responders" such as police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. Second responder helpspeople get the help they need for their health, home, work.Empowering second responders helps the community return more quickly to normalcy and routine.
  • Maplewood Library, & Bound Brook Library, NJThe Library plays multiple roles in disaster response & recovery:Libraries serve as community rallying point after an emergency.Locations in every community.Everyone knows where their library is located.Librarians viewed by the public as knowledgeable, helpful, customer service oriented.Staff are familiar with the community, & know the people.Librarians deliver accurateinformation, & can aid with the coordination ofcitizen groups & government agencies.
  • (Middleton, Princeton, Chatham, Princeton, NJ)After a disaster, library is a respite from the StormAfter Super Storm Sandy, few libraries in NJwere damaged when compared with the amount of destruction to homes and businesses.Safe buildings, comfortablespaces, electricity for light, heat or air conditioning, rest rooms. Serve as the Communication & Information hub for the community,gathering place for information updates.Have tech labs, internet, email, Wi-Fi,fax, telephone, photocopiers. Children’s services.Meeting rooms. Temporary headquarters for FEMA, government agencies, community aid workers, the military.Serve as a volunteer coordination center & as distribution center for grass roots relief agencies.  People have always relied on libraries to provide these services. But for a community in crisis, libraries truly serve as ports in a storm.
  • Preparing to step into the Disaster Recovery Center RoleBEFORE next emergency hits, prepare library to step into the disaster recoveryrole. 1.Prepare staff & facility.Focus here is on service continuity. Planning is what happens before the disaster. It’s focus is internal. Service continuity is what happens afterwards—how to get your facility back in business as quickly as possible with minimal disruption of service. Hospitals & medical libraries have always been concerned with service continuity because they have public’s health at stake. Taking their model and applying it to public libraries.Have a disaster plan, emergency technology plan, service continuity plan, temporary facilities relocation plan. Update plans annually, practice with staff. Bring in additional power supplies, power strips, and a small gas-powered generator, if funds allow. Planfor flexible rearrangement of space to accommodate crowds and special meetings.  2. Make plans to keep librarywebsite, online resources, and social media accessible & updated.  3. Join or start a Regional Emergency Response Network, or at least have a partner library to help in an emergency. Assemble a shared disaster supply closet or locker. Keep it stocked. 4. Inform and educate elected officials of library’s capabilities in a disaster. 5. Develop a relationship withlocal emergency responders. Get Community Emergency Response Training though the CERT program. Learn the Incident Command System to integrate into the emergency response system. 6. Develop a relationship with other community partners involved in disaster preparedness and response.7. Help prepare people in your community for an emergency. Familiarize yourself with FEMA’s services and forms. Host a DisasterPreparedness Day in September for National Preparedness month. 8. Be familiar with Heritage Preservation’s Salvaging Family Treasures materials because people come to library with their damaged family photos, Bibles, records, looking for preservationhelp and advice.
  • The following are internal—staff & facility initiatives-- preparedness activities.
  • From the National Network Libraries of Medicine
  • NN/LM has developed their continuity planning framework & template for libraries based their experience & involvement with these events.
  • See NN/LM Emergency Preparedness & Response Toolkit at http://nnlm.gov/ep/
  • Questions about the 15 elements of a library at a high state of readiness? Email Dan Wilson,Coordinator for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine National Emergency Preparedness & Response Initiative at DANWILSON@VIRGINIA.EDU
  • NN/LM One Page Service Continuity Plan for Libraries, adapted from Council of State Archivists (CoSA) PReP. NN/LM recommends that all libraries create a response plan.This is a one-page plan that can be kept on a device, or in a purse or a wallet, so no matter where you are you will be able to manage a response.  See NN/LM Emergency Preparedness & Response Toolkit at http://nnlm.gov/ep/
  • Photos: Regional Emergency Responses Networks in Burlington & Atlantic Counties, NJJoin a regional mutual aid network of other libraries to help prepare and cope with disasters. Regional or mutual aid networks help support joint disaster planning, response & recovery, & help acquire supplies and equipment.Have Memorandums of Understanding in place outlining responsibilities of those in the network. Many samples online.Models of regional mutual aid that have been around for years:Lyrasis, WESTPAS, HERA, Alliance for Response.NEH offers a preservation assistance grant (up to $6,000) for smaller institutions topay for disastersupplies. 
  • People will come to library with theirdamaged family treasures, photographs, bibles, and vital records.
  • Do not dispense with conservation treatment recommendations if you are not a conservator.Heritage Preservation Emergency Field Guide, Emergency Response & Salvage Wheel and phone App provides guidance to people looking for resources to save their family treasures.   
  • Get emergency response training through the national Community Emergency Response Team program.TheCERT program educates people about potential hazards that may impact a particular area, providesbasic training in disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. CERT members assist people in the community following an emergency when professional responders are not immediately available to help. Becoming a CERT member enables youto integrate and work more productively with emergency first responders.
  • Note: Actual statement CDC released in 2011,because Zombie Apocalypse was so popular!CERT program that teachesreadiness and response skills to teens.
  • Most effective responses come during the first 72 hours after a disaster from those closest to incident when it is difficult for outside help to arrive at the scene.Join community volunteer efforts that are employed in emergencies. Those who really make the biggest difference in those first critical hours after an emergency are the people in the community themselves. They become first responders because they are first on the scene.Local communities oversee relief efforts until national resources & FEMA arrive at the scene, which can take several days.
  • Once trained in basic emergency response, find potential community partners whose mission also includes disaster preparedness and response. Faith-based and community organizations play vital roles in disaster response because of the connections they have already established in the community. They have a:Network already in place so they can respond quickly.Established personal relationships in the community.Great understanding of the community’s needs.Can provide some services libraries cannot, such as serving as a shelter. United Methodist Church maintains a corps of trained disaster response specialists in the US and internationally.
  • Another great community partner is Citizens Corp whose mission is to “make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds.” Citizen Corp integrates community representatives with emergency managers so that disaster preparedness and response planning represents the whole community. “They give critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize spontaneous volunteers at a disaster site.” (from Citizen Corp website)
  • During Super Storm Sandy, Boston Marathon bombing, West, Texas factory explosion, people used social media to connect, share, organize disaster recovery efforts. Social media was used to keep up with news reports, and make use of mapping sites to keep track of open gas stations and food & supply distribution centers.Library should integrate social media into emergency preparedness and communications efforts. Library websiteand email will continue to be an important for the public, but in a time of crisis andresulting communications noise, push urgent messages out directly into the social media world. For example, the library can:Establish a Facebook page for the community before a crisis. Have website home page feature official information from community, municipal, & national groups. Direct people to library website via social media. Social media does have its downsides. Rumors & incorrect information spread quickly, but can be corrected just as fast. And with social media people can get updates from others OUSIDE of the stricken area .
  • One example isOccupy Sandy. Grassroots emergency relief network made up of community, municipal, & national groups..
  • Photo: NPRAsmuch as 60% of items donated after a disaster can’t be used.
  • A volunteer from Occupy Sandy came up with this idea: Why not set up a wedding registry on Amazon.com, where towns and organizations could register, and peoplecould buy items that were actually needed, like face masks,dehumidifiers,cleaning supplies, pots and pans, and hand warmers? Library could taking the lead andset upsomething like this in the community in the aftermath of a disaster.Coordinate what community needs with other volunteer organizations in town. 
  • Help your community get ready!An educated community is a prepared and safer community– a community that is resilient.Register at Ready.gov & take part in their preparedness campaign. “Launched by FEMA in 2003, Ready.gov is a national public service advertising campaign (also in Spanish) designed to educate Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies. The goal of the campaign is to get the public involved and ultimately increase the level of basic preparedness across the nation.” (Ready.gov website)Campaignincludes brochures on helping individuals, families, seniors, children, people with disabilities, and even pets, get prepared.
  • Take part in “National Preparedness Month,” (every September) sponsored by FEMA. Offer programming that will help the public assemble a family emergency supply kit, make an emergency plan, become informed, and get involved in their community to be ready for emergencies.  Sponsor a Community PreparednessDay that focuses on emergency preparedness &promotes the role of the library as a DRC.
  • All of this is preparing for the key piece which is working with your local emergency responders. Emergency management agencies and first responders have always been involved with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. That’s their job. It’s only been in recent years that libraries, and other cultural institutions, have begun to think about working more closely with their local office of emergency management.  Getting emergency management to recognize the benefits of partnering with the library in the event of a disaster has been more of a tough sell. We have not proven our mettle so to speak, but after Sandy, many emergency responders took notice and are now ready to acknowledge the benefits of working with their local library. In order for this partnership to be successful, we must introduce them to our services, and also learn to speak their language—the language of emergency response.  To form a successful partnership in your community, contact your local emergency management team, your OEM. Tell them that the library is ready to aid them after a disaster strikes.
  • Electedofficials often forget the many roles libraries play in an emergency. Make elected officials aware of library’s capabilities before a disaster strikes. They need to know that the library is willing to play an active role in an emergency and what services the library will be able to offer.
  • To serve thecommunity as a DRC, be creative and responsive to the community’s needs. Go to where help is needed, where the people are: Prepare mobile services to move to shelters, schools, and churches. Set up small libraries of books & magazines in other locations.Run specialstory timesfor children so parents can use the computers to attend to business and seek help. Let the recreation department use your community room for arts &crafts classes. Offer internet access and email services, not only to the general public, butto Red Cross volunteers, the National Guard, and other volunteer organizations. Allow mental health agencies to hold meetings in your community room to help people deal with their emotions during a crisis. Project local news and emergency updates on your walls for all to see throughout the day as they pass by. Help people find and complete the FEMAforms they need. Let community groups run coat drives and food drives in your library. The library can make a difference in your neighborhood. Thelibrary can bea Port in a Storm when it is needed most.
  • Check out the new NN/LM NNLMSCR YouTube video “Public Libraries and First Responders: Partners in Emergency Response.”
  • Ports in a Storm: The Library as Community Disaster Recovery Center

    1. 1. Michele StrickerAssociate Director, Library Support Services, New Jersey State LibraryCertified Preservation Management ConsultantDan WilsonCoordinator for the National Network of Libraries of MedicineNational Emergency Preparedness & Response InitiativePORTS IN A STORMTHE LIBRARY ASCOMMUNITY DISASTER RECOVERY CENTERBURLINGTON COUNTY LIBRARY, EVESHAM BRANCH
    3. 3. LIBRARIES SERVE AS SECOND RESPONDERSFirst Responders Maplewood Public Lib rary, NJ
    5. 5. THE LIBRARY IS A SAFE HAVENMiddletown, Princeton, Chatham, Princeton Libraries
    6. 6. PREPARING TO STEP INTO THE COMMUNITYDISASTER RECOVERY CENTER ROLE• Prepare library facility and staff• Make plans to keep library website, online resources, and socialmedia accessible and updated.• Form a Regional Emergency Response Network• Inform elected officials• Develop a relationship with community emergency responders• Work with other community partners• Help prepare your community for a disaster• Be familiar with Salvaging Family Treasures materials.
    8. 8. NN/LM NATIONAL EMERGENCYPREPAREDNESS & RESPONSE INITIATIVETo aide the welfare of acommunity or parentinstitution following a disasterby ensuring access to healthinformation and core libraryresources and services tohealth professionals, librarypatrons, and the public.
    9. 9. A VERY QUICK HISTORY• 2005: Hurricane Katrina• 2008: Rollout of EP & R Plan• 2009: 10-Step Training Program• 2010: Hospital Libraries• 2011-2013: PublicLibraries/EmergencyPlanners/Public Health
    10. 10. GOAL: TO BUILD GREATER READINESS IN OURNATION’S LIBRARIES• Promote awareness of roles libraries & librarians canplay in a disaster• Provide tools for improving readiness• Energize the library communitySeaside Heights, NJ
    11. 11. 15 ELEMENTS OF A LIBRARY AT AHIGH STATE OF READINESS1. Response station2. One-page Service Continuity Plan updated quarterly3. Shelter locations (tornado, shooter, HAZMAT)4. Communication plan that incorporates redundancy of communication(such as what to do if cell phones don’t work) and procedures forupdating website, Facebook, and/or Twitter. Situation reporting.
    12. 12. SITUATION REPORT (MARCH 6, 2013)Please remember to dial 924-SNOW tomorrow morning before heading out to work.If the University is closed, all non-essential staff should not report to work. Essentialstaff will communicate with Tony, who will be communicating with Gretchen.Due to the many uncertainties of this storm, its hard to tell at this time what conditionswill be like during the morning commute. Most of the forecasts Ive seen show snowthroughout the day, so even if we can open the library we may be in an early closingscenario. However, well have to let it play out and make adjustments along the way.The Service Continuity Team (SCT) and essential services staff are now on stand-by.Essential services staff from the standpoint of staffing the library and the SCT from thestandpoint of keeping our core services available from their homes. Since there is thepotential for power outages, Bart will coordinate the SCT. If you are on the SCTand you lose power during business hours, please contact Bart. Bart will thennotify a backup, if one is available.David Moody will be handling messages on the librarys website, and will be incommunication with our social media maven, Kimberly. Therefore it is essentialthat David is made aware of any changes to our hours.Questions? Please let me know.
    13. 13. 5. At least one scheduled evacuation drill per year6. Disaster Team and a Continuity of Services Team7. At least one table-top exercise per year8. Library and/or librarians integrated into community/parentinstitution’s disaster plan9. Core print materials available for use if the Internet is down
    14. 14. 10. Servers with core online resources on extended orunlimited emergency power11. Mutual Aid Agreements with other libraries or networksfor delivery of core services12. Prioritized recovery list of all valuable and hard toreplace materials13. Partnership (contract not required) with commercialsalvage/recovery company (e.g., Belfor and BMS)14. After-action Review within 7 days of a service disruption15. 72-hour emergency kits at the homes of all members ofservice continuity team
    19. 19. GET TRAINING!COMMUNITY EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAMS(CERT)www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams
    20. 20. ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!Note: “Zombies do not exist. The CDC does not know of any virus or conditionthat would reanimate the dead”
    30. 30. WORKING WITH EMERGENCY RESPONDERSNJ Neptune Public Library staff erect tents off-site CERT Team training
    32. 32. Occupy Sandy
    33. 33. Michele Stricker: mstricker@njstatelib.orgDan Wilson: danwilson@virginia.eduTHANK YOU!Public Libraries & First Responders: Partners in Emergency Responsehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZUEChxl74g