Pasco County Library System, Florida

Terri Romberger, Library Systems Application Analyst at the Pasco County Library System in New Port Richey, Florida, discusses hurricane season and how it impacts the public library.

Interview date: June 18th, 2007

Questions:

(1.) What happened in your community (i.e., what was the disaster/emergency)?

Living in Florida, we have the special experience of Hurricane Season from June 1st to November 30th every year.

(2.) How did the library respond? How did the librarian respond? Were there non-traditional (unusual) roles that the librarian performed?

Library personnel work closely with Emergency Management, manning the phones with citizen inquiries from a minimum of 48 hours prior to impact to well after the storm is over. The actual startup of RIC (Resident Information Center) begins when EOC (Emergency Operations Center) determines they are no longer able to handle the amount of telephone calls to their office. This is sometimes as early as 3-4 days prior to expected storm landfall; often other departments are not yet activated. We have most of our material stored online and updates are constant in our informational document [To view attached files, see menu]. When asked to fill out copious forms for application to SNAPPS (Special Needs Assistance Population Program), we developed the attached PDF to ease the application process. This is now posted on the Pasco County Office of Emergency Management website for public access.

Training of the entire library staff is a prerequisite to our success, for this is an essential job duty as outlined in the attached directive from our library director. The over 100 employees, including 25 supervisors and other county departments and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers are trained on basic navigation of the database, policy and procedures in Emergency Management (Emergency Service Functions 1-18), as well as bunker layout and operations.

Through conference calls with the State and surrounding County Emergency Operations Centers, our County Emergency Operations Director decides when it is necessary to open the Resident Information Center. He contacts our liaison to deploy staff to the Resident Information Center. We utilize staff from our Support Services facilities for the first 48 hours of the emergency, with Libraries’ Public Services staffing thereafter. Our “GOKITS,” which contain paper copies of important information and other useful supplies like batteries, are ready and accessible to be transported to the bunker with us at a moment’s notice.

The citizens of Pasco County are the users of this service. As the tropical storm or hurricane is approaching the public is generally glued to their television sets. The broadcast message marquee is running across the top or bottom of their TV screens “For more information or questions, call Pasco County Emergency Operations 727-847-8137″, and that is where we pick up the phone and provide requested information.

(3.) How has the library (or the services provided) changed as a result of these events?

In the beginning of this collaboration, the Resident Information Center was in a room about 10 x 10 feet, with operators manning phones around tables that were pushed together, mounds of paperwork, clipboards, old situation reports, telephone books, message pads, you can imagine. And just remember in 2004 we had a pretty rough hurricane season, first there was Charley, then Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Through 2004 alone, the hours Libraries staffed the RIC was over 1,800 with a cost of $42,681.04 (attached 2004 Hurricane Personnel Totals.xls). This is a considerable investment to undertake while still operating the libraries during regular operating hours. We have since been upgraded to better digs.

We now have a larger room with computer access for each operator as well as a laptop for the supervisor. Using the database and online forms has proved to be less stressful and more productive for the operators that take sometimes as many as 40 calls per hour. Now, remember these are not call center employees. They are library personnel, including shelvers, janitors, and couriers who have been trained to use this information to guide our citizens in emergency preparedness.

(4.) What, in your opinion, are the roles for libraries (and librarians) in disaster planning, response and recovery efforts?

As librarians are extremely good at gathering, verifying and disseminating information, it is a natural progression that librarians would be chosen to help in emergency efforts when distribution of that information becomes necessary. As a result, Pasco County Library’s personnel have become the primary workforce for this task, and provide indispensable support to the Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) Resident Information Center (RIC). Because the Gulf is on the west coast of the county, the Westside RIC is usually activated first. The Eastside RIC, located approximately 65 miles east in Dade City, opens as a backup and handles the overflow of calls. OEM operates out of a bunker-type building, with auxiliary generator power available. The RIC accommodates up to 13 operators and one supervisor per shift, and we generally staff 24 hours a day with three shifts until the storm dissipates or moves on. Concerns from citizens range from sandbag locations, to their particular evacuation level, to SNAPPS pickup time, etc.

I have attached some of the forms that are referred to in this oral history, just to familiarize readers to documentation, also our RICinfo.doc which is a great data source during our shifts at the RIC.

GO KITS Contents: romberger_terri_gokitscontents1

Special Needs Assistance Population Program Evacuation Registration Request Form: romberger_terri_2007-snapform

Interoffice Memorandum in reference to service during emergencies: romberger_terri_li06-122

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