Sumter Regional Hospital, Thompson Medical Library, Georgia

Claudia LeSueur, from the Thompson Medical Library at the Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus, Georgia, talks about a tornado that affected the hospital library in March 2007.

Interview date: July 12th, 2007

Questions:

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

On March 1, 2007 at about 9:25 pm, a devastating tornado hit our community and destroyed our hospital.For photographs of the tornado damage, see: http://sumter.fastcommand.com/photo_album/detailed_image.php?id=243&pic_count=0

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

News about the tornado reached me about 10:30 pm. It took me one hour to drive two miles due to trees having fallen across the roads all around town. Much help was needed at the hospital and people really rallied. However, by the time I got there the patients had been moved to the OR and ER areas. Patients were being transferred to other hospitals and ambulatory patients were waiting in hallways near ER to be transported as well. I briefly visited the library when I arrived and saw a lot of devastation. Books and journals seemed safe (no windows near them) and the water that had fallen from the ceiling had not fallen in this area. About the only thing I could do at that point was help talk to people to relieve some tension. Our staff had done such an excellent job and the activity that seemed chaotic was actually very organized. It was beginning to be so crowded that they really only needed a few people so I left.I felt like just finding a place to stake a claim (geographically speaking) was very important for the library. People tend to think everything is on the internet and they might realize too late that it isn’t. Promoting awareness that you are there and have services that need to continue is a must.

When you are dealing with just plain survival the “extras” can seem small. The first place the hospital went the night of the tornado was to First Baptist Church where first aid was set up. We operated there until we got some tents from FEMA. From the tents we have moved to some FEMA/GEMA modular buildings and are just starting the building of the 70 or minus bed interim hospital. It is an unbelievable story and it goes on day after day after day. There is almost no way to describe it.

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

I was able to get in the hospital after about three days to see the library and assess the damage. The text and journal collection looked safe. Water had not fallen in this area. However, my office had two large windows and water was everywhere as well as debris. My cabinets in the library were near the windows and they had a large amount of debris on them. I began looking for a temporary place and started out in a building being used by hospital administration. Then someone helped me find a larger office in a modular building owned by the hospital and across the road from the rear of the hospital. We have a company that is helping with salvage and we have a warehouse where cleaned furniture is being placed. From this warehouse I have removed bookshelves and am using them to house the journals collection.At this point we do not have an open library for people to walk in at any hour. We are members of the Mercer Medical Library (Macon, GA) GaIN (Georgia Interactive Network network and this has been an excellent resource in the past and is more so even now. Our doctors and employees have access to such databases as MD Consult. This gives 24 hours access to knowledge based literature. I am doing literature alerts and have offered a table of contents service for the journals we take. These journals are in my current “library” which is really an office in a modular building across from the hospital. An interim hospital is being built now and there will not be a place for much more than clinical service. I face about three years of keeping the library viable for the physicians and employees so I will be constantly seeking ways of reaching those in need and helping in any way I can. As the interim hospital is built I will look for ways to create awareness and offer services.

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

Clinical needs become so acute when a disaster strikes, so the librarians have to be ready to help meet information needs that arise. As people stay focused on survival and rebuilding, look for ways to helpfully respond and offer information resources. Librarians should serve on disaster and recovery committees. Awareness of the work of these committees can help you meet their information needs as well.
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