Unity for the Community: a report of the panel discussion during the NN/LM Emergency Preparedness and Response Summit at the Washington County Free Public Library

Each one of us, every day, is in one element of the emergency management cycle.  We are either in mitigation, preparedness, response, or recovery.  And mixed in with all of this are drills and table-top exercises. – Verna Brown

The summit took place in Hagerstown, Maryland, on January 23, 2014. The panel discussion reported here followed a summary of the mission of the NN/LM Emergency Preparedness & Response Initiative by Dan Wilson. The two panelists were Verna Brown, Emergency Management Coordinator for Washington County, Maryland, and Shawn Stoner, Washington County Public Health Emergency Planner.  The questions are from Dan Wilson and summit attendees.  Additional training took place in the afternoon, including the 10-Step Approach to Service Continuity Planning, a table-top exercise, and an After Action Review.

Shawn Stoner, Verna Brown, and Julie Zamostny, Continuing Education Coordinator, Washington County Public Libraries

Shawn Stoner, Verna Brown, and Julie Zamostny, Continuing Education Coordinator, Washington County Public Libraries

Based on what you heard this morning, what roles do you see libraries possibly playing in your future planning?

Libraries could play a very important part in our planning.  We need to sit down soon and work on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). You could help us develop Family Assistance Centers (FAC) that are designed to assist with family unification.  There’s also the need for Disaster Relief Centers (DRC).  Would this be a good place to have a DRC?  Absolutely.  If this library would like to be added to the list, that would be great.  And I would encourage library participation at any one of our committees.  Outreach programs and partnerships are very important to us in emergency management.

Public Health would also welcome library participation in our planning.  We are very flexible and will take whatever you can provide us.  Your bookmobile would be great assistance during a pandemic or a terrorist attack, as we could take medications to the public.  It could also be used to get the preparedness information to the public.

Please talk a little more about the MOU.

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The library would say what they are willing to do and we would say what we are willing to do.  For instance, if the library would say they will be a warming center, then we would get the word out that the library is a warming center, if it’s needed. And this is a two-way street.  We don’t expect you to do all the giving.  What can we give you?  We can provide emergency response and preparedness classes.  We can facilitate a security program or a table-top exercise.  We can also review your emergency plans.  All at no cost, resulting in a stronger and more resilient partnerships for the community.

Citizens come to the library because they want to know answers. We want to be a resource for you.

A formal agreement is important because it helps with planning and coordinating response activities.  If you sign an agreement but are unable to fulfill the agreement, it’s okay.  Each emergency is different and not everything planned for is possible.

The agreement would state that the library could be, not will be, so if you are unable to help for some reason, that’s okay. Here’s an example: a couple of years ago we had a big fire in the area. Everybody assumed the shelter was going to be at the local high school.  However, the high school had no electricity that day.  Therefore, about 20 years ago we stopped telling people where their particular shelter is located until we know what shelter to open.  The MOU doesn’t mean you will be used as a resource.  We need the flexibility.  We are thankful when we don’t have to use your facility.

What would happen if suddenly 300 people show up at the library following an announcement that it was being used as a cooling shelter?  Are there provisions for additional security?

We would pre-determine how many people you can handle.  If you get to 80%, then we are opening a shelter somewhere else, which all goes back to the importance of planning and communication.

How valuable would our partnership be to the community?

It would be extremely valuable because all of the residents in our community know exactly where the library is located. It always helps to say that you are in partnership with your community.  You are already a strong partner, this would make you even stronger.

Where do you get your information?

All of our information comes from the state and is vetted and consistent.

Washington County Free Public Library

Washington County Free Public Library

I could certainly see the need for having a librarian to come in during an Emergency Opperations Center (EOC) activation.  Keep in mind, that it’s not the nicest hours of the day.  It’s not a glamorous job.  It would certainly be an advantage to us, and we would be very happy to have librarians bring us information to help us do a better job; it is our role, however, to push that information out to the public.  Again, one voice; consistent and vetted.

Talk about the importance of Facilities and Security.

Your maintenance people are who we want to talk to, as they know everything about the building.  For instance, if you were willing to be a shelter, it would be your facilities people who would open the building.

What are the current trends in Emergency Management?

Family Assistance Centers to help unify families.  Also care of pets, which became a major issue after Katrina when many people wouldn’t leave their pets behind, as pets were not allowed in shelters. Prepare for your pets like you prepare for yourself. Remember, 72 hours.  Last summer we did a full-scale pet sheltering drill at the Agricultural Center.  The Hancock Fire Department has also offered to set up a pet tent shelter.

Where do we get disaster-specific information?  For instance if we wanted to pass on the most up-to-date information, how would we do that?

Information comes through our public information office or the emergency alerts. Make sure that our public information officer knows that you want to be on the list of recipients to receive the most current information.  You guys need to plan on how to disperse information that you are getting from our public information officer.

Final words?

If you want to be part of this, we would love to have you.  Can you enhance us?  Yes you can.  And we can enhance you as well.  Come join us.

A special thanks to Julie Zamostny for coordinating the event and to Shawn Stover and Verna Brown for their time and expertise.  It was a wonderful meeting. Finally, thanks to the National Library of Medicine and the NN/LM for their continued support. – Dan Wilson 

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