Points to Ponder: MSU Library’s Flood

Michael Boer posted a second article about the water damage at the Montana State University’s Library (see the Comment below the “Water Damage…” post). Here are some points to ponder that we can glean from the article and hopefully use as “lessons learned” in our own disaster planning.

  • this is the second burst pipe incident in a week, and library staff have already spent a week trying to clean up and salvage the rare materials that were damaged a week ago. Lesson: we all need help sometimes. Two incidents in a row, with the second being worse than the first, is beyond what most of us plan for or are equipped to deal with.
  • Library Dean, Tamara Miller said that they began recovery immediately, and that “getting organized was my first thought.” Lesson: get organized before you start the process–have a plan in place, have supplies on hand, know who to call for help with salvaging and clean up.
  • MSU’s library kept their essential services up and running–their online resources were still available, including class resources for faculty and students, the classes that would have been taught in the library were re-located to other buildings, and they continued to provide Reference services. Lesson: a good example for all of us who are working on service continuity plans!
  • two commercial salvage/recovery companies are already involved; a local company helping with clean-up, and a Texas-based company sending a freezer truck to remove items to be freeze-dried. Lesson: if possible, develop a relationship with a commercial recovery company (see links here on the Toolkit) as part of your planning process.
  • the fire sprinkler system was installed only eight years ago, with safeguards in place for potential pipe leaks, but this is the third incident of a frozen pipe that burst and flooded in the library. Lesson: even relatively new systems can fail, and often the source is inside the building rather than on the roof or flooding only on the ground floor.
  • extreme weather caused the failure of the sprinkler system in areas where the damage was not anticipated, so a combination of unforeseen factors contributed to the failure. Lesson: sometimes our best efforts aren’t enough to prevent a disaster.
  • water came into the library for 20 minutes, at about 120 gallons per minute (2,400 gallons). An alarm had sounded, but even so, it took 20 minutes to get the water turned off. Lesson: water is the most likely cause of damage to library collections and facilities, and it seems to often get in when the library is closed. This 20 minute turnaround was fast, considering that staff were probably not in the library at the time, but 20 minutes is a long time when water is pouring in at 120 gallons per minute.

The quote from Tamara Miller says it all: “It’s really hard to look at. And still, I know it will be fine.” Great job, Renne Library, and best wishes for a speedy recovery!

Emergency Preparedness for Special Populations

The Specialized Information Services (SIS) Division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has released a web page containing a wealth of resources on emergency preparedness for special populations. Included on the site are links to resources for employers, law and policy, and lessons learned from past disasters.

See: Special Populations: Emergency & Disaster Preparedness

Lessons Learned from a Power Outage

Sandy Oeschlegel, director of the Preston Medical Library at the University of Tennessee and SE/A Emergency Preparedness Task Force member, sent along the following lessons learned from a recent power outage at her institution.

Here are ten things we learned in random order:

1. Wireless, battery powered laptops are great to have on hand, especially if they are charged up.

2. Everyone on campus figures out that wireless might be available and suddenly the wireless system gets overloaded and slow or no signal results.

3. IT departments shut down servers, even if they are on battery back ups “to preserve the batteries”.

4. All our e journals are “run through” the proxy server, so we had no access to any of our e-journals through our open url linking software.

5. Off campus access was unavailable because the server was down.

6. Printers require electricity, at least those that we had. See link below to a battery operated printer we have ordered since

7. Our faculty still expected us to continue to be able to provide information services including lit searches and providing copies of articles.

8. There was no communication system in place for the administrators to communicate with us about what was happening

9. We did not know each others home and cell phone numbers

10. The ILL staff can work at home.


Ready to Roll to the Rescue

Even though our library is not in an area prone to experiencing hurricanes or flooding, we, like everyone, experience the occasional incursion of water into places it shouldn’t be.  In order to expedite getting salvage materials to the site of the incident, we have adopted a practice we heard about from Holly Robertson, Head of Preservation at Alderman Library, University of Virginia.  We’ve purchased a plastic cart to hold our “quick response” materials:  water absorbent “socks,” tri-fold paper towels for interleaving, a flash light, duct tape, plastic sheeting, scissors, paper and markers, latex gloves, etc.   The cart is readily accessible to the areas most likely to need it.  Most office supply stores offer a variety of carts–look for one that won’t be damaged by water, that rolls easily, and has shelves with sides on them so your supplies won’t slide off when you move the cart.  It would be nice if it also had a flashing light and a siren on it, but we can’t have everything…

Center for Knowledge Management, Ochsner Health System, Louisiana

Ethel Ullo Madden, Director of the Center for Knowledge Management at the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, Louisiana, reflects on her experiences during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, which affected the hospital library.

Interview date: August 3rd, 2007

Questions:

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

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast Area. New Orleans received the horrific winds and rains. The levee system could not contain the flood waters from Lake Pontchartrain. Consequently, the City was flooded. Thousands of people lost their homes.

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

Our library responded quickly. I was stationed at our Clinic in Baton Rouge where assumed the role of transportation coordinator. I helped facilitate the transportation for our Team A healthcare professionals to get out of New Orleans so that Team B could take over. I was also helping with Reference Questions while working out of Baton Rouge.

Shortly afterwards, I did open the library in New Orleans so that patients, family members, and employees had access to computers. FEMA and Red Cross Representatives also were stationed in our library to assist. Our Library Staff managed and advertised for these groups.

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

This event excelled our efforts to move from print to electronic journals. We could not receive consistent mail for 9 months following the storm so we decided that print journals were a waste of our institution’s money.

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

Librarians should play the role of information gatekeepers.

Librarians naturally can organize and understand the needs of their institution. In the case of a disaster, librarians should be willing to do ANYTHING – even serving food in the cafeteria.

University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Fran Wilkinson, Interim Dean of the University Libraries at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, discusses the impact of a fire at the academic library in April 2006.

Interview date: July 31st, 2007

Questions:

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

On Sunday, April 30, 2006 at approximately 10:51pm (one hour before the library closed and more importantly, one week before UNM’s finals week for students), a fire alarm sounded from the first basement level of Zimmerman Library. Zimmerman is the largest of the four branch libraries of the University Libraries. Although the fire was contained in the northeast section of the basement destroying over a dozen ranges of bound journals (estimated 30,000 volumes lost and 100,000 volumes removed for cleaning and restoration), there was significant smoke damage throughout the entire 280,000 square foot building including the historic West Wing.

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

Library and University Response

University Libraries (UL) personnel safely evacuated the entire facility within minutes. Three stations of the Albuquerque Fire Department, UNM Campus Police, and other key response personnel were immediately dispatched to the library. Key members of the University Libraries Disaster Recovery Assistance Team (D.R.A.T.) were also immediately called. The Associate Dean, Fran Wilkinson, and the Facilities Manager, Ed Padilla, were onsite within an hour after the fire started and provided critical information to the Fire Marshal, Campus Police, UNM’s Physical Plant and Safety and Risk Services. These two DRAT members remained on site the entire night monitoring the situation, reviewing pertinent parts of the UL’s disaster preparedness plan, and preparing an outline of the actions needed in the coming days and weeks. The Associate Dean notified members of Libraries’ D.R.A.T. and activated the phone tree to notify other essential personnel. The first D.R.A.T. meeting was called for 8:00 a.m. the next morning.

The D.R.A.T. meeting resulted in immediate plans to redeploy the 100 plus employees who normally work in Zimmerman Library including faculty/librarians, support staff, administration, and student employees. A fire recovery command center was established in a branch library (Centennial Science & Engineering Library) and all efforts were coordinated from there. Services to students and faculty were fully coordinated including:

  • Reference service stations were set up in the Student Union building and the Student Services building with full electronic access to information services through the use of laptops and cell phones (first day after the fire).
  • Notification to students and faculty about the closure of Zimmerman and where to find alternative services was sent through several internal electronic and print methods.
  • Information stations/tents at both entrances to Zimmerman Library were staffed to answer questions and direct customers to alternative service sites.
  • UL InterLibrary Loan department set up temporary offices and began providing access to books and journals normally located in Zimmerman.
  • Online book paging system was set up that gave access to collections not unduly affected by smoke damage with a 24-hour turn around time.

Over the next few weeks, all journals, microforms, and newspapers located in Zimmerman Library were removed by the company hired to manage this aspect of the damage (BMS-CAT). Those collections remain in Ft. Worth, Texas undergoing remediation services (They are expected to be returned during the Fall 2007 semester. The reconstructed basement is scheduled to reopen in early in the Spring 2008 semester.)

Unusual Roles

The role and responsibilities of every UL employee were impacted by the fire in some way whether specifically involved in the recovery or by adding to an employee’s overall volume of work. All provided information about the fire and directed our customers to the alternative services in place. Many stepped in to staff the reference desks around campus. Our IT offices were located in the basement but fortunately, all servers were located off-site in the campus-wide IT facility, so no loss of data or access to online catalogs or websites were experienced. The library IT staff quickly began working to install new desktop and laptop computers for all displaced employees and for the temporary public services information desks. Our accountants processed the first payroll after the fire on time in spite of having to process it manually in a temporary location. Staff and students volunteered for the book paging system. This required them to wear hard hats and masks, working only two hours at a time on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building to avoid excessive exposure to smoke damaged areas. A few key employees were called upon to coordinate the difficult job of sifting through the thousands of bound journals that were not completely burned to determine which were still salvageable – a job that required a hard hat, a respirator, and boots! Facilities staff also assisted with the removal of all journals, microforms, cabinets, shelving, equipment, and furnishings in the basement. All of the employees who normally work in Zimmerman worked in unfamiliar environments as they relocated in one of the other branch libraries, often at make-shift desks and shared computers. The employees who do not work in Zimmerman shifted their work spaces to make room for these redeployed employees – and always with grace and humor. We should add that approximately one-third (about 50 individuals) of all the displaced employees still have still not returned to their normal work environments as the rebuild of their spaces is currently underway. We anticipate their return in late 2007.

An unusual aspect to the recovery was that Zimmerman Library’s alarm system was only partially functional after the fire. The Fire Marshall permitted reoccupation of the building, but only if a manual “fire watch” was deployed until the alarm services were fully operational again. This involved scheduling individuals to patrol all areas of the building during our hours of operation. The fire watch squads were outfitted with hard hats and air horns and were tasked with alerting the building’s occupants at any sign of fire. UL employees were called upon to provide fire watch duty of up to five hours per week. More than three months later, fire watch duties were turned over to a security agency.

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

Our recovery efforts have led to several innovations that are still used today including unique workflows, streamlined procedures, and synergistic work unit configurations. The rebuilding process also provided several opportunities to improve work unit and public spaces including a marked increase in public computer stations, group study space, as well as better access to collections.

The basement area that burned will be fitted with a new compact shelving system thanks to funding provided by the state legislature and UNM’s administration, dramatically increasing needed collection space. Our collection losses also allowed for some creative thinking on the part of faculty in the various departments whose collections were affected. These scholars and researchers will provide input regarding which of the lost bound journals can be replaced electronically and which can be stored remotely, again, saving much needed space.

A fire loss of this magnitude also brings out the best in a library’s established contributors, the community at large, and other library professionals. We experienced an outpouring of help from each of these groups and have established relationships that will continue to grow.

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

Libraries and their employees must play primary and instrumental roles in every aspect of emergency preparedness, planning, and recovery. Policies, response teams, priorities, and resources should be established, tested, and then revisited on a regular cycle. This has been the UL’s practice since the mid-1990s. These elements are critical to ensure first rate functionality of the facility and continuance of first rate services to our customers. I believe that every library employee has a critical role to play in the response to and recovery from a disaster affecting the library and its customers. Some of those roles are small and some are huge, but none are less than essential.

(5.) Please describe the nature of your relationship with emergency agencies or groups.

The UL has long-held working relationships with the State Fire Marshall Office, the UNM Fire Marshall, the UNM Safety and Risk Services, its Physical Plant Services, UNM Campus Police, Office of Capital Projects, Architects, Engineers, and various emergency response suppliers and contractors. Through our Administration and Facilities Services departments we constantly update and strengthen these ties. The UL also maintains a Preservation Committee and several members of the UL staff and faculty belong to the New Mexico Library Association’s New Mexico Preservation Alliance. Both of these committees are actively involved in disaster response and recovery planning and provide advice to other libraries throughout the state.

Terrorism Information Center, Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, Oklahoma

Brad Robison, Director of the Terrorism Information Center at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, discusses his experience during the bombing in Oklahoma City in April 1995 and the disaster information services the library currently provides.

Interview date: July 18th, 2007

Questions:

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

It was a beautiful spring morning on April 19, 1995. No one could have known that before the end of this particular day thousands of lives would change forever. As the director of a small private university library in Oklahoma City, I arrived at the library early that morning and began to settle in for the expected rush of students who had put off completing term papers until the last moment. It was about 9:00 a.m. and I was having a conversation with one of the reference librarians when suddenly the building shook and the windows rattled violently. Having taken numerous study groups to Japan and having experienced several minor earthquakes I immediately thought EARTHQUAKE. My second thought was, no this is Oklahoma, not a typical site for a violent earthquake. Geneva, the reference librarian, thought the weight of shelving and journals on the third floor of our building had finally taken its toll and the floor collapsed. I headed for the stairwell fully expecting people to be running down as I was running up but no one was in sight. When I arrived on the third floor I quickly surmised nothing had fallen but saw smoke rising from the downtown Oklahoma City skyline. Of course not knowing to put the smoke with the sudden shaking of the building, I determined that what Geneva and I had felt and heard was nothing more than a sonic boom from Tinker Air Force Base, just east of Oklahoma City.

Several minutes passed before my phone started ringing and friends in New York were calling to ask me what was going on in Oklahoma City. Not having turned on the TV I was unaware of what they were referring to. I rolled one of our TV’s into the lobby of the library, turned it on and saw for the first time the carnage of what ended up being a terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. At first, the reports were “there has been some sort of explosion downtown.” Perhaps it was a gas explosion. The thought of a terrorist bomb was not mentioned for nearly half an hour. The library, being at the physical center of the campus was a hub for the students to gather and watch the story unfold. Our staff brought in extra chairs as more and more students came by to see what was going on. The immediate thought on everyone’s mind was what we can do to help.

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

The lobby of the library quickly became the focal point on campus where students and faculty could easily learn the needs of the emergency response community. People gathered around the TV to know where to go to donate blood, where to take food and where donations were being collected. The lobby of the library also became a place for the sharing of tears as we learned that the explosion was probably caused by a fellow human full of hatred. We were learning too that children may have been included in the list of those that were obviously not going to survive the explosion and collapse of the building. By afternoon, the beautiful spring morning had given way to thunderstorms and a city full of shock and grief as the victims were removed from the bombed out building, one body at a time.

When the dust and debris cleared 168 people, including 19 children were killed and hundreds more seriously injured. Out of the rubble a plan for a multi-component memorial was established. The memorial was to consist of a remembrance component an educational component and a research component. It was the dream of the family members and survivors that the research component have a library and information center as the “living memorial” to their loved ones. Thus the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism was founded. An act of Congress was passed and appropriation made to begin development of the “premier source of terrorism information sharing among federal, state and local agencies.”

As the steering committee for the development of the Institute and Library began their work, it became clear the emergency response community would need to be actively involved in creating this new resource of information. As a volunteer for the Memorial Archive, I was invited to be on the steering committee for the development of the Institute’s information center and library. Though not apparent at the time, the need for information professionals, both librarians and archivists was a necessity. Thousands of cards, letters and artifacts were mailed to the bomb site along with thousands more being left at the scene on a daily basis. Archiving and preserving this information was the foundation of what later became the Memorial Museum. Many of the documents collected early on became the basis of the future Lessons Learned Information Sharing, (LLIS) the official lessons learned site for the Department of Homeland Security. Final reports, after action reports, studies, etc. from numerous agencies were collected with the hope of assisting other communities in preparation dealing with a similar mass casualty event. Reports and studies following a variety of terrorist incidents and natural disasters make up the LLIS database.

Fire and law enforcement professionals were brought to the table to assist in the establishment of key databases that would help these groups prepare and perhaps prevent future acts of terrorism. The Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) was created to assist the emergency response community know what protective clothing and equipment is available and whether or not it meets standards and who certified the equipment against the standards. The RKB also informs the emergency response community if grant money is available in order for them to make application.

The MIPT Terrorism Information Center and Library (TIC) is a wealth of information not only for the emergency response community but for academics, policy makers, and the public at large. Thousands of documents have been added to the TIC along with nearly 3,000 book titles easily available for checkout. Information on the topic of terrorism seems to be endless and the need to collect, organize and disseminate that information is essential for eliminating this scourge from the world. The services that libraries and librarians have traditionally provided remain very important.

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

The MIPT and its Terrorism Information Center work closely with emergency agencies on a regular basis. The TIC has held forums to bring members of the law enforcement community together to inform them of the information resources available. We have also brought together fire prevention and preparedness professionals in an effort to inform them of the valuable resources the TIC have to offer. We are currently working with Hospital Security Officials to make sure they are planning and preparing for whatever terrorists bring to the table with another event.

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

I suppose to sum everything up, I would say that librarians need to work closely with their respective communities and serve as neutral forums in bringing to the table people needed to plan and organize community preparedness programs. Whoever their constituency consists of need to be part of the planning. In a city, the mayor, city manager, fire chief, police chief, public health officials and personnel from utilities companies need to meet and develop emergency response plans. Librarians can lead the way in bringing these groups together by providing them with necessary information to develop their own disaster response and recovery plans.

Additional Question:

(5.) Were you involved in the response to any other disaster/emergency situations?

After the anthrax attacks our library staff, which consists of two, assisted the Oklahoma State Office of Civil Emergency Management by answering phone calls from a 24-hour call-in center. A phone number was posted via radio and TV for those having specific questions related to small pox and anthrax. It’s just another service librarians can provide.