Winter snowstorms continue to disrupt services in the Mid-Atlantic. Many libraries throughout the region have been closed since a major snowstorm hit the region Friday and Saturday. The RML for the region, SE/A, has been closed since Friday at 1:30pm. All service requests to the SE/A office are being handled by their backup RML in Seattle, Washington.
Here at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Library, we activated our service continuity plan on Friday morning in order to ensure continued access to online resources and interlibrary loan. (We didn’t need to active chat offsite, as one of our reference librarians made it into work that day.) Closing/opening information (we closed on Saturday) was maintained throughout the weekend on our website, Facebook, and Twitter. Valuable lessons were learned along the way, which we will share with everyone in the near future.
Snow started falling here in Charlottesville, Virginia, Friday night around 6pm and it has been steadily coming down for the last 15 hours. The Library is open and we will keep it open throughout the weekend, as the last exam is Monday morning. Below are a four pictures that I took just outside the Library. (Click on the images to enlarge.) My guess is that there is at least 15″ of snow on the ground. I know 15″ of snow is no-big-deal for you folks above the 40th parallel, but it’s big news down here. Most businesses are closed and shelters are opening up for stranded motorist. So far, no major power outages.
And the next morning …
You may be asking the question, “Okay, so what does all this have to do with disaster planning?” The answer is that I learned a number of things that will help us in an actual disaster situation.
1) I discovered that we can forward our main phone to another library number that is an iPhone. Therefore, we can answer a call to our main line (and other forwarded lines) from a remote site using the iPhone.
2) By Saturday evening, food was hard to come by. as vendors were unable to make deliveries. In addition, I noticed that some vending machines weren’t working and others that were asked for correct change only. Therefore, and this is a lesson that we should all take very seriously, have extra food on hand both at work and at home, and keep plenty of extra change.
3) Students can spread information to their peers a lot quicker than we can get information out. On Saturday, a rumor was circulating that the Library was going to close early. I assured a student who asked about the rumor that we would be open until midnight. He quickly notified the students and the rumor was cut off.
4) Finally, everyone responds to situations differently. Marty Thompson, director of the Health Sciences Library at the University of Oklahoma, always mentions this as being core knowledge to anyone organizing a response to an emergency. Know who you can count on and ask them to participate. Emergency response should be a team effort.
Every morning, I spend about 20 minutes looking over my RSS news feeds, all related to emergency preparedness. Currently, most of the news is about the just-ended hurricane season, however, I’ve noticed a trend toward a greater concern about the threat of bioterrorism. The two events that seem to have prompted this concern are the release of the progress report by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism coupled with the amount of time it has taken to distribute the H1N1 vaccine. The Commission’s report warns that “The biological threat is greater than the nuclear; the acquisition of deadly pathogens, and their weaponization and dissemination in aerosol form, would entail fewer technical hurdles than the theft or production of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium and its assembly into an improvised nuclear device.” This warning along with the potential of an accidental incident dealing with harzardous materials should prompt us all to be looking at our shelter-in-place procedures.
Cyber terrorism is also getting a lot of attention, thanks in part by last month’s 60 Minutes report. A potential target, experts warn, is the power grid, so you may want to keep your print core textbooks accessible and up-to-date.
Statistically, December is the month with the fewest tornadoes, so this is a good time to be looking over your tornado response procedures. We’re also seeing a downward trend of H1N1 activity. Hopefully, you all have a solid pandemic plan in place in the event that the virus spikes again in the winter or spring. (If not, check out our Pandemic Planning Resources page.) And if you have a pandemic plan, you are therefore ready for a severe winter storm, as many of the steps you would take in a pandemic (e.g. reduced staffing, work from home) you could also take with a severe winter storm.
Did you know that there is a “mirror season” for tornadoes in the U. S.? Because of the temperature changes in the fall in the northern hemisphere, fall weather conditions mirror, to some extent, the conditions that exist in the spring and can spawn “swarms” of tornadoes. This is an El Nino year, which will affect all of the U.S., but especially the southern and Gulf Coast regions of the U.S. (look out Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas!), bringing a wetter and somewhat cooler winter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Click here to see the NOAA page with lots of enlightening info. The positive aspects of an El Nino year include increased moisture for drought-stricken areas as well as a dampening effect on hurricane activity during summer and fall, but an increased chance for “organized” tornado activity in the fall goes hand-in-hand. See the maps below from the NOAA site mentioned above for their forecast of both temperature and precipitation for the U.S. this winter. So, especially for those in the southeast tier of U.S. states, brush off those shelter-in-place plans for your institutions’ buildings and think about preparedness at home, just in case!
Fortunately for Hawaii, Tropical Storm Felicia, formerly Hurricane Felicia, has slowed in speed and lessened in intensity, but she is still expected to pass over the Hawaiian islands today, just missing the Big Island, but making landfall on the central islands of Oahu and Maui, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters predict sustained winds of about 40 mph along with rain, but rainfall will not be as torrential as they originally thought. However, many schools, parks and beaches are already closed as the islands brace for the storm.
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also cautions us (click here for the story) not to be lulled into complacency because of the perceived “slow start” to the Atlantic hurricane season, as the peak months for big storms, August and September, are just coming up. So check out those disaster plans supplies, both at work and at home (click here for NOAA’s hurricane preparedness advice), and keep an eye on the forecast!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has provided those of us in the southeastern to northeastern U. S. with an excellent risk assessment tool for hurricanes. See their “Historical Hurricane Tracks” page/search engine at http://csc-s-maps-q.csc.noaa.gov/hurricanes/viewer.html; to query their data (from 1878 in the case of Virginia) and see a map showing where major storms have passed through your area. You can query by several means, including zip code, which produces a very specific and detailed map of the location along with dates and degree of severity of the storms, as well as their names of the ones who were given them.
At last week’s Hospital Librarians Summit, it was suggested that we link to a site that would show reports of weather-related events. As a result, we now have a link to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center’s report of the previous day’s storms. The link (Yesterday’s Storm Reports) is located on the right column of the Toolkit under the category Alerts and Reports.