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Great ideas from Utah

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Claire Hamasu, Associate Director of the MidContinental Region of NN/LM at Eccles Health Sciences Library, University of Utah in Salt Lake City, has sent us the recently implemented documentation developed by their library’s emergency preparedness team.  It looks great, and we expect it will be really helpful to NN/LM members as an example of emergency/disaster planning for any type of library.  They have provided their version of the Pocket Response Plan (PReP) (originally devised by the Council of State Archivists–see the “Disaster Plan Templates” page above) as well as a photo and the content of a flip-chart they designed for display in the library.  The flip-chart provides quick and easy access to the key parts of their plan, while the PReP provides their staff with an easy-to-carry concise version of their plan for use from off-site.

We appreciate the willingness of the emergency preparedness team at Eccles HSL to share their work with us, and congratulate them on a job well done!  See the “Disaster Plan Templates” page above to check out their documents.  Many thanks to Claire for reporting her library’s progress and sending us these great ideas!

Eccles Library Flip Chart

Eccles Library Flip Chart

Robert M. Bird Health Sciences Library, University of Oklahoma

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Marty Thompson, the Director of the Robert M. Bird Health Sciences Library at the University of Oklahoma, discusses how the library was involved in the aftermath of the bombing in Oklahoma City in April 1995.

Interview date: June 26th, 2007


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

The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the first terrorist attack on US soil. Now, I think of it as being very minor compared to others – but at the time, it was the most horrible thing we could imagine. The car bomb just ripped the building apart. We waited for news of survivors, but there weren’t many after the first afternoon. It was devastating for the community; most people knew someone who died (or knew someone who knew someone). There was a huge impact on children too.

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

The library system always jumps to help, but there wasn’t much we could do during the initial response phase. First responders were concentrating on finding survivors. And we just waited to hear.

Personally, my first priority was helping our staff members cope with the grief. Every staff member had a different situation as a result of the disaster. I had to treat them all as individuals and handle each of them appropriately. Only when the library staff members were able to move forward did we re-focus on the health professional community. We were very lucky as no one on our staff was directly involved. But we all knew families that were. Some staff found it very difficult to pull certain library materials (psychiatry and pathology). I believe that it was harder on the paraprofessionals than on the professional staff. The professional staff members were wonderful; they did everything possible to serve our community. Our reference staff acted very professionally and they were able to deal with any question. For the most part, the paraprofessional staff was shielded from medical cases.

But, everyone needed to find a way to deal with the constant reminders of this terrible event. The State Medical Examiner’s office is only one block from the library. Of course, all of the bodies went there. The building was roped off for a long time and our staff had to see it every time they came to work. I didn’t think beforehand about how this would affect them, but it was terribly upsetting. I had to suggest to some people that they take another route to work. It wasn’t obvious to some people that they had to change their regular routine in order to deal with the stress and the emotional impact.

Support came from everywhere. We received many calls from other libraries. They asked if we needed help with ILL (interlibrary loan). Vendors called to offer support. From just a few comments, they started to send us pathology and psychiatry resources. They suggested databases that might be turned on for a period of time. Everyone wanted to help; and I swiftly came to realize just how small and tightly knit the library community was. The headquarters for the Metropolitan Library System was only four blocks south of the explosion. Technically speaking, they were “inside the yellow tape,” for several days. The force of the explosion blew out all of their windows. As much as possible, we tried to support them and to solicit help on their behalf.

We had a strong desire to do more, but the reality was different. People will tell you to find your niche and fill in. But, it is a hard prospect. We tried to help everyday. But when disasters are happening; it is all about first responders. What we discovered was that our primary role was in the aftermath. The pathology department at the university became involved and we supported them through reference, literature searches, etc… The psychiatry department also was very active dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. The work that was done after the attack turned into numerous research projects. The university departments became first-hand experts with valuable knowledge for communities that had suffered due to terrorist attacks. Our people have been around the world helping others and the library has always been involved with supporting these efforts.

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

In conjunction with the Metropolitan Library System, we started offering courses on disaster response. We also became very involved with the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. Initially, we helped them build up their collection of health resource. But since then, we have established a decade-long working relationship with their library director, Brad Robison. He made me realize that we had never reached out to the first responder market. Brad worked to create databases to help responders in their work. As an indirect result of this disaster, we discovered a new market of first responders as library clients.

From a grant offered by the CDC, the Southwest Center for Preparedness was opened and is now located on the university campus. We have done a lot of direct training for the center.

The attack changed research directions for the entire campus. And, as a result, the library now collects more in the areas of emergency medicine, disaster planning, response, recovery, grief counseling, etc… In the weeks and months after the attack, we saw victims’ families coming into the library looking for information. This was just another indication of how dramatically our user group had changed.

The changes to our collections and services inspired an awareness that the library didn’t have before. Tornadoes are a regular occurrence in Oklahoma and now we are ready for them. We have learned to prepare for natural disasters that are likely to happen in our area; and we’re doing what we can to avoid being caught off-guard and to help other institutions do the same. But, as much as we can predict and plan, real preparedness is more about attitude than anything else.

One of my favorite stories about libraries helping was from Lee Brawner who was the director of the Metropolitan Library System (he has since passed away). We called him the “Consummate Library Director.” After the attacks, a church just north of the library headquarters was being used as a morgue. First responders were facing horrible and grisly work pulling bodies out of the rubble and bringing them to the church. Lee asked the responders what he could do to help. They told him that they needed a place to wash their dogs. Lee took care of it right away; he offered the staff lounge and the shower room at the library. It became the refuge for those responders. It was a place to relax, away from the mayhem. They could just wash their dogs and sit in peace.

Lee’s story isn’t about being at the site, acting the hero. It was about doing what you could, about being on the periphery and finding a way to offer effective help, even in the most non-traditional ways.

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

Teaching is the first role that comes to mind. My first class was organized with Brad Robison at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and the Southwest Center for Preparedness (with some financial support from the CDC). We taught Bioterrorism 101, which is now called “Disaster Planning.” I teach people that it doesn’t make a difference what the disaster is; you have to learn to cope with the unexpected. I’m not a “paper person.” I don’t think that a manual on a shelf is going to be much help when the time comes. Preparedness is more about knowing what you can do and how you can react. Recently, I became very frustrated with my night students. Instead of reacting during a tornado warning, they called to find out what to do. I told them to get below ground and to take the patrons downstairs. They all knew what to do, but they needed instructions. Real preparedness teaches us to act, not to wait around for someone else to tell you what to do.

In our classes, we present situations and ask the students what to do. If you were to ask me, I would tell you that my first priority is to take care of the staff. Then work on reestablishing the library. This is a lesson I learned from Lee: the library is an important constant for the community. Let them know that you are OK; and it will give them the confidence to move forward.

One of our scenarios involves an infectious outbreak in the community. The first reaction is always to go home. But, we have to think about opening again and establishing normalcy. Library is the touchstone and we set the tone for the campus.

Librarians have to know who to call; know who is in charge; know what to do. They have to be able to answer questions like: where are the freezers for the books?

A lot of the people that you need to know in a disaster won’t be part of your everyday lives (police, fire people, maintenance, etc…). However, they become immediately important in a disaster. It is very important to change your normal routine and get to know these people.

After the bombing, there was a heightened sense of awareness. People were really excited about teaching disaster planning. But then there was a drought for many years. People forget when everything returns to normal. It would seem that we all need some event to wake us up. However, now is the time for revival and retraining.

Tulane University Medical Library, Louisiana

Monday, June 25th, 2007

William (Bill) D. Postell Jr., Director of the Tulane University Medical Library, talks about Hurricane Katrina, which directly affected the academic health sciences library in August 2005.

Interview date: June 25th, 2007


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

Hurricane Katrina had passed and three of my staff members were still in New Orleans. I suppose they thought the worse was over; and most everyone in the city was lulled into a sense of security in the hours before the levees broke. When the terrible flooding began, the three of them all sought refuge in the medical center. Each of them had to travel between two and three miles to get there. Two of them made it and one of them didn’t. One rode in on a bike with his wife. Another managed to get there on foot. The third drowned. He was a library assistant; we called his position a “porter,” and he had been with the library for 37 years. His mother and his teenaged son both lived with him. They evacuated the city and he decided to stay behind.

All of my staff members knew to check in. The lack of communication from my porter was a signal. I knew something was dreadfully wrong when he failed to get in touch.

A forensics lab was set up with experts to identify the bodies. My porter had a university identification card, but that was his only ID. We were initially called because of his ID, but the final confirmation came a full four months later. It was a terrible loss.

One month after the storm, I was back in the city as part of one of the earlier waves back. My brother-in-law was a building contractor. He helped get me into the city when security was still tight. There was a sense that the response was thrown together at the last minute. No one knew what to do. People were making up rules as they went. And the rumors about the city were just wild! When I went through security, the personnel asked if I was armed. When I said yes, the guard replied, “good,” and let me through. But the level of lawlessness was nowhere near as high as it was reported. That the death toll was as low as 1700 was remarkable.

The change to the landscape and to the city was just awful; the devastation was immense. It looked like a battle zone. My home is smack dab in the middle of the city. Contrary to public opinion, not all of New Orleans is below sea level. But, my house was very low and it filled with seven and a half feet of water. The lower half of the house was completely destroyed.

Even though the students were gone, my library was being used as a dormitory by hospital and medical school staff and faculty in the aftermath of the storm. Despite there being nearly three feet of water above street level, the university hospital was still running. The medical school is connected to the Tulane Hospital via an overhead bridge. Staff members who were on the ground helped with patients at the hospital. Tulane’s patients were evacuated via helicopter, then staff and physicians, then everyone else. The Charity Hospital, located right across the street (but not accessible by bridge), was not so lucky. Their patients were essentially abandoned. As the water started to recede, the National Guard brought Charity patients over to Tulane via truck.

As of today, some of the city is still deserted. Rebuilding will take a long, long time. Luckily, the level of damage at the library was not too severe. The medical library is on the second floor but we also manage a public access computer lab on the first floor. Fortunately, two people who were there during the storm helped maintenance and security to move the computers up to the library on the second floor. Staff saved any other records that they could grab and brought them up to the second floor. There was a big fear of mold in the building. A team came through to look at the ventilation system and then they returned to the library mid January, 2006. At that time we were given the OK to return to the library; it was nearly 6 months after the storm.

Hurricane Katrina was unique in many ways. It would be false to make too many comparisons to other storms, like the ones that happen annually in Florida. In New Orleans, the water didn’t have an escape route. It became trapped and needed to be pumped out. It is almost a blessing when the water recedes quickly because it leaves a clean landscape. New Orleans suffered greatly because of the length of time that the water filled the city. People couldn’t respond because the city became impenetrable.

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

Eighteen of my staff members had evacuated the city and I was in Houston. I’m a native of New Orleans and I’ve been through many hurricane seasons. For the most part, evacuations were well planned in advance. However, others were not so lucky or well-prepared. People ended up roaming around the south for weeks. A lot of them were sheltered by churches along the way. The church groups were amazing; across the whole region, their level of response was astonishing.

I found out about the flooding the morning the levees broke. And I was contacted by one of the university officers of administration quite quickly. The sharing of cell phones was going on between senior officers. Ten other administrators and I were invited to a meeting at the home of the president of Baylor’s College of Medicine. There, we were de-briefed on the status of Tulane.

I was constantly trying to call all of my staff members to find out where they were. My node for cell phone service was New Orleans (504). My advice for people developing disaster plans is to get a cell phone with a “safe” area code. All the re-routing equipment for 504 was destroyed. I was able to get through one out of three times in the first week.

A comprehensive list with all the staff and all of their phone numbers was prepared beforehand and kept up-to-date through constant revisions. But, we did not have remote contact information (friend or family outside of the area). Now, we include information about one person close by and one more than 150 miles outside. University communications were down for quite a while and alternative methods had to be established. IT staff was very good at getting people to set up backup email accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, etc…). Within 10 days, they had found everybody and had backup emails in place for communications. One third of Tulane’s people were not traveling with lap tops. However, the provision of public access to computers was excellent.

A total of four staff members were in Houston with me. During the post-Katrina recovery period, Tulane’s Medical School was sheltered by Baylor College of Medicine and the School of Public Health was hosted by the University of Texas School of Public Health. The city of Houston and their academic institutions really came to the aid of the people of New Orleans and the students, faculty and staff of Tulane.

The Tulane people who were in Houston joined the staff of HAM (Houston Academy of Medicine) and worked to support the medical school which was there for a whole year. The librarians and other displaced workers did as much as possible to relieve the burden on HAM.

Library people who were on the ground in New Orleans helped in many “non-traditional ways.” Those who were at the medical school helped to evacuate patients from the hospital. They assisted in every kind of physical and surgical procedure you can imagine. The hospital workers were completely exhausted after two days. Anyone available was called in to help.

Many of Tulane’s people who stayed in New Orleans ended up working or studying with the Ochsner Health System (a large hospital group). Some of the librarians at the Houston Academy of Medicine went to help out at the evacuation centers in Texas. But, the magnitude of the destruction in New Orleans made it impossible to respond in the same way. The infrastructure had completely collapsed. People could not return for weeks and weeks. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced across the south.

I spoke with vendors and found them to be very cooperative. They provided free access for Tulane people who could not connect through the university servers. We now have duplicate, off-site servers to help serve displaced users. Some vendors were hesitant because the whole situation was so strange. But, in less than a day, they were calling back with solutions.

I returned to the library at Tulane on December 17th, 2005. We ended up operating out of a conference room in an adjacent building. But we were still able to serve our users remotely. The students came back to the school in June, 2006. The library returned to regular service at that time. Faculty came back piece by piece. We lost one quarter of the faculty because the university couldn’t afford to keep everyone anymore. The library lost one third of our staff. Despite these cutbacks, the student body stayed the same and we needed to find ways to continue serving them as before.

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

In terms of service and resources, we have made significant collection changes. Prior to Katrina, 65% of our collection was online. Once communications were working again, we could operate remotely and still serve our users. And it was possible because so much of the collection was online. Katrina taught us a lesson about serving a displaced group of users. We are now about 95% online. To be honest, we didn’t really see a need for print resources at the time or afterwards. You couldn’t get around the city anyways, so print was out of the question. People adapted to use what they could.

Physical traffic in the library had been in decline before the storm in any rate. Our gate count was going down, so were our circulation statistics, ILL requests, etc… The numbers diminished ever further after Katrina. Many reasons contributed to the changing patterns of use. Remote access meant that libraries could operate in an automated mode. The technology has altered the library experience. But the decreased foot traffic meant that our reduced staff was able to cope.

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

At the time, our staff continued to fill professional roles at a distance. There was an effective working radius from Houston through a huge semi-circle around the coast. Everyone was pitching in from all over. Libraries were used for a lot of non-health-sciences related activities: finding families, filling out insurance forms, etc… Public libraries were very good at providing for people with basic computing needs.

Our physical library became a base of operations for the security force. The staff lounge became the armory; our fax line in the conference room was heavily used as it was one of the longest functioning phone lines in the whole facility. To a great extent, the physical location was commandeered for other purposes, but library services were able to continue because of the prevalence of electronic information resources.

Librarians can help support these services by building redundancies into the system. We need to build backups into all of our data. The issue of maintaining access has overshadowed preservation of paper. We don’t have to protect the paper anymore.

But the primary issue was getting people out well in advance. Our contact lists are now much deeper than they were before. Along with the contact information, we learned other lessons that have been essential in rebuilding. Many institutions have moved to higher ground. Electrical systems have also moved to higher levels in the buildings. Institutions are drilling their own wells so that they can get their own water supply.

Needs were very basic. Consumer health and public health issues were vitally important: basic sanitation, disease control, housing, and clean water, etc… The situation was akin to a mission to a third world country. People were concentrating on survival.

Houston Academy of Medicine, Texas Medical Center Library

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Deborah Halsted, Associate Director, Public Services and Operations, Houston Academy of Medicine, Texas Medical Center Library in Houston, Texas, discusses flooding issues in the academic health sciences library resulting from Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001.

Interview date: June 5th, 2007


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

Between June 8th and 9th, 2001, Tropical Storm Allison circled over the Houston metropolitan area for the third time, dumping a lot of rain over already saturated ground. One of the most heavily hit areas of the city was the Texas Medical Center, which is home to over 40 health-related institutions. Hardest hit were Memorial Hermann, Methodist and Ben Taub Hospitals, The University of Texas Medical School and Baylor College of Medicine. The Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center (HAM-TMC) Library is situated right in the middle of these institutions. The morning of June 9th the library had 4.5 feet of water in the street level, which meant the one-level parking garage under the library was completely full of water. The street level housed the computer classroom and lab, the offices of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine South Central Region, and the Archives of the John P. McGovern Historical Research Center.

While the flooding in the Library was devastating, the damage in the other institutions was more drastic. Both Hermann and Ben Taub Hospitals (the only Level I trauma hospitals in Houston) had to be evacuated. Yes, even the patients. Hermann was closed for 6 weeks. Methodist lost all their patient records. UT and Baylor lost years and years of research, both in laboratories and laboratory animals. The south side of the TMC campus was saved due to two huge construction sites (pits) which served as retention ponds.

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

The HAM-TMC Library is unique in that it is a private library which rents 72,000 square feet of space from the Houston Academy of Medicine (HAM). Due to this arrangement, HAM was responsible for recovery and restoration of the actual facility and Library staff members were responsible for the contents. Both of us had prior relationships with Munters, a recovery firm, and they were on the scene the morning of June 8th. Library staff could do nothing until the water was pumped out, so our recovery efforts began on Sunday, June 10th.

Did library staff do non-traditional roles? Yes! Digging muck, contaminated with sewer water might be considered “other duties as assigned.” But, loyal library staff arrived on Sunday to do what they could to save anything we could, especially the archives.

The Library was one of the few institutions in the northern part of the TMC with water still running, so we became a popular spot since we had working restrooms. We also had to post a TMC security officer at the front door, since some people displaced from their offices in other building thought they would just come to the library to “photocopy some articles.” The security guard had to explain that the Library, too, had no electricity.

Although the entire TMC was affected, the Library staff were really only responsible for recovery of the Library. Staff members were not called upon to assist other institutions or departments, as was the case after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In our case, local librarians not affected by the flood, as well as some library clients displaced from their offices and unable to work, arrived on our doorstep offering help.

With a lot of work and many thanks to the HAM staff, we had electricity and phone lines (although spotty on both accounts) back on by Wednesday. We opened our doors with limited hours and services on Thursday. Recovery efforts on the building continued until January 2002, when we finally opened totally, with a renovated street level. Over 850 boxes of wet archives were shipped off to freeze-dry facilities, and returned in October 2001. It took many months to process the materials that returned. We have since relocated the archives to a warehouse facility about 3 miles from the TMC campus that is not in a known flood zone.

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

The first change would be the location of the archives. Renting the warehouse facility is expensive, but necessary. Now, clients needing access to the archives can go to a lovely facility with free parking. We have also co-located our proxy server to a remote location, so in the event of another storm (we do live on the Gulf Coast), clients will still have access to needed resources. We are in the process of having key staff test working from home to ensure that if needed, we can continue to offer library services remotely.

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

This question can be answered on so many different levels, depending on the type of library. The roles for public libraries after a disaster are obvious, and I am proud to say that the public libraries in Houston and surrounding areas really responded to the needs of the evacuees. What is not so evident is the importance of the medical library. After Katrina, physicians in the Astrodome and George R. Brown found themselves treating patients and cases not in their usual area of expertise. These patients had no medical records with them, were taking medications the physicians were not familiar with, and the doctors found their greatest need was a PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference). For example, pediatricians were treating geriatrics, since they took whatever patient was next in line. For that reason, staff members at the HAM-TMC Library have become totally ingrained into the disaster planning at the TMC as a whole. Librarians have sat on the Inter-institutional Council, Katrina and Rita Lessons Learned Task Force, and disaster planning committees. At first, the TMC staff wondered why we were there, but now has come to conclusion that librarians are integral to the process. I have been invited to participate with TMC staff in NIMS Incident Command System training. These courses, designed by FEMA, offer a standardized command system and terminology to respond to disasters. They will soon be required for any institution to received FEMA funding in the future. The Library has now incorporated the ICS system into the newly named Business Continuation and Recovery Plan formerly known as our Disaster Plan. Our main goal in all this was to been seen as first responders, which we now are. TMC will be issuing key library staff sticker to be among the first responders the next time a major disaster strikes. This designation is a mixed blessing, since this means we now will be expected to be among the first on hand, not part of the general population asked to stay away until the area is safe!