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.

Tulane University Medical Library, Louisiana

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

Questions:

(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.

Pasco County Library System, Florida

Terri Romberger, Library Systems Application Analyst at the Pasco County Library System in New Port Richey, Florida, discusses hurricane season and how it impacts the public library.

Interview date: June 18th, 2007

Questions:

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

Living in Florida, we have the special experience of Hurricane Season from June 1st to November 30th every year.

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

Library personnel work closely with Emergency Management, manning the phones with citizen inquiries from a minimum of 48 hours prior to impact to well after the storm is over. The actual startup of RIC (Resident Information Center) begins when EOC (Emergency Operations Center) determines they are no longer able to handle the amount of telephone calls to their office. This is sometimes as early as 3-4 days prior to expected storm landfall; often other departments are not yet activated. We have most of our material stored online and updates are constant in our informational document [To view attached files, see menu]. When asked to fill out copious forms for application to SNAPPS (Special Needs Assistance Population Program), we developed the attached PDF to ease the application process. This is now posted on the Pasco County Office of Emergency Management website for public access.

Training of the entire library staff is a prerequisite to our success, for this is an essential job duty as outlined in the attached directive from our library director. The over 100 employees, including 25 supervisors and other county departments and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers are trained on basic navigation of the database, policy and procedures in Emergency Management (Emergency Service Functions 1-18), as well as bunker layout and operations.

Through conference calls with the State and surrounding County Emergency Operations Centers, our County Emergency Operations Director decides when it is necessary to open the Resident Information Center. He contacts our liaison to deploy staff to the Resident Information Center. We utilize staff from our Support Services facilities for the first 48 hours of the emergency, with Libraries’ Public Services staffing thereafter. Our “GOKITS,” which contain paper copies of important information and other useful supplies like batteries, are ready and accessible to be transported to the bunker with us at a moment’s notice.

The citizens of Pasco County are the users of this service. As the tropical storm or hurricane is approaching the public is generally glued to their television sets. The broadcast message marquee is running across the top or bottom of their TV screens “For more information or questions, call Pasco County Emergency Operations 727-847-8137″, and that is where we pick up the phone and provide requested information.

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

In the beginning of this collaboration, the Resident Information Center was in a room about 10 x 10 feet, with operators manning phones around tables that were pushed together, mounds of paperwork, clipboards, old situation reports, telephone books, message pads, you can imagine. And just remember in 2004 we had a pretty rough hurricane season, first there was Charley, then Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Through 2004 alone, the hours Libraries staffed the RIC was over 1,800 with a cost of $42,681.04 (attached 2004 Hurricane Personnel Totals.xls). This is a considerable investment to undertake while still operating the libraries during regular operating hours. We have since been upgraded to better digs.

We now have a larger room with computer access for each operator as well as a laptop for the supervisor. Using the database and online forms has proved to be less stressful and more productive for the operators that take sometimes as many as 40 calls per hour. Now, remember these are not call center employees. They are library personnel, including shelvers, janitors, and couriers who have been trained to use this information to guide our citizens in emergency preparedness.

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

As librarians are extremely good at gathering, verifying and disseminating information, it is a natural progression that librarians would be chosen to help in emergency efforts when distribution of that information becomes necessary. As a result, Pasco County Library’s personnel have become the primary workforce for this task, and provide indispensable support to the Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) Resident Information Center (RIC). Because the Gulf is on the west coast of the county, the Westside RIC is usually activated first. The Eastside RIC, located approximately 65 miles east in Dade City, opens as a backup and handles the overflow of calls. OEM operates out of a bunker-type building, with auxiliary generator power available. The RIC accommodates up to 13 operators and one supervisor per shift, and we generally staff 24 hours a day with three shifts until the storm dissipates or moves on. Concerns from citizens range from sandbag locations, to their particular evacuation level, to SNAPPS pickup time, etc.

I have attached some of the forms that are referred to in this oral history, just to familiarize readers to documentation, also our RICinfo.doc which is a great data source during our shifts at the RIC.

GO KITS Contents: romberger_terri_gokitscontents1

Special Needs Assistance Population Program Evacuation Registration Request Form: romberger_terri_2007-snapform

Interoffice Memorandum in reference to service during emergencies: romberger_terri_li06-122

Gunter Library, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, University of Southern Mississippi

Joyce Shaw, a librarian at the Gunter Library in the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, discusses the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the academic library in August 2005.

Interview date: June 8th, 2007

Questions:

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

Ocean Springs, Mississippi was very hard hit by Hurricane Katrina – even though we were 50 miles from where the storm made landfall. The damage was so extensive that we are still living in a disaster zone today.But, it looked like we were out of the way when the storm was still out on the gulf. We had some basic supplies ready. There was an announcement to evacuate, but my family and I did not. I came into the library on the Saturday before the storm. Everything had been up in the air on Friday. Nothing “official” had happened yet. One of my staff was returning from a trip to Atlanta and the other had plans to go to Jackson. Summer School was out by this time, so there were no undergraduates or out of state students on campus (which was very lucky).

We have big windows facing north and I am always worried about it smashing because of debris. I never thought for one minute to worry about flooding.

After implementing our standard hurricane procedures at work, I went home to weather the storm. You couldn’t say that I was terribly prepared; the whole time I only had $12 on me. But, I couldn’t have used it anyways as everything was closed! The electricity went off at about 6:30 am on Monday the 29th. At around 9:30 am a tree hit our house. Then water started coming up at the back of the house from the harbor, which was pretty surprising as our house has an elevation of 21 feet. The storm surge pushed the water into everything. My son and I were running around trying to save our stuff. I grabbed a towel and put it under the door – it was the stupidest thing I could have done! But, I wasn’t thinking straight. I would call it an “in the moment experience.” And we didn’t have it as bad as the people who got stuck up a tree!

The storm just seemed to keep going and going. It seemed to last around 12 hours and after the first six hours it just got so boring (after the excitement of the tree and the water coming up) waiting around for it to end. The next morning, there was no phone. No cell phone. Trees and utility poles were down every where. I walked to the house of one of my library staff lived around five blocks away. It was my first realization at how bad things were. When I came home, my brother and sister-in-law had arrived to tell me my niece and her family had lost their home which had been our grandparent’s house built in 1902. His architectural firm in Gulfport had flooded. He gave me a ride to work. I couldn’t believe how bad the damage was everywhere. We couldn’t get very close to the research lab, but I knew things were bad. In the end, I didn’t get officially called back to work until September 8th. I made several trips to campus prior to that to meet with the director and to grab a year’s worth of blood pressure medicine I had left in my office.

The electricity was out for two weeks. The whole time I was just holed up at home, cleaning debris from the yard every day, listening to radio reports at night of what had happened in New Orleans. There was nothing on the news about the Mississippi coast at first. But, after a while I learned how lucky Ocean Springs was; we didn’t lose our downtown (it was one of the only ones left on the coast). Shelters started to open up on Monday. There was one in the high school in the next town over. Churches were opening their doors too. And the Red Cross arrived and started to provide basic shelter and supplies. The National Guard set up water and ice distribution centers called EOCs. When I wasn’t cleaning up debris around my home, I was waiting in line for ice and water and distributing it to several of my elderly neighbors.

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

Before I left the library, I went through my regular hurricane procedures. I covered the computers with plastic and moved them away from the windows and bagged up everything I could. The library is right on a marsh and a bayou and the campus fronts the Mississippi Sound. This certainly wasn’t my first hurricane warning. I’ve been through this about 6 or 7 times – I pack up the same way every time. I didn’t pick anything up off the floor though (I wish I had).The morning after Katrina, as I was walking to the campus, I encountered one of our parasitologists who was climbing over the debris of several homes that blocked the road to the campus. He told me that buildings were lost on campus. In was pretty interesting (and creepy too) that some of the buildings that were lost to Hurricane Camille in 1969 were also lost this time. The buildings were even named the same! Camille and Katrina had been similar in their paths. Hurricanes are just a fact of life on the Mississippi coast, but not a regular occurrence. Not like this.

Apparently, my building was standing but flooded. But, I couldn’t find a way to get there except over the debris mountain. Right then a woman drove up and asked if I was trying to get into the research lab. She offered a way to get there without crawling over the debris. In exchange, I would help her find her daughter. After we found the daughter, taking a back way she drove me to the gate of the campus and left me there. It was like going through a battle zone. There were a handful of employees doing the same thing I was. I asked one of them if he would go into the library with me. It sounds silly, but I was too scared to go into the building alone. I must have been visibly upset. We pulled and pulled to get the door open. Inside, it was dark and hot. I started to feel faint from the extreme heat. Furniture had been thrown everywhere and there was this muck everywhere. It was slippery and sticky and disgusting. I fell down in it. Even without a flashlight, I could tell we were flooded. I tried to find the emergency file with the phone numbers (not that it would have done any good since there were no phones). I couldn’t find anything for the office being flooded. I did find the file eventually – around nine or ten months later! The label on the file folder had fallen off due to the dampness.

There was nothing more I could do that day, so I went home to start thinking. I was worried about my job. Lots of other people at the research lab were thinking the same thing. They were all wandering around like me, with the same worried looks on their faces.

I went back the next day and talked with the director of the research lab. My library does not answer to the university libraries, we report to the campus director. He gave me permission to hire a catastrophe company to help salvage the library. There were lots of things that I didn’t know at the time about the university’s disaster plans – like that they already had a contract with a disaster company. I tried calling the University Libraries in Hattiesburg every time I found a phone for the next week. I couldn’t get through.

I didn’t know who else to call and I only had two minutes to make a call when I had a working phone. I had grabbed some numbers, including the archivist at Duke University who gave me the number of some companies. I finally got in touch with the University Libraries on the Tuesday after Labor Day and two days later they sent down a representative to assess the damage. It took four more days after that call–two weeks after the storm hit–to get a company to come and the whole time our collection was wet and sitting in muck.

In the meantime, I started to address the environmental conditions. I sealed off the space and cleaned all the vents. Our Physical Plant folks got the electricity on September 8th, so I was able to run de-humidifiers which were important because the building’s HVAC was damaged by the storm. My staff and a graduate student volunteer used Clorox wipes to clean just about everything not water damaged by the flood. I had two lab technicians and two graduate students who began mucking out the building.

We ran the library from the front porch of the building for several weeks. There was a sheltered portico and we set up a desk there. Once classes began about 3 weeks after the storm, the students came back. I would just fetch things for them out of the building. They couldn’t go into the building because it was labeled by state inspectors as unsafe. But, we took our services portable. We had a lap top and just went wherever we were needed. One of my staff worked at home with a laptop compiling an inventory of lost books and journals.

During this time I was asked by one of our scientists to help a retired ichthyologist who lived near campus whose house had severely flooded. Several of us went to his home and found it in terrible condition-books, filing cabinets, this man’s life work-thrown about by the flood water and coated in mold. He was endangering his life trying to work alone in the mold to save his scientific materials. We helped him salvage what he could and packed over 150 boxes of files, books, journals, and reprints. Two years later, the library still has his collection stored. He and his wife have moved from the area and relocated to Atlanta. Their lives have been changed forever.

The company that was hired to clean the library was being used to clean other rooms in the building before doing the library. Then on Wednesday they were sent away because it was determined that their services were too expensive. By this point, I had been waiting and waiting. I couldn’t believe it! Finally (and after talking with the director) a crew started cleaning, but they did a hurry-up and get-out job. They clearly didn’t care. But I did. So, I went back and finished it up myself.

In the end, we lost our bottom shelves of books-everything 13″ or lower. But it could have been worse. We could have lost the bottom two shelves. The hardest part was facing what I had lost. I had to watch as about 20% my collection was picked up by a front loader and put in a dump truck to be taken to a land fill.

We spent weeks outside in front of the building cleaning what furniture we could salvage from the library and the classroom down the hall using bleach and WD-40. The rest of the furniture and our circulation desk were hauled off to debris piles. But we saved our big library table, a book truck, and a host of task chairs and smaller tables from the class room. The University sent down some used furniture from their surplus for our campus and we were given two desks from that donation.

The same clean-up work was going on all over campus. Every person was responsible for cleaning their work space, lab, office, etc. With over 35 employees and students made homeless by the storm, our director made the priority to get the dormitory cleaned and set up as temporary housing for staff and students. National Guardsmen were stationed at the gate and once a day the Red Cross van would bring food to campus for them. Our campus is located in a nice residential area of town that was severely damaged. There were fears of looting especially because there were no streetlights and no people able to live in what was left of their homes. We felt safe having the National Guard close at hand. With humvees, helicopters, armed military, and debris and disaster everywhere, it really did look and feel like a war zone. And we were in the “lightly” hit area. Even 10 miles west of us it was much worse.

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

I’m trying my best to make better preparations. Next time, I’ll be sand bagging the building (even if I have to do it myself). I’ve been trying for years to get hurricane shutters and I’ll keep trying. I think I’ve become more proactive about fighting for the things I need.The library went portable for a long time. We didn’t really have much choice as we had to serve our students and faculty. We now have wireless access in the library which is good because many of our faculty and students had replace their desk top computers with laptops.

The library received a SOLINET (Southeastern Library Network) grant to help rebuild the collection. I had to make a list of everything that we had lost; there were over 1300 books. It was emotionally devastating to go through the list, trying to decide what to replace. I was faced with the names of items that were irreplaceable. I realized that you can’t ever get it all back, no matter how much money people give you.

We received a donation from Rotary Zones 29 and 30 to replace lost equipment and furniture. And we received two computers, a scanner, and five books from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine/Southeastern Atlantic region. These gifts have been a blessing.

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

Librarians need to save the libraries. I wish I could have been more involved in the community response, but I had too much on my plate and little support. If I could do it again, I would be more proactive. Librarians have to make themselves heard. They should be disaster management teams for their universities. I tried my best at the time, but my voice just wasn’t heard. Being part of an institution didn’t help. No one thought about the library; the place was just too hard hit. I did my best to rise to the occasion, but all I could do was try to save what was left of the library. But now I am on three different task forces and doing my best to be heard.Librarians really need to get some perspective. I received a survey questionnaire months later asking how effective a blog had been at helping me. I couldn’t believe it. A blog? How effective was their blog??? I wanted to yell at those people, “Don’t start a blog! Go and help! Just go!”

Here are pictures that illustrate Joyce Shaw’s story:

Photo by A. Russel. [Joyce is...] in the pink socks. August 8th 2005

Joyce next to book case

August 2005 035 (photo by A. Russell) Gunter Library Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Gunter Library Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Caylor water line after Katrina 30 inches in the hall way but only 13″ to 15″ in the library–very lucky! (J. Shaw photo)

Water Line in Library

GCRL Karina (5) library in the portico of the building. Those are BMS Cat. guys (the clean up company) horsing around. (J. Shaw photo)

BMS cat. guys

GCRL Karina (1) Library furniture (and stuff from some of the laboratories) in a debris pile.

Debris Pile

107 Pine Drive on 30 August 2005 This was my house the day after Katrina.

Joyce Shaw's Home

107 Pine Drive Katrine (2) Within a few day after the storm, everything turned brown! The salt spray burned the trees. Compare this photo which was about 2 weeks after the storm to the day after. The area looked like somebody took a match to everything!

Two weeks later

A big limb smashed the door and the wind blew the pictures out of the frames! Hallway of Caylor Building–where the library is located. (photo by Joyce Shaw)

Hallway of Caylor Building

August 2005 038 (A. Russell photo)

Library Stack

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Louisiana State University, School of Library and Information Sciences

Adelaide Fletcher, currently a librarian at the Denver Medical Library, Presbyterian / St. Luke’s Medical Library in Denver, Colorado and formerly a student at Louisiana State University, School of Library and Information Sciences in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, discusses her Hurricane Katrina experience from August 2005.

Interview date: June 8th, 2007

Questions:

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

I was a student at Louisiana State University’s School of Library and Information Sciences when Hurricane Katrina swept through the gulf coast. At the time, I was in Baton Rouge. But, I ended up volunteering at The Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales (about half way between Baton Rouge and New Orleans). The Expo Center filled with more than 1800 evacuees from New Orleans after the levees broke.

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

I volunteered at the Expo Center, doing whatever was required. I provided “general support,” getting people toothbrushes, basic supplies, etc… It was while I was getting someone an aspirin that I stumbled upon the medical treatment area of the Expo Center. I saw a Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) lying around and I asked the doctor if he wanted more reference materials. He asked for a Merck Manual and three Washington Manuals.

I posted a request for books to the medical libraries listserv, MEDLIB-L and three other listservs. Well, the email was forwarded and forwarded … And the books came and came … They all came to my home. It was a tremendous response! The medical librarians sent some great books – much better than the ones I originally requested. I tried to send as many thank you notes as I could, but there were just too many donations. Some of the books were unsuitable (like a 1965 Merck Manual), but I had more than enough to build a collection in the shelter.

I tried my best to distribute the extra books but it was an absolute nightmare getting around at that time. Also, I didn’t know where the other shelters were located. Later, I ended up donating materials to under funded local hospital libraries in Southeast Louisiana.. I worked with my friend Becky Hebert, an outreach librarian for the Mid Atlantic Chapter of the National Network of the Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM). She and I tried to supply shelter health care providers with computers, Internet connections and volunteer librarians to do distance searching. Her husband worked in IT and he helped get a bunch of free computers. Unfortunately, most of those computers weren’t used because they had Linux as an operating system and people couldn’t fill out their FEMA forms unless they had Internet Explorer. But, people needed to get online. Eventually, FEMA provided a few lap tops. These helped a bit with reference and searching for people, but they were mostly used by kids to play games. I worked a bit helping people use the computers, especially since many were unfamiliar with the use of a mouse and keyboard. Web 2.0 responded in a big way; but, it could only go so far. People on the ground were unable to take full advantage of blogs and wikis, etc… because they didn’t have:

1. the connectivity

2. the computer skills

3. the knowledge of what was out there to help them.

After it was all over, I wrote an article about my experiences.

(3.) What did you learn from this experience?

The experience was totally exhausting and it took an emotional toll as well. But, in the end, I learned a lot. For example, there were a lot of shelters that were in the same boat. My response could have been much more coordinated. I did ask for multiple copies of resources, but I didn’t plan a way to deliver them. And the next time I appeal for donations on a listserv, I will be more specific and include a time limit. I should have asked for current materials and different titles. People wanted to help, but I didn’t tell that what exactly was needed and my friends and I quickly got bogged down in the details. A lot of items were received well after the point when they could have been any use.

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

There isn’t really one answer to that question because every disaster is so different. Librarians shouldn’t wait for an invitation; just start helping. People needed basics and they didn’t necessarily think about information. But, they really did need information; just look at how the public libraries were overwhelmed. So many people turned to the library. There is definitely a role for the library in a community disaster response.

When I was serving food with Becky, We realized that there had to be something more that we could offer. There were hordes of volunteers, but we could offer something different. That was how we got started. But, it was hard being “free agents.” No one wanted to talk to us and it was hard to articulate what we wanted to do. The Red Cross didn’t have time to talk to us. We tried to find out from them where the other shelters were, but they were having a hard enough time figuring that out themselves. The Red Cross was overwhelmed with need and volunteers at the same time, but they couldn’t handle both in that magnitude.

I went to the Red Cross headquarters first off, but they told me that I was too late for the training session that day. They told me to come back in a few days But, when we went to a shelter that night, the need was urgent and they pulled us right in! That was how we ended up at Lamar Dixon, which was desperate for volunteers. There just seemed to be this disconnect between the Red Cross central office and “its” shelters.

A lot of library school students helped. But they all went off on their own right away. I can see a role for the library schools in organizing the student volunteers. In many ways we were ideal because we were more available to help out. I was encouraged by my boss, the dean, to volunteer rather than work.

But actual coordinated groups didn’t form until later. I think that librarians need to be more unified in their initial response. We could learn a lot from the church groups. The Scientologists, for example, were everywhere. They wore matching shirts. They identified themselves. They seemed to be totally organized. Religious organizations did more for anyone than any government agency. That’s just what they do; they respond immediately. And they never stopped to ask, “should we help?” I think librarians were way too hesitant about helping out. They need to learn to trust their instincts. When the time comes, you’ll know what people need and how to help them.

Central Library Children’s Room, Houston Public Library, Texas

Sandy Farmer, Manager of the Central Library Children’s Room at the Houston Public Library, talks about how Hurricane Katrina affected the public library in August 2005.

Interview date: June 7th, 2007

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

I was in Houston when Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast. Initially, we thought that New Orleans had not been hit too badly. It looked as though Mississippi and Alabama got the worst of the storm but that New Orleans was going to be OK. But then the levees breached and New Orleans filled with water. More and more people were left stranded. New Orleans’s Superdome and convention center, which had been sheltering many people, were no longer safe and people had to leave the city. Judge Robert Eckels (the elected official for Harris County) and Houston’s Mayor, Bill White, made arrangements to house the evacuees from New Orleans in Houston. They opened up the Houston Astrodome and the George R. Brown Convention Center (also know as “The George”).

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

Harris County Public Library held a meeting on Friday morning to discuss their response. At 3:00 pm they found out that the convention center would be used to house Katrina refugees from New Orleans. An email went out asking for volunteers; and I foolishly responded. I say “foolishly,” because I ended up being in charge. And, to some extent, I became the “Last Man Standing.” In many ways, the library was lucky to get the call. The mayor recognized the contribution of the library and gave us space at the convention center. Many big businesses, like Target and Ikea, were also involved. They helped us set up our space in a hurry; we only had the weekend to get ready! When I got to the convention center, I saw that the library was allotted half of Ballroom A. The other half of the ballroom was being used by the Parks Service. As I looked around the building, I started thinking… What services could we offer? Which activities should we organize? What could we offer that was unique to the library? What could the library do that the Parks Service couldn’t? With the help of volunteers, I started moving $15,000 worth of the library’s toys and the IT department started loading up computers. When we got back to the convention center with our supplies, there were people everywhere. They were all volunteers (and they all needed something to do). Thousands and thousands of books were donated and I organized the volunteers in sorting them. Building services arrived with shelving. We had five ranges with six sections each. Then we received more volunteers. I got them to sort and shelve. In this way, we set up a whole library in our half of Ballroom A. I commandeered vehicles with drivers to haul supplies between the library and the convention center. Volunteers were everywhere looking for something to do. I organized them in unpacking toys and moving tables (IKEA helped with furniture). We had enough furniture to create an enclosure so that volunteers could read to kids in the toy area. While all of this construction was going on, the acting director came in to tell us that the convention center was now going to open up on Sunday instead of Monday. We had even less time. But, we had no choice but to say OK and to start moving faster. People were demanding my attention all over the place. IT people wanted to know where to put the data ports and the server. Volunteers were asking where the tables were supposed to go. Then, the inspectors came in to look at the shelving. They insisted that the shelves we built were “unsafe” and that we would have to put up supports. But they were the same shelves that we used in all of our branches across the city! I told them that I would address the problem when the rest of the “unsafe” library shelves in the city were reinforced. I was running around the whole time, trying to keep everything together while organizing a ton of people. Southwestern Bell (now ATT) volunteered to put in the data ports. Books just kept coming in the donation door. People brought an assortment of everything, but the screening of books came later. At this point, we were just moving them. At noon on Saturday, it was announced that the convention center was opening at 3:00 pm. It was only 24 hours after I had volunteered on Friday. I remember working non-stop with no break and no food. There was so much to do! IKEA and the IT people set up the computer area. But we needed more tables and chairs from the convention center. The data connection had been established through Southwestern Bell. But the library still had to follow government regulations and the Internet connection that we provided needed to be filtered. So we ended up routing the connection through the library server. Not all of the computers had an Internet connection though. We accepted about 15 machines that were just used for games. Right at 3:00 pm, the busses started arriving. But, we thought we would still have more time. As they arrived, people went through the medical treatment center, then the showers, and then they would find a place to sleep, get clean clothes, etc… Everyone was focused on the necessities at first. But, it didn’t take too long before we started to see the first waves of people. By 3:30 pm, we began to see the people who had come in from hotels. These people had run out of money, but they were in good shape otherwise. Many other people were in very rough shape. By this time, the Houston Astrodome was completely full and closed to new evacuees. We were next in line. Our first patron was a little boy – maybe only four years old. He came up to us and showed us his stuffed bear. Then he asked if he could get a toy for his bear. He explained that his bear had been in a flood. We brought him into our enclosed area where he played with a volunteer. Seeing this little boy happy in his quiet corner, I thought about all the kids who needed their own space. Then I made my first big mistake. Thinking about the children who had been sitting for far too long and were likely driving their parents nuts, I sent volunteers to round up the kids. But, I didn’t think of a way to get the kids back to their parents again! Later, we developed a sign-in system to make sure that the children were brought safely back to their families. For the first time in my life, I found every teenager that I talked to was quiet and polite. This was how I could tell that they were scared. And, to tell you the truth, polite teenagers are terrifying. At first, they were trying hard not to do anything wrong – but they got over it pretty quickly. It took a couple of days. In general, teens came and went pretty quickly. We were more of a refuge for them than anything else. At around 4:00 pm, I finally got some food. I used my personal Blackberry the whole time and would have been sunk without it. That first night, we stayed open until around 9:00 pm. I went home and fell asleep immediately. But, I was back the very next morning. By 9:00 am Sunday morning, the press had arrived. As I came in, I stopped to answer questions from CNN and then offered to show them around the floor. Suddenly, security was very tight. I had to prove who I was to get in the building as it had become very hard to gain access. I wanted to screen movies, but we could only show videos if we had the licenses. An A/V area was all set up, but we couldn’t show anything yet. I organized an effort to get the licenses as quickly as possible. In a very generous act, employees of the movie licensing company donated their own money to buy the licenses. They also gave us boxes and boxes of t-shirts and other give-aways. By now, all of the data ports and servers were set. The library donated their own brand new computers, which had been purchased for the branches. As soon as they were set up, there was a line. We limited people to half an hour at a computer. At any given time, there was a line of about 30 people waiting to get on a computer. Adults, kids, grandparents, etc… everyone was looking for information. One of the most common reference questions we received at first was, “Is my house underwater?” We answered the question by looking at Google satellite pictures to find out where their houses were. Then we checked out the flood maps that were being posted. Most of the time, we just saw a roof. It was sad and hard. These people were in a strange city and they had lost everything. About 90% of the people didn’t have any idea how to use the computers. Volunteers were a huge help. Starting on Saturday, we began scheduling library people to come in and help too. A typical shift was four hours long. Most people couldn’t handle much more than this. But, I was there full time. I think I was fueled almost entirely by adrenaline. But that only went so far. My back hurt and my head hurt and I just wanted to go home and go to bed. But I kept going. Sunday was the day to figure out the rules. None of volunteers (and even the librarians) had ever done anything like this before. And we clearly needed some management tools to organize shifts, computer time, volunteers, and the kids who were coming to our library space. I had to develop real working policies, with safety always as the first priority. It turned out to be a bad idea having some volunteers around the kids. We had to alert the police to a couple of individuals. Luckily, the police were very effective and they removed volunteer privileges right away. Donations were another problem. We called them the “disaster after the disaster.” There was just so much! It was completely overwhelming and we couldn’t process it all. People kept showing up with boxes and we couldn’t find a place to put them. In the end, we had accumulated literally thousands of boxes of crayons, coloring books, toys, etc… On Monday, regular library services continued without me. I normally supervise between three and four people. Luckily, I was in position to go and work off-site. I work with fantastic people and they were able to fill in for me at my regular job. When the video licenses were purchased, I went to Best Buy to get some movies (the big screen TV was thankfully donated). I spent $500 out of my own pocket on movies. The library eventually reimbursed me, but FEMA never gave any money to the library. The movies were an absolute necessity as we had to keep people occupied and entertained. After many days of living in the convention center, people were desperate to get their minds off what was happening. The library staff and volunteers had to help many people with their FEMA forms. I cannot tell you how painful it was to use the online FEMA forms! We would spend hours with people filling out the forms, only to have them be rejected. To find out the status of your house, you had to answer all of these security questions. Sometimes it would take hours just to get past the security features. Many people couldn’t answer the questions, like “Is one of these three families your neighbor?” A lot of people don’t know their neighbors (I know I don’t know all of mine). Once the form was accepted they got a claim number. But then we might have problems setting the user name and password. Nine times out of ten, FEMA couldn’t tell them the status of their claim. One lady came in after she has actually received her FEMA money. Unfortunately, they transferred the money to a bank that was underwater. The woman couldn’t get her money! We had to find out who regulated credit unions, call them, and get her on the list to be notified of the status. She had to open an account with a bank up the street (once she could prove that she met the minimum requirements). I never found out what happened with this woman or how her story ended. To be honest, it was like any other day in the library. We never get closure with the problems that we try to solve. But, I remember these people. They have stayed with me ever since. As the days and weeks passed, all of the city employees in the convention center were replaced by community volunteers. All the parks folks were pulled out. Church groups in Houston got together and organized it so that each group would work one day a week (Jewish, Baptists, Muslims, etc…). We often worked with the Baptist church people and they were wonderful. But, in general, new volunteers became a new problem. The National Guard was everywhere. The police were everywhere. This is when things got really interesting. Everyone had their own idea of how things should work. Some volunteers started coming in and telling me how to do my job. I had to handle people who felt that the toy area was a huge “trip hazard,” or that the teens were using the computers in “inappropriate” ways. Concerns were being raised about kids in the library space. There was no other daycare at the convention center, but we weren’t there just to serve children. As time went on, we developed a more elaborate system of tracking the kids; parents would sign in their kids and get a tag number. Identification would have to be presented in order to pick up their children. The health department came in and told us that everything had to be kept clean because of the risk of communicable disease. Toys, keyboards, and just about everything else had to be sterilized. So I organized volunteers to do the sterilization. I bought gallons of rubbing alcohol and Clorox wipes. I sprayed down all of the keyboards. In general, people were very good at cleaning up after themselves. In fact, the adult volunteers were almost too good at sorting. They felt that the toy area needed to be kept orderly at all times. I had to explain that this was a children’s area and that it was OK if toys were scattered around. I remember a reservist who lodged a complaint that teens were looking at bad things on the Internet. Unfortunately, I was not available to handle the problem right away and the volunteer mistakenly asked to teen to get off the computer. When I arrived, I had to reverse the decision and explain to the man that our computers were filtered according to federal regulation and that I didn’t have the right (and neither did he) to decide what was appropriate. He wasn’t happy. I ran the library at the convention center for 2 weeks. Luckily, things settled down into a predictable rhythm after the first couple days. Evacuees started leaving as soon as they arrived. Everyone wanted to leave as soon as possible; it was just a question of getting their FEMA money, or contacting family, or arranging for transportation… The convention center was an open environment. At its height, there were about 3500 people sleeping at The George. But, after things died down the numbers lessened to between 500 and 1000 people each night. In many respects, I held true to the code of behavior established at our branch library. A lot of the same problems emerged at the convention center that we encounter in our normal working world. After a point, the Baptist Church took over organizing and training the volunteers. This was a huge help, except we had to explain that our policies were non-negotiable. If volunteers couldn’t accept them, then they weren’t welcome. We had to council a lot of people on the rules for the computers. This was rough at first, but after a few days, everything stabilized. Some of our patrons, especially children, became “regulars” and they were there for the whole two weeks. Our library space became a home for the teenagers; and perhaps this was one of the most important services that we provided. I remember a whole crew of welders that came in together. They were looking for work and we found them a company that needed welders. We helped them find the company site on a map and told them how to get there. We did the same for people looking for apartments. I shared information about bus transportation and helped people get settled as quickly as people. Over time it became clear that my role had become that of a social worker! After we finally dismantled the library in the convention center, I took two weeks off. I had worked over 150 hours over those two weeks in the center. It was a great experience… and if I ever have to do it again, I’ll shoot myself.

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

The public library services changed almost immediately. Computer use at the branches went up dramatically. People wanted to know what was happening with their jobs, their home, their families… They had to figure out what to do next. Library cards were issued to all evacuees. The library put up web pages full of resources and we became a national source of information. Over time, the library services changed because we were still dealing with this population of folks who were trying to figure out what to do. We helped these people become a part of the community in Houston. Our computer classes were being heavily used by Katrina evacuees. We helped a lot of people who needed employment. These Katrina evacuees have stayed. Many people who were not library users before are now regular patrons. I hope that they will become library users for life. Now they know what the library has to offer, not just in an emergency but in their daily lives.

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

The library and the librarian need to be part of any community-wide disaster response plan. If the branch is above water, then it will become an emergency shelter anyways. Ever since Tropical Storm Alison, we have accepted this role. The public library branches are now prepared with supplies, emergency rations and cots. Libraries are a huge part of any local disaster response effort, but we need to be more aggressive with agencies like FEMA to create better service models on the web. I talked with one of the FEMA reps at the convention center. They had three old computers for processing applications and all of the same problems we did! I finally talked with an upper level guy. I really chewed him out for their poor services, but he just looked at me like I was crazy. He didn’t have a clue. He wasn’t out on the front lines with these people. Libraries and librarians have the resources to help people with these applications. We have the computers and the staff and the space, but we aren’t a part of the planning process; we aren’t even considered! Unfortunately, librarians have to share this blame. Thirty years ago, we were just a place with books. But now, we are the only place in the community with the resources to help these people in need. And we need to be prepared, not just for what might happen in our community, but for what could happen in our neighboring towns and in the next state over… We need to consider the population increase and the people who aren’t in shelters. There will be people who are new to our communities who need our help to get their lives back. In the grand scheme of things, this service is critical. It is more important than questions of taxation or service models; it is about helping people when they need it the most.