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Tropical Storm Emily

Friday, August 5th, 2011

FEMA is asking residents of Florida and the East Coast to be aware of the progress of Tropical Storm Emily.  See the FEMA update:  http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=57048.

Center for Knowledge Management, Ochsner Health System, Louisiana

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

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

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

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

Monday, June 18th, 2007

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