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

Friday, June 8th, 2007

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

Friday, June 8th, 2007

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

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

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.

Memphis Public Library and Information Center, Tennessee

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Kay Due, Manager of Public Services at the Memphis Public Library and Information Center, discusses the hurricanes that affected the library in July 2003 and August 2005.

Interview date: June 6th, 2007

Questions:

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

The first recent disaster in our community was a storm we still “fondly” call “Hurricane Elvis”. On the morning of July 22, 2003, a storm with 100mph straight-line winds struck Memphis. Approximately 4,500 houses were damaged; 306,000 customers were without electricity; untold numbers of huge trees were toppled – some onto houses, some in the streets.

Next, in September, 2005, we had our first experience with a “second tier disaster.” Memphis received an influx of 18,000 evacuees from the Katrina and Rita hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. Early during this crisis, the remnants of Katrina swept through Memphis and knocked out electricity to 70,000 homes. Luckily, that damage was quickly dispatched. What took longer was responding to the information and social services needs of thousands of displaced persons.

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

2003 windstorm: Response was delayed for 2-3 days because electricity was out in many of our branches and our radio and TV stations were not operating. A few of our branches also experienced minor storm damage. The Central Library had emergency generator power but all systems were not operational. In addition, we had staff dealing with damaged homes and disordered lives!

For those first few days, staff worked by flashlight to answer phones. LINC (Library Information Center at the Memphis Public Library) staff served as the system and community hub. They posted information received by telephone about library services, damages, outages, Memphis Light Gas and Water anticipated work sites, and emergency contact numbers. While computers were inoperable, they referred callers to social services agencies using a print copy of the LINC Community Resources Database. They monitored radio stations and newspapers in order to answer questions about downed power lines, stores that still had generators, batteries and ice to sell, which gas stations were open and operational.

One of the most frequent question topics was food loss due to the power outages: “My electricity has been out for five days and I’ve kept my food in a cooler. Is it safe to eat?” OR “I had $200 worth of food in my freezer and it’s all ruined. Can I get compensation for that?” OR “How do I get the smell of ruined food out of my refrigerator?”

When the magnitude of the disaster became more apparent, service providers and government agencies (Mayor’s Office, City Council, EMA, Volunteer Memphis, DHS, TN Congressional offices were all urged to add LINC to their distribution list for updates. Emergency services were contacted frequently, including hotlines, shelters, and volunteer agencies.

On July 30, the MPLIC (Memphis Public Libraries and Information Center) television and radio stations were running again and began to broadcast programs with information about how citizens could get services. Tennessee Representative Mike Kernell spearheaded this effort, along with Tennessee Representative Carol Chumney. These elected officials along with library staff, brought in representatives from TEMA (Tennessee Emergency Management Agency) and many other service providers and continued programming for several weeks.

On August 2, FEMA representatives arrived and LINC staff began gathering information about federal disaster assistance, which all library staff then distributed to customers. FEMA/TEMA faxes were distributed throughout the system so all staff could answer questions. The local social services email distribution list, facilitated by LINC staff, was used as an information distribution point for FEMA/TEMA. FEMA/TEMA staff was trained on and utilized the Community Information Database to identify local services that could fill in gaps for services not provided through federal assistance programs. FEMA/TEMA staff also utilized library staff telephones to submit their electronic reports.

The library also served as a community gathering place. Not the least of what we had to offer at some of our libraries was a little bit of air conditioning! We had customers coming in to use our computers and our wireless system so they could conduct their businesses online and contact family members to let them know they were safe. Customers were allowed to use library electricity to recharge batteries for various types of medical equipment. Whole families came in to get a little peace and quiet — away from the constant buzz of power saws cutting tree limbs and the roar of electric generators.

Katrina/Rita response of 2005: The library system employed many of the same responses so well learned in 2003. Because of relationships developed during the disaster of 2003, emergency management agencies were quick to include library staff in their response teams.

Library administration held daily strategy meetings to develop service responses and communication methods. Policies were bent and broken and the budget and staff were stretched and tested – in order to address the changing needs of the evacuees and to continue serving our local citizens, as follows:

Ø The LINC/2-1-1 staff again served as the “information distribution hub” for the library system, local government, service providers, faith-based groups and other social services agencies. The 2-1-1 service had only been operational for three months before Katrina hit. Most residents from Louisiana were familiar with 2-1-1, so the number was heavily used when they arrived in Memphis. Although we were too busy to take statistics during the first week of the crisis, during the first and busiest month, the system responded to 7,213 information requests from evacuees.

Ø Again, the Information and Referral Database (the backbone of our 2-1-1 service) was used to provide social service referrals.

Ø Staff at every branch compiled information into manageable print and online “notebooks” so they could assist evacuees.

Ø LINC/2-1-1 staff provided technical assistance for volunteers at the call center.

Ø System staff volunteered at the call center until the number was finally transferred to 2-1-1.

Ø Free, 3-month library cards issued to evacuees.

Ø Limited number of free copies made available to evacuees.

Ø Staff provided story-times for younger children while their caregivers were trying to get emergency assistance at the Red Cross and shelters. (There were also several community partners for these activities.)

Ø Printed and distributed 50,000 copies of the library activity calendar to shelter sites and to hotels/motels where evacuees were housed.

Ø All public computers changed to 1-hour limits to handle the demand.

Ø The FEMA website required access to Internet Explorer 6.0. Most of our public computers were 5.5. FEMA also required JAVA script. All public computers in branches dealing with large numbers of evacuees were upgraded to ensure the ability to complete FEMA applications.

Ø Assisting with FEMA applications was a huge staff effort. The FEMA website did not allow a print copy to be made, so evacuees were spending hours trying to figure out the complicated application. MPLIC staff figured out a way to create a print copy and made it available at all sites, so evacuees could plan their responses before getting online. This drastically reduced time spent online. When FEMA personnel visited the Central Library, they were complimentary of the initiative.

Ø Meeting rooms were set aside for service provider groups.

Ø JobLINC and INFOBUS mobile units were dispatched to shelter sites to help people find jobs and to provide library services on-site.

Ø Katrina “webliography” added to the library website and constantly updated with the latest local, regional, national information.

Ø During the regular book sale in October, books were sold at half-price to Katrina/Rita evacuees.

Ø LINC staff served on the Hurricane Katrina Taskforce.

Ø As they did in 2003, WYPL radio and TV communicated library updates and information about relief efforts to the community.

Ø LINC staff worked with Red Cross to provide intake for those looking for missing family and friends as well as to provide information for potential volunteers for the clean-up.

Ø Worked with EMA to identify basic needs assistance.

Ø Identified locations for temporary housing of pets.

Ø Provided assistance to evacuees in obtaining their medications. Many lost their medicine or ran out during the evacuation. Many could not contact their home pharmacies or doctors to obtain records.

Ø Map of Memphis added to library website to print off for evacuees.

Ø EMA collected donations in the Central Library parking lot.

Ø Many branch staff collected donations on their own.

Ø The library provided rewarding volunteer opportunities to two New Orleans evacuees who were professional librarians. These volunteers were able to provide computer assistance to other evacuees.

Ø Staff was privy to horrendous stories from refugees. It was emotionally draining. The system had professional counselors in to help staff cope.

Ø Staff found a wonderful use for their reader advisory skills: many evacuees wanted escapist literature to forget their trouble while others were looking for books about overcoming and surviving disasters.

Ø At every library site, evacuees shared their stories with staff members who stopped what they were doing and listened. Again, the library served as an all-important community meeting place.

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

During both disasters, other emergency numbers were set up: in 2003 by local government and in 2005 by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Advertising of these numbers caused some confusion for citizens. During the Katrina crisis, LINC staff assisted at the second site by providing technical assistance and helping staff the phones, but in just two weeks time, there was recognition that library staff alone could provide the needed referrals. The special number was then transferred directly to the 2-1-1 call center. Because our information skills were recognized, this duplication of effort should not occur in future disasters.

Due to its pivotal services during these disasters, LINC has been working ever since with our local EMA in local planning for disaster response. The LINC/2-1-1 disaster plan has been confirmed by EMA and is being written into the Shelby County Emergency Response Plan.

The library system has been established as a “need to restore service” by our local utility provider in future disasters. The library radio station, WYPL, serves as the designated emergency broadcast station and receives priority “need to restore service.”

The library system’s Emergency Procedures Handbook has been updated, but we have much more work to do to create a system-wide disaster plan. We have attempted and will continue to attempt to acquire funding to upgrade emergency capabilities, specifically: upgrade the Central emergency generator; add generators to other branches; add Children’s Department to Central emergency generator grid; add wiring to allow additional telephones to be installed immediately.

During 2006, United Way provided MPLIC with a grant for a Katrina Coordinator. This position assisted with updating the database, triaged calls from evacuees, and served as liaison with the Katrina relief coalition.

To the present day, LINC staff members are still active in local relief coalitions. Katrina evacuees are still present in the Memphis community and still require social service efforts from the community.

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

The library should serve as the centralized resource for information to be collected from service providers and then distributed to citizens in need. This is a necessity during emergencies and is validation of the one number for social service assistance: 2-1-1. It is vital that the 2-1-1 service become nationwide and be sufficiently funded.

Libraries enjoy a high degree of public trust and are known to provide unbiased information on other topics, so are uniquely situated to serve as reputable, accessible providers of disaster-related information. Citizens view their libraries as open, welcoming places in their everyday lives; therefore, coming to the library or getting information from a library during a crisis is logical and comforting.

The library should be an active participant in the local emergency plan. Libraries should serve as “second responders” during disaster. Their role is not to respond such as fire and police departments are mandated to do. As defined by the United Way: “The ‘Second Response’ follows closely, and sometimes in sync with, the First Response during and after a disaster. Responders are community and faith-based organizations which provide critical health, human and social services to victims of disaster.” Libraries provide an essential information service which is key to any disaster recovery effort. Unlike shelters and the Red Cross and FEMA/TEMA and others who are telling those in crisis what to do, libraries provide needed information. Library customers can maintain some element of control in their lives, which is vital to successfully working through the crisis at hand.

Suggestions for what the National Library of Medicine could do to help us during a disaster:

Ø Support legislation enabling funding for 2-1-1 throughout the country.

Ø During medical disasters (ex. SARS; bird flu) distribute definitive medical information to libraries/Health Departments via email lists and websites.

Ø During local/regional emergencies (ex. hurricanes/tornadoes/flooding/earthquakes) assist local Health Departments in distribution of medical information.

Ø Participate fully in FEMA disaster plans on national level.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this project! I would like to mention that several MPLIC staff, especially Audrey May, LINC Public Services Supervisor, provided information for these responses.