Memphis Public Library and Information Center, Tennessee

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.

Office of Minority Health, Kansas City, Missouri

Captain Edwin Galan, Region VII Coordinator, DHHS, OPHS, Office of Minority Health, Kansas City, Missouri, reflects on the ways NLM could assist in disaster management, specifically in hurricane scenarios.

Interview date: June 5th, 2007

General comments:

These answers are my non-librarian perspectives, after reflecting on “how” some of the scenarios might have been handled differently, if we’d had knowledge of possible Library (NLM) assistance and roles during these types of emergencies.

Thanks for the chance to participate.

Ed Galan

Questions:

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

I have participated in most major U.S. (& Caribbean) disasters over the last 15 years. Most recently, I served in a clinical provider and public health program leader role in New Orleans during the Katrina/Rita hurricanes. This involved helping convert the Baton Rouge (LSU) indoor sports arena into a temporary 250 bed acute-care hospital for displaced and injured people. We provided “triaged” medical care to thousands of patients prior to making referrals for more long-term care and assistance outside of the impacted service area.

In New Orleans, I helped as a team leader for mental health needs rendering care to all New Orleans Police & Fire Dept members (and their families) plus the EMS first responders (EMTs, Paramedics, etc…). This involved direct interface between representatives for the offices of the LA Governor, the New Orleans Mayor, and various parish (county) health leaders on mental health matters. Since most mental health services in the greater N.O. area already had severe needs pre-disaster; these were further exacerbated during and after the crisis (many which remain to this day). We were able to offer structured federal assistance via human resources and information (technical assistance) as needed to help re-create a temporary mental health services infrastructure that the local population and local providers could view as “still being their own”.

(2.) How did you respond? How do you think a librarian could have responded?

As a non-librarian provider, I attempted to direct any needs for technical assistance (TA) and resources to legitimate federal or state sources with the most accurate, relevant and practicable public health information and guidance as possible during that period. This included internet and or telephone (when restored) with sources from the CDC, NIH, SAMHSA, USPHS, etc… The intent was to offer “consistent, concise, accurate, reliable and authoritative” information on many topics (for emergencies or long term care needs). This was used to compliment any pre-existing preparedness plans at all levels of government or to establish new interventions as the needs arose and/or changed with the evolving circumstances.

Had I known of or had specific librarian information as consultants, I would have gladly used and promoted them with our overall plan for assistance and mitigation of the many issues faced. If local library communication lines are functional (internet, telephone, videoconferencing, etc.); those means or the site itself might be offered as an optional “command center” via pre-arranged MOUs/MOAs.

(3.) How have your promoted the role of medical libraries and librarians in disaster response and preparedness?

Personally, I have offered TA, ideas, suggestions and examples to NLM affiliates and associates to eventually consider for definitive collaborations with these stakeholders impacted for more effective and comprehensive planning and interventions to meet these needs. I have actively encouraged all community and government leaders nationally to include their NLM, medical and health libraries/librarians within their planning continuum, to avoid mishaps and gaps in the interventional phase of these potential scenarios. The main idea is to augment and bolster current emergency preparedness plans, by including any willing medical and health libraries/librarian partners. These partners & needs would all vary according to the geographical region that bear unique disaster requirements and/or according to the particular type of emergency incidents impacting their areas.

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

Being ready and able to offer their constituent government and NGO offices, peer libraries, and other partners some or all of these TA resources early on in the planning stages. They must also be willing to interface and learn about the various forms of emergency & disaster planning (e.g., ICS vs. Unified Command structures), so as to minimize any disinformation or mistakes during the actual events. Also, making varied consumer/customer rapport and relationship building beforehand; (e.g., meetings, visits, work groups) to have a preexisting foundation of trust & credibility before any incident.

It is crucial perhaps at a more centralized level to have a repository of sorts that includes experiences (positive and negative), lessons learned, from valuable past emergency scenarios and how they were (or not) handled. This may help to determine where best to concentrate future enhancement efforts to offer a more essential and value added NLM contribution to the overall process.

(5.) Who, in your opinion, are potential partners for libraries wanted to get involved in disaster response?

Librarians from academia, industry and hospital corporations located in predominantly disaster prone areas and those in “safe zones” that later could offer support to those who are more severely impacted. Non-librarian partners and organizations can offer ideas as to what is of value and crucial for their operational viability, even at minimal capacity (e.g., partners’ alternative safety options, portable or electronic maps of their areas, more accurate needs assessment techniques, etc.) Partners could include “unlikely” community stakeholders: seaports, airports, either major or “sole” transit systems, nuclear power plants or similar entities. All of these could feasibly receive valuable aid on public health or medical issues from any prepared NLM affiliate. One should not exclude any potential partner from the planning & development process until a reasonable conclusion has been reached mutually.

(6.) What are some scenarios where libraries could have offered assistance?

Greater New Orleans Metro Health Task Force

U.S. Public Health Service

- MENTAL HEALTH SCENARIO -

On the A.M. of Sept 20, Mrs. ________ was noted in the ________ hospital surgical waiting room. Her daughter (______, age __ yrs) who’s had a long standing condition often misdiagnosed since birth was recently diagnosed as having an occult but misleading Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO). Over the years the daughter succumbed to strokes and other dangerous neurological conditions but recently the PFO diagnosis was determined to be the apparent main causative factor. The daughter was due to have corrective surgery immediately before the Katrina crisis but only just then was able to actually undergo the required surgical interventions for this condition.

Additionally, Mrs. ________ described the misfortunate situation where her then _____ year old son sustained a fall injury leading to his present paraplegic condition. He is now a young adult. This family is exhibiting remarkable resilience and fortitude, but serves to illustrate some of the incredible contributing factors leading to the need for continued mental health services in the greater New Orleans area. Examples like this are further exacerbated and compounded by the aftermath posed by the Katrina crisis. The potential impacts are to the patients, their families, the care providers and the recuperating health care system.

The hospital medical library was mostly intact as well as the hospital’s I.T. services enabling primary and secondary communications lines to be of a resource if needed for consultation, requests of support services (for the procedure, post operative period and for any specific family therapeutic needs). They could also be of service to nearby medical installations that also might be “ready” to resume partial or near-full services to their local populations.

Greater New Orleans Metro Health Task Force

U.S. Public Health Service

- PUBLIC HEALTH SCENARIO -

During the early stages of the Katrina disaster, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of ___________ Parish in LA received a confirmed report of an outbreak of chicken pox. The EOC leaders were asked about alternative measures to take in order to contain the outbreak, potential ramifications, and any approved “public information” communications to maintain calm and avoid any harmful or unnecessary actions on the public’s part. There were no immediately knowledgeable “medical” or public health personnel on site to offer accurate guidance on this (or similar matters). No prior plans for this sort of scenario were included in the EOC’s emergency preparedness planning. Solution: The first option of contacting the LA State Public Health Offices was not realistic. Reliable internet lines were used to connect with the CDC for national guidelines. A quick “cut & paste” method was used to produce a small easily printable “local EOC approved” communication card/handout for dissemination on this subject. No real forethought was given to inclusion of medical library or NLM services in this type of simple help readily available to the EOC and its communities. This type of resource could also have been expanded in a manner to widely impact many customers at the EOC or other similar entities to establish concise and accurate information on a variety of subjects.

Houston Academy of Medicine, Texas Medical Center Library

Dr. Elizabeth Eaton, Director of the Houston Academy of Medicine, Texas Medical Center Library in Houston, Texas discusses the effects of Hurricane Katrina and flooding at the academic health sciences library in 2005.

Interview date:

June 5th, 2007

Questions:

(1.) What happened in your community (i.e., what was the disaster/emergency) and how did your library respond?

Between August 31st and September 4th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast including New Orleans. Many thousands of the evacuees were brought to the two large conventions center in Houston: the George R. Brown (5,000) and the Reliant Center (11,000). The evacuees arrived several days after the levies broke. They came with the clothes on their backs, sans prescriptions, no medical records, no schools records. The convention center grouped the arrivals by families, single male, single female. The facility was clean, accommodated all for sleeping, eating, medical, computer stations, clothing selection, and school study areas for the students. The two medical schools opened medical centers to treat the evacuees. Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) ran the Reliant medical center; The University of Texas Health Sciences Center-Houston, the George R. Brown Medical Center. The UT Dental School moved their mobile van into the GR Brown Convention Center. We heard about this arrangement and immediately found the UTH organizer. The Library supplied needed information to the George R. Brown medical triage area. It took several visits, the first to inquire about their information needs. The physicians were volunteers and worked shifts. They saw a random assortment of patients. One Internal Medicine physician said he wanted infectious disease texts, another said he wanted the PDR, another wanted access to the library’s online journals. We engaged our serials librarian and the IT Systems person. The Convention Center had an IP address, all we had to do was locate the person who knew it and receive permission to give it to vendors to allow access from the convention center. In all cases, the vendors gave us 30-60 days permission from machines we identified at the convention center.

September, 2005: Hurricane Rita, the second Class 5 Hurricane in the Gulf heading toward Houston resulted in mass evacuation of Houston and the surrounding communities. The Library battened down the hatches and evacuated the premise from Wednesday to the following Monday. Fortunately no damage was inflicted upon Houston.

(2.) How did the library support the regional community of health information professionals?

2005 August 31-Sept 4 Hurricane Katrina

Houston watched as Hurricane Katrina wrecked havoc with New Orleans. LA is in our NNLM (National Network of the Libraries of Medicine) SCR (South Central Region), the academic health sciences libraries and the hospital libraries in New Orleans were flooded; Oschner Hospital was surrounded by water but remained open, with a helicopter pad on the roof. The worse part for all of us was not knowing where the LSU and Tulane staff had gone. The NNLM SCR staff within 60 days had contacted all affected libraries and determined their needs and what the costs would be. Contacting persons and confirming that they were OK was a lengthy and arduous procedure. Home phones were down, work phones down and many cell towers inoperable. We contacted friends of friends and NNLM SCR set up a blog which was a great way to deliver and receive information. We were on the phone to the SER (South Eastern Region) as well, trying to assess damage in Alabama and Mississippi.

Within a week of the flood, the entire Tulane Medical School, including faculty, staff, residents and medical students were relocated to BCM, one of the two medical schools which we serve. So while the NNLM SCR stayed with the project of polling all members, assessing damage and prioritizing services needed, the Library staff was welcoming yet another medical school to its services. We phoned vendors trying to include the Tulane medical students as our students for assessing resources. The Tulane students had dual resources, those already paid for by Tulane and also this Library’s online resources. The vendors agreed to allow Tulane students, staff, residents and faculty access from our IP addresses. The Tulane Medical School Library Director and a librarian who had relocated to Houston were given desks and became members of our Library staff while helping their students. Although the move of Tulane to Houston was not prearranged, the BCM faculty and staff accommodated them and made the transition smooth. Medical School classes began 3 weeks after the storm; Tulane faculty taught their medical school classes; residents were placed in appropriate units.

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

Now, we have much better emergency numbers sharing. All cell phone numbers are shared with key people and departments. Email accounts with a national carrier (Yahoo!, Google, AOL, etc…) are encouraged for all staff, as one can usually use the national email if local and home computers are unable to function.

To ensure continuing online access, we have co-located our authentication server and have encouraged the region’s libraries to do the same.

We updated and reviewed the disaster plan, re-stocked emergency supplies and prepared vendors’ contact information. Those details will be available and we will contact them ASAP. We have agreed ahead of time on the process for accessing information during such emergencies.

We worked with community libraries, the city, and TMC (Texas Medical Center) to be better integrated into the emergency response teams.

What became crystal clear after Katrina and Rita is that it is most important to evacuate. Leaving early is the priority – in front of moving furniture, computers or even putting plastic sheeting on books, stacks, etc…

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

Librarians’ roles are to be absolutely in charge of the library. Do not even dream that you will have help. ‘All we have is ourselves.’ Some staff members do not want to participate in recovery and that has to be known in advance.

Librarians must be integrated into the local and regional disaster preparedness and recovery operations. We have knowledge, space and can help in many non traditional ways.

Librarians’ roles are also to collect contact information. Keep all home email address in your emergency manuals. Try and have as many regional and national numbers as possible. Librarians should also keep records of everything before, during and after the flood. FEMA demand receipts.

The role of National programs, such as GoLocal, should be emphasized. The sister-system of RMLs (Regional Medical Libraries) is absolutely vital. In the SCR (South Central Region), the network sponsored a disaster seminar that raised awareness. We encouraged more seminars on regional levels. The NNLM played a key role in promoting awareness at the regional and national levels. The network and the National Library of Medicine need to continue their leadership in promoting preparedness.

In every disaster, the needs are different. But, money will always be needed by the institutions affected. The willingness of vendors to allow for permissions will always be needed. National and regional efforts are required to enable quick response on behalf of the vendor community. Access should be available to wherever the point of care happens to be. Librarians can aid in the provision of these service.

Since Katrina, TMC Inc. (Texas Medical Center, Incorporated) forged a relationship between the medical library and disaster agencies. Now, the agencies will think of the library. The next step will be to get ingrained with the city planning force. The library is much more visible now and they expect to be called. Staying connected with the city is critical. Librarians should be out of the library, making contacts and connections.

Rowland Medical Library, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Ada Seltzer, Director of the Rowland Medical Library at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, talks about Hurricane Katrina and its direct impacts on the academic health sciences library in August 2005.

Interview date: June 1st, 2007

Questions:

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

Jackson, Mississippi was on the fringe of the area that was hit by hurricane Katrina. For the most part, we were directly impacted through the loss of our electricity. It took 11 days for it to be completely restored throughout the Jackson Metro area. We also suffered from a gasoline shortage which began 4 or 5 days after the storm. The medical center had to declare a day of emergency because people couldn’t get to work. Only essential hospital employees were required to come into work. Gas was being sent by truck between Jackson and Hattiesburg, which was a very hard hit area. Transportation became a huge problem. It took 12 hours to clear one lane of US Highway 49. Then it remained closed except to emergency vehicles. With so much debris on the roads (and no gas to fuel the vehicles to remove the debris) it took a long time for the roads to open again. Grocery stores were all closed. There was a shortage of ice, although we were alright for water. The fuel scarcity became a serious problem and we certainly learned a lesson to prepare for gas shortages in the future.

Things got worse and worse as you traveled down towards the coast. There was more devastation than anyone could have imagined. There was total devastation from the coastline north for about 3-5 blocks and up to Interstate 10 at certain areas. The storm just left slabs. There was no mail service until November on the coast. In the worst hit areas, they were without Internet until November; cell phones weren’t back until October. Police departments were wiped out, so were fire departments. People walked to shelters and tents set up by the Department of Health, Red Cross and the CDC.

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

In preparation for the storm, we notified the NN/LM SE/A RML (National Network of the Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Region, Regional Medical Library) in Baltimore. We made arrangements to divert loans and notified other libraries in the Southern Chapter that we would be unable to send interlibrary loans (ILL). We closed on Monday at 10:00 am, opened on Wednesday, and began loan service again the next Monday.

Then we began focusing on helping the coast. We contacted the Mississippi Library Commission, which coordinates public library service for the state. We offered to give free loans until December for any library on the coast (in fact, we are still offering free ILL). In total, we only had 50 ILL requests. It became clear to us that the human need was too great and that traditional library materials weren’t needed.

By the third week we tried to telephone every hospital to find out what their status was; we were able to reach 5 of the 11. The hospitals had damage, but their libraries and collections were mainly intact.

We contacted the Mississippi Hospital Association and asked what we could do. By this time, they had traveled down to the hospitals on the coast and knew the statuses of the 11 hospitals. They shared those with us and the names of the administrators.

Jackson hosted a lot of evacuees from the coast and from New Orleans. The Medical Center set up emergency clinics in the coliseum where there was a Red Cross shelter for four weeks. The infectious disease experts from the Department of Medicine manned a clinic every day. They distributed information as needed, whatever patient materials they had on hand.

The library did not have a role and I think that was because the need for basic necessities was so great. There was an outpouring of donations and volunteers came from all over the country. Actually, managing donated materials became a huge problem. Waveland Public Library, for example, is still operating out of a trailer and they don’t have the capacity to store all of the donated books that they received. People sent everything they could find. Several librarians volunteered to help sort and unload these donations in big warehouses (with no air-conditioning). One of the Lutheran churches became headquarters for receiving donations and Jackson became a central distribution point. There were just so many items; and unless materials were labeled in boxes, they couldn’t be handled. It was an important lesson for future disasters: if you are going to send donations, label and organize them beforehand! The sorting continued until November when the Red Cross closed down operations.

Other library volunteers supported Red Cross and The Salvation Army. Others donated to the State Fund and to churches. The church groups were very important assistance providers – particularly when the Red Cross started to withdraw after eight weeks in the region. FEMA started packing up shortly after, and evacuees were sent to church-run shelters. Religious organizations gave food and shelter to many, many people. They organized book drives for the devastated libraries which have continued even two years later.

The library at the Gulf Coast Research Lab was significantly damaged. They received a grant from NN/LM to help with the recovery. Many other institutions received similar funding. An earlier grant from NLM helped to start a state wide electronic network called MisHIN (Mississippi Health Sciences Information Network) which was created at the Rowland Medical Library. MisHIN is a fee based service which gives electronic access to licensed health sciences information for health care practitioners. In the aftermath of Katrina, the library organized access to MisHIN for hospitals, health professionals and organizations, and the state health department through these Katrina-assistance NN/LM grants. The grants covered the cost of subscriptions and the training fees. Trainers were sent from Rowland Medical Library. I also helped to promote the availability of other NN/LM Katrina Relief Awards through hospital associations and other related organizations. NN/LM had wanted to supply lap tops 2 weeks after the storm, but they couldn’t be used at that time. Grants and awards seemed to be a much more effective means of providing assistance months after the storm.

Public libraries in Jackson, and elsewhere in Mississippi, had a presence in the evacuation shelters. I know of a local public library that distributed donated books to the evacuees. People were told to keep the books or to pass them along. The libraries’ efforts were very well received.

I contacted the Mississippi Library Commission and volunteered to put together consumer health information packets. I waited for a response to my questions about what people were asking for in the way of health information. I wanted to know what the public libraries needed before sending anything out, but I never heard back. After the fact, I did find out from the clinics what was needed. Next time we will just take them down. However, finding room in the shelters is a problem we will have to address.

As a speaker at the Florida Health Sciences Library Association, I shared information about Katrina’s effect on Mississippi. Currently, I am serving on the Federal Grand Jury and am taking the opportunity to travel down to the coast to see if there are any more needs that the library can fill. For me, this is still a work in progress and there is much left to do.

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

Since Katrina, we have been updating our web site with information about disasters and common health issues that arise as a result (i.e., Vibrio Vulnificus Infections) and which may not be well known to health providers. But, we may not have the capability to produce the amount of pamphlets and patient brochures to be distributed at evacuation shelters. Supplies and aid may be needed from NLM and the NN/LM to facilitate the distribution of consumer health information in a disaster situation. We also need help identifying which information packets are needed. And every disaster is different. For example, a tornado could require information on blood poisoning, whereas a flood or an earthquake or a hurricane could require completely different information depending on circumstance. Outreach is also required on behalf of the librarian to discover what is needed in the community.

But medical librarians need to recognize that the politics are complicated; we have been incredibly naïve when it comes to this point. There is a risk that we will be stepping on toes by insisting that we have a crucial part to play. I plan on treading lightly and to take things slowly. I intend to work as a collaborator and always to stay conscious of the politics of disaster response. Health sciences libraries have not been as realistic as state and public libraries. We have a lot to learn from them.

More lessons have been learned regarding our role as a provider of electronic information. We will be more pro-active about putting information on off-site servers and publicizing these new URLs. Also, we will promote our facility as a welcome place for people seeking computer access.

As for protecting collection, we have learned to engage salvage companies ahead of time. Planning for future disasters will also involve SOLINET (Southeastern Library Network) because they have directories and names of agencies that will freeze books.

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

Librarians have a glorified view of their roles in disaster response. Katrina wasn’t about ILL or reference services. The CDC was able to use their laptops via satellite They were using online information resources provided by their own field workers. They were connected with the health department and had their own sources of information; they certainly didn’t need us.

I have sat on the university’s committee for creating an institution wide disaster plan. The library wasn’t really on the radar for the institution and a lot of people didn’t understand why I was there at all.

Even though I feel strongly that we do not have a first responder role, I came to the realization after Katrina that we have a secondary responder role to provide consumer health information. I have since been working to become involved with emergency planning agencies and to promote the role of libraries as providers of consumer health information after a disaster. I would like to find out where consumer health fits in with other responder groups. Should we be working with the Salvation Army? Or the state health agencies? We need to find our place.

There are many conditions and illnesses which arise out of a disaster situation which may be unfamiliar to health providers. Bacteria can come from contaminated water and debris. Respiratory illnesses can result from mold, mildew and dust. Infectious disease can arise from crowding in shelters and improper sanitation. And sometimes challenges can result from patients with chronic illness being unable to receive needed treatments or medications. These are all areas where consumer health information packets could help. In the future, we will provide easier access to this information. And this role can be coordinated through emergency organizations who do not want to assume the extra responsibility for health information.

Librarians also have a role aiding the recovery of other library institutions. We can provide loans of materials to help serve distant communities. And we can help to rebuild collections. Many libraries (especially public and state libraries) needed extra computers because they were helping so many evacuees with online forms, like those required by FEMA. Library networks and NLM could help facilitate the distribution of needed computers.

And, as many public libraries have shown, libraries have a role in the shelters. They can set up computers, help people with forms, and distribute books and other information right at the site where people need them the most.

Organizing and distributing information through the web is another way that we can help. We have created electronic literature guides to emergency/disaster preparedness and bioterrorism materials. We have also posted a special disaster relief section to our consumer health website. The pages have links to the health department, the CDC, and all kinds of emergency agencies. We also included links to health information about conditions which were common after the hurricane (Vibrio Vulnificus, for example).

Consumer health is “our niche,” and the best situation would involve first responders reporting back to us what information is needed on the ground. I have certainly learned the lesson that you have to find out what is needed before you begin providing.

Southern Louisiana Area Health Education Center

Helen Caruso, a hospital librarian at the Southern Louisiana Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in Covington, Louisiana, discusses her Hurricane Katrina experience during August 2005.

Interview date: Friday June 1st, 2007

Questions:

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

On August 26, 2005, I was in New Orleans, manning the National Library of Medicine exhibit at a medical job fair. The television in my room didn’t work, so I had gone to bed Friday evening without hearing the weather report. The following morning I was blissfully unaware of the approaching hurricane. After a leisurely breakfast, I arrived at the exhibit hall to find exhibitors frantically dismantling their booths. Everyone was talking about the hurricane.

I wasn’t too worried. Frankly, I thought people were over-reacting. Hurricane warnings are summer constants in southern Louisiana; most of the time they don’t become serious. Since all the exhibitors and attendees were leaving, I decided to take the exhibit materials back to Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSU-HSC) before driving home across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. When I got to the LSU-HSC library building, the doors were locked, and I had to bang on the doors for Security to let me in. They told me that the building was closed because of the storm. It took a good deal of persuasion for me to convince Security that the exhibit belonged to LSU-HSC. Finally I was escorted upstairs and allowed to deposit the exhibit in the library.

Meanwhile, it was becoming increasingly clear that many people were taking the situation very seriously. Someone had arrived to remove laboratory animals, and a policeman informed Security that the New Orleans Police Department was taking over the parking garage. As I began driving home, the Mayor was on the radio, telling everyone to “get out” of New Orleans. I realized I was only moments ahead of a mass exodus.

I live in a rural area, and my family decided to wait out the storm there. On Sunday, the hurricane winds and rain pounded the area for hours. (1) The electricity went out and the skies darkened. It became very scary when the tall pine trees started snapping. Over 100 pine trees blocked our road. It was several days before we could leave the property. Phone lines were down, and cell phones stopped working. Electricity was not restored for three and a half weeks!

After enough of the trees were removed from the road, we managed to drive to Baton Rouge for supplies-no stores in our area were open. Cell phones worked in Baton Rouge, but there was no news about St. Tammany Parish. No one knew how far the devastation went. On our way back from Baton Rouge, we drove past Lakeview Hospital (one of the sites where I work). There were a significant number of trees down, along with signs of wind damage, but there was no evidence of flooding. I couldn’t get into the institution however as security wouldn’t let us inside.

About ten days later, I was able to go to my other site, Slidell Memorial Hospital. The storm surge had brought the lake water up to less than half a mile from the hospital. The neighborhood suffered severe wind and water damage. Huge trees lay on crushed homes and flood soaked furniture was everywhere. The hospital had remained open through the hurricane, and was accepting emergency patients. More than half of the hospital employees lost their homes or could not live in them. Those who had livable homes shared them with other staff and family. Some staff and many rescue personnel ended up staying at the hospital.

My first day back at Slidell Memorial, I couldn’t go into the library at all. I was asked to assist in setting up day care services in the hospital so employees could return to work. But I didn’t mind in the least being at work (because the hospital, unlike my home, had electricity and running water). The library is located on the first floor next to medical records and rehab. Luckily, someone from rehab had thought to put plastic on the collection before the storm hit. It was a good thing, since the roof had leaked. There were trash cans and hastily gathered containers full of water standing on the library counters and desk. A restoration company arrived to remove the humidity from the air and prevent mold from growing. They dried out the whole hospital. I was surprised at the large containers of water that was “de-humidified’ from the library.

I was allowed back at Lakeview Regional Medical Center after about two weeks. During this time I hadn’t heard from other SEL-AHEC (Southeast Louisiana Area Health Education Center) co-workers, or even my library assistant. I tried to call other library contacts, but couldn’t reach anyone. One of the first calls I received was from Greg Bodin from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine/South Central Region (NN/LM SCR) in Houston. Ethel Madden from Oschsner called the following week and related all the New Orleans news. The pair of us concluded that as far as medical library services in Southeast Louisiana-we were “it.”

Ethel and I began to coordinate our efforts toward recovery. Neither of us lost our homes (although we did host displaced family members). Since our energies weren’t consumed with simply trying to survive, we were able to work and try to help.

The harrowing after-affects of Hurricane Katrina are far from over. I recently traveled through Gulfport, Mississippi, where the Highway 90 Bay Bridge at Bay St. Louis had only just re- opened. (2) What I saw along the highway was truly devastating. It will take a long time for the gulf coast to recover. No one knows the full health effects from the aftermath. Respiratory illness and unusual rashes are common, even though epidemiologists found no lasting effect on the air quality. (3)

(1) For a chilling official report on Hurricane Katrina, see: Knabb, R.D., J.R. Rhome, and D.P. Brown. 2005. Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Katrina, 23-30 August 2005. Miami: National Hurricane Center. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pdf/TCR-AL122005_Katrina.pdf accessed 7/6/2007.

(2) For more about the bridge, see: Nossiter, A. May 29, 2007. A Bridge Restores a Lifeline to a Battered Town. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/us/nationalspecial/29bridge.html?ex=1338091200&en=24a98c1c1216af01&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss accessed 7/17/2007.

(3) This article seems to convey the ambiguity of the health situation: Wilson, Jennifer F..Health and the Environment after Hurricane Katrina. Annals of Internal Medicine 17 Jan 2006; 144(2):153-156. http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/144/2/153 accessed 7/6/07.

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

The first real day back at work (once the library was accessible again), I helped set up a daycare for the hospital employees’ children. It wasn’t a traditional library job, but it was something I could do to help the hospital The daycare was in operation until the schools started up again in October.

I worked with Ethel Madden. We talked about what was needed for the area and what we could do. We identified information access as the biggest need. Perhaps even more than health concerns, people needed telephones and an internet connection to begin reconnecting their families and restoring their homes. We appealed for assistance from the outside once people were allowed into the area to help. The South Central Region (SCR) of the NN/LM started to send out information about disaster recovery, health vulnerabilities, food storage, etc. which was then dispersed through the hospital library. I don’t know if the information was used, but it was gladly accepted by areas like the infection control, emergency room and the immunization center.

By the third week, the hospital internet was operational. I started to send hospital staff links to useful items. I also printed them out and distributed the articles. The library began offering computer access to displaced health providers and the public. Most of my actions were self-initiated or agreed upon with Ethel Madden. At first, the two of us were out of contact with the professional community. So we made the decision to go it alone. The situation was totally outside of anything that we had ever experienced, so we ended up doing many things that were out of the ordinary.

Even though the immediate financial future was uncertain, SEL-AHEC asked me to go to the SCC/MLA conference. There, I talked to other librarians and learned what they were doing. I came away with these pieces of advice for professionals in a disaster situation:

Ø Go in person to the areas where help is needed

Ø Talk to people

Ø Don’t wait for an invitation

The Medical Library Recovery Project was inspired by Ethel with input from Jenny Dagate and me, and funded by NLM and the SCR. We determined what was needed: computers, internet access and training. While we were working on the proposal, Hurricane Rita hit the region. Luckily, it didn’t affect us like Katrina did. We kept working. The proposal went to Renee Bougard and by January we were visiting the sites. We finalized the contact people and made agreements very quickly. By February, we started getting the computers. We hired a soon-to-graduate library school student to teach the classes and began the project. It continued until March 2007.

The Medical Library Recovery Project was so well received that we were invited to organize more classes. After The Medical Library Recovery Project funded a full year of high speed internet access and provided two MedlinePlus classes for The Community Resource Center at Miller Memorial Library in Hammond, they asked for more classes during 2007.

I served the North Shore and Ethel and the Ochsner staff covered the South Shore. They opened two libraries – one in the former Memorial Hospital, newly acquired by Ochsner, and one in Raceland at St. Anne’s. Some of our outreach efforts changed as we determined different needs along the way. Luckily, NN/LM SCR and NLM were very flexible, allowing leeway to revise the plans when needed.

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

In general, I am more proactive. The Medical Library Recovery Project was a foot in the door for the library. It opened many places to library services that had never worked with a librarian before. The work enabled me to be more willing to approach hospital/clinic administration. And I was able to include patients and their families more in library services.

I am still working to make contacts with emergency responders. Individuals that worked for emergency agencies and groups passed through the hospital quickly. The relief workers used the computers, but that was about all the contact they had with the library. I later attended a community outreach exhibit in Hammond that included representatives from Red Cross and FEMA. I went to talk to them and handed out brochures with information about NLM’s environmental resources, MedlinePlus, and WISER.

I recently wrote another proposal (which was funded) to conduct outreach to emergency responders.

I received help from other library professionals, including my EBSCO agent Pat Pauletti. Pat provided essential aid by helping us stay connected, find missing issues (mail service was particularly bad during the aftermath). Because of Pat, my libraries are missing only a few issues.

I also received help from several libraries, including the medical library at Harvard Medical School. They had sent new, useful books for use in the emergency shelters. The leftover books made it into hospital libraries that didn’t have much funding for collections.

A hospital in Cambridge, Maryland (part of the Shore Health System) adopted Slidell Memorial Hospital. They sent truckloads of household and personal supplies and even sent people down to help out. The two institutions continue to maintain a relationship.

I spent a lot of time helping displaced health providers. Both hospitals had lots of extra people. Many displaced doctors, medical students, and nursing students needed library reference, computer access and help continuing their studies. Through The Medical Library Recovery Project, I helped put a workstation in the library as a convenient location for these individuals.

I remember a fire in 2000 at the SEL-AHEC headquarters. The library lost everything but the card catalog. At the time, it was the worst thing that could have happened to them us. Katrina was a different kind of loss entirely. The library gained much more in the long run and became more effective. It certainly doesn’t mean that Katrina was a good thing – the entire area still has devastation two years later – but I was able to help in a positive way and to increase the reach of the library. It made a difference to the kinds of services that I could provide and doors opened as a result.

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

There are three major roles that librarians can take: conducting outreach, training, and proposal writing. They can appeal for needed help through their networks and professional connections. I knows from experience that the outreach grants from NLM have made a significant difference, especially by providing opportunities to network with local health providers, hospitals and clinics, By getting to know them, I was better able to predict their needs following this disaster .

Librarians also know which information resources have accurate and reliable sources. And they know the community. As a result, they can accurately decide what is needed and provide it quickly.

In thinking ahead for another hurricane season, I advise other professionals to make sure they have accurate contact information – “real” contact information, which includes relatives and friends and cell phone numbers. The contacts should also include hospital administrators and staff. I also think it is a good idea for hospitals and organizations to set up websites hosted from an outside location and toll-free numbers to provide up to date information for employees.

Here are some pictures submitted by Helen Caruso and Kathy Duplechien, SWLAHEC Librarian, that illustrate the extent of the destruction in Slidell, Louisiana.

Destruction in Slidell, Louisiana

Destruction in Slidell, Louisiana

Department of Library Science and Informatics at the Medical University of South Carolina

Tom Basler, Director of Libraries and Learning Resources Centers and Chairman on the Department of Library Science and Informatics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina, discusses hurricanes, flooding, civil unrest, and radiological and toxicological events at the library.

Interview date: May 31st, 2007

Questions:

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

South Carolina has hosted three different kinds of disasters/emergencies: hurricanes, flooding and civil unrest. A fourth type could also be added: radiological and toxicological events.

Hurricane Hugo was the worst storm in recent memory, but there are warnings all the time. I wasn’t there at the time; but I know a lot about Hugo through second hand sources.

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

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Library is in a very central location between research and hospital areas. My staff serves a wide user community.

During the civil unrest and the 1980s hospital strike, the library concentrated on securing the building and making sure that their staff and patrons were safe.

In a hurricane, the library tries to do basically the same things. But, flooding generally occurs with a hurricane or storm; the two go hand-in-hand. In Charleston, the water comes up and the wind comes down. But the water stays. In preparation for the inevitable flooding, no collections are housed below the second floor. Planning has also resulted in changes to the electrical system; the library is now on the back-up electrical system for the hospital. Computer technicians (OCIO) at MUSC have ensured that data is backed-up and protected.

But, hurricanes provide the best example of library response. In preparation for a hurricane, the library informs their patrons by posting information on the library web-site. They also provide links to MUSC’s Emergency Page. At times, the library has served as a “gathering or command center.” In one instance, foreign students sought shelter in the library while they waited for buses to evacuate.

Library staff prepare by gathering the necessary supplies (plastic bags, clean-up materials, flash-lights, batteries, etc…). Librarians have been given emergency permission to be on campus. The library has prepared information resources that include emergency staff telephone contacts. This “calling tree” is constantly being updated. They also gathered key contact information for the university – weather, public safety, computer center information, etc… Further, they prepared a list of potential locations for staff during a storm that gives information about family members too.

Digital photographs have been taken of key equipment and emergency settings for micro-labs, servers, etc… The photographs show how the wires look and how things are placed. They have been very helpful.

The library developed staff leaving procedures. The procedures are very detailed and include a countdown of events. They outline when the micro labs and classrooms can be shut down, what order staff members can leave (Tech Services are first, Systems and the Info Desk are last). But they also outline exceptions. Some staff live in “vulnerable” areas. These include the beach, high-flood zones, over bridges that will “officially” close to traffic. Staff who live in these high risk areas, and those with children are the first to go. I remember flying into Miami during a hurricane when I worked there in the 1960s. I had to decide whether to go to work to help out or to go home. It was a hard decision. But, the right thing is to take care of your family. People come first. So, the first priority for the library is to evacuate the staff. Collections are left in place with no coverage or protection. Computers are moved and then protected with plastic coverings.

During the storm, servers are kept live as long as possible. Contact numbers provide information on personnel needed to restart them. I’m working to get a substitute URL which will provide access when the main library site goes down.

I remember being told that reference questions jumped after Hugo. But, that was in the pre-web area; other forms of information just weren’t available.

The plan is to completely evacuate all staff and all users. Physical access to the campus is denied until the “all clear” message is received. Library is now part of the Emergency Information Telephone System. The “first person in” relays “first findings” to key staff.

In the past, the library has served after a crisis as a “digging out center.” The library was a place that could function. They were connected. They were open.

But, in one case, the library had some unexpected problems to deal with as a result of the water damage. Years ago, the library suffered from water in the walls and floors. Moths ended up infesting the whole building, including the air conditioning system. They were everywhere! Exterminators had to come and take care of the moth infestation.

After the storm, the library was instrumental in forcing the computer center to make plans for future disasters. Planning at the university started with Hugo. At the time, all of the university records were backed up on tapes, which were housed on site. When Hugo was about to hit, Steve Burns from the computer center grabbed all of the tapes and put them in the back of his van and started driving away from the storm. Unluckily, Steve drove in the wrong direction and the storm chased him for hours. In the end, the tapes were saved and his actions saved the university records. But, the experience taught the university a valuable lesson. Now, all of their copies are kept out of town.

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

The library has recognized two values and how they’ve changed. The first is the value of collections. MUSC library is not a “library of record,” and they will not replace lost paper collections. They are, however, a utility. And the second value is that of electronic connections and e-resources. They must stay online at all times. The key is to be “up,” and to stay up during preparation, during evacuation, through times when everyone is away, upon return and digging out, and upon return to regular business.

Also, in realizing that the library is the common gathering point for students before the disaster, the library put up a hurricane watch on their website. Collected statistics suggest that this site is also being used outside of the university community as well. In general, MUSC’s website is more open than other university’s. In fact, 10-15% of users were coming in from outside of South Carolina.

More is being done on the web. For example, the library’s community health web site, Hands on Health, (which includes a GoLocal component) has an emergency section with consumer health information about hurricanes and other disasters.

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

Libraries and librarians have both primary and secondary roles. Primary roles are to keep the e-resources available, get the microcomputer labs, classrooms, and testing centers operational ASAP, and get the study-hall values back ASAP.

Secondary roles are more varied and wide-reaching. The library serves as “gathering,” “command” centers (as in the case of foreign students waiting for a bus out of town) both before and after the disaster event. Library always starts to fill up during a hurricane. The library can also be a “sorting-out place” for others (as in the case of people who need Internet access to fill out insurance type forms). Further, the library can act as a computer use area for all staff, students and others in need of a communication port.

The library also houses staff that cannot function in their own areas. And librarians serve during and after the storm in areas of expertise.

Another secondary role is in the area of outreach to the community. Librarians can train preparedness to promote community self-sufficiency.

The reality is that people “don’t think library.” I feel that people should get used to the library first. Then, the library has the responsibility “to be there” during the crisis. People will think to go there, because they already know what the library can provide.

The librarian’s first reaction is personal, then professional, then community oriented. Individuals begin to act as individuals during a disaster. An example is Doug Blands from Georgia Tech. He was able to stay and help with the animals because he had that expertise and availability. He was acting as an individual, not as a librarian. Librarians may just be the type of people who would volunteer anyways.

But, it also depends on the disaster. In the case of a hurricane, there isn’t a lot that librarians can do as professionals. But, if the case were a biological attack then the answer would be different. South Carolina is one of the more “nuclear” places in the world. The library has done a lot with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The library brings in grants and contracts to provide information about environmental health information.

MUSC library also provides information support to the Agro-Medicine Program. In one case, an emergency room doctor called from Greensville. They had received two patients who had been bringing a truckload of peat moss from Canada. The patients had passed out and the doctor wanted to know that cause. Was it something to do with the peat moss? No. Turned out that the cause was the change in temperature coupled with their poor lungs.

I also see a role for librarians in maintaining e-resources through alternate networks. What is the point of paying for all of this proprietary information when you can only access them from the library’s web pages? What if the server goes down? How can we continue providing information if access is entirely based on IP address? It is a problem I would like more people to address. This question of URL displacement will require vendors and libraries to work together. Some possible solutions include: providing passwords for libraries that loose their connectivity, setting up a regional network of e-resources, and creating a fall back center for the institution.

Additional Questions:

(5.) Was there any contact with other emergency agencies, organizations or groups?

For hurricanes, the answer is no. The library has never been on the radar for emergency agencies. But, in a sense, the library is serving them by feeding people to their websites via the library portal.

But, in the case of environmental health issues, then yes. The library works often with EPA, Department of Energy, CDC, and the Department of Commerce.

In fact, many years ago, the library was asked by the Department of Energy to put together a one-stop program that would search multiple databases on environmental health. It was designed for cases like a tritium spill outside a bomb plant. Questions it was designed to answer were: What does the chemical do? What counteracts it? How do you respond in the short term? It was called the One Door Access System (ODAS). Unfortunately, ODAS died because it wasn’t on the web. But it was the impetus for other systems like it.