Pasco County Library System, Florida

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

Interview date: June 18th, 2007

Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO KITS Contents: romberger_terri_gokitscontents1

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

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

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

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

Interview date: June 7th, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.