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Center for Knowledge Management, Ochsner Health System, Louisiana

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

Ethel Ullo Madden, Director of the Center for Knowledge Management at the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, Louisiana, reflects on her experiences during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, which affected the hospital library.

Interview date: August 3rd, 2007


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

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast Area. New Orleans received the horrific winds and rains. The levee system could not contain the flood waters from Lake Pontchartrain. Consequently, the City was flooded. Thousands of people lost their homes.

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

Our library responded quickly. I was stationed at our Clinic in Baton Rouge where assumed the role of transportation coordinator. I helped facilitate the transportation for our Team A healthcare professionals to get out of New Orleans so that Team B could take over. I was also helping with Reference Questions while working out of Baton Rouge.

Shortly afterwards, I did open the library in New Orleans so that patients, family members, and employees had access to computers. FEMA and Red Cross Representatives also were stationed in our library to assist. Our Library Staff managed and advertised for these groups.

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

This event excelled our efforts to move from print to electronic journals. We could not receive consistent mail for 9 months following the storm so we decided that print journals were a waste of our institution’s money.

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

Librarians should play the role of information gatekeepers.

Librarians naturally can organize and understand the needs of their institution. In the case of a disaster, librarians should be willing to do ANYTHING – even serving food in the cafeteria.

University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Fran Wilkinson, Interim Dean of the University Libraries at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, discusses the impact of a fire at the academic library in April 2006.

Interview date: July 31st, 2007


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

On Sunday, April 30, 2006 at approximately 10:51pm (one hour before the library closed and more importantly, one week before UNM’s finals week for students), a fire alarm sounded from the first basement level of Zimmerman Library. Zimmerman is the largest of the four branch libraries of the University Libraries. Although the fire was contained in the northeast section of the basement destroying over a dozen ranges of bound journals (estimated 30,000 volumes lost and 100,000 volumes removed for cleaning and restoration), there was significant smoke damage throughout the entire 280,000 square foot building including the historic West Wing.

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

Library and University Response

University Libraries (UL) personnel safely evacuated the entire facility within minutes. Three stations of the Albuquerque Fire Department, UNM Campus Police, and other key response personnel were immediately dispatched to the library. Key members of the University Libraries Disaster Recovery Assistance Team (D.R.A.T.) were also immediately called. The Associate Dean, Fran Wilkinson, and the Facilities Manager, Ed Padilla, were onsite within an hour after the fire started and provided critical information to the Fire Marshal, Campus Police, UNM’s Physical Plant and Safety and Risk Services. These two DRAT members remained on site the entire night monitoring the situation, reviewing pertinent parts of the UL’s disaster preparedness plan, and preparing an outline of the actions needed in the coming days and weeks. The Associate Dean notified members of Libraries’ D.R.A.T. and activated the phone tree to notify other essential personnel. The first D.R.A.T. meeting was called for 8:00 a.m. the next morning.

The D.R.A.T. meeting resulted in immediate plans to redeploy the 100 plus employees who normally work in Zimmerman Library including faculty/librarians, support staff, administration, and student employees. A fire recovery command center was established in a branch library (Centennial Science & Engineering Library) and all efforts were coordinated from there. Services to students and faculty were fully coordinated including:

  • Reference service stations were set up in the Student Union building and the Student Services building with full electronic access to information services through the use of laptops and cell phones (first day after the fire).
  • Notification to students and faculty about the closure of Zimmerman and where to find alternative services was sent through several internal electronic and print methods.
  • Information stations/tents at both entrances to Zimmerman Library were staffed to answer questions and direct customers to alternative service sites.
  • UL InterLibrary Loan department set up temporary offices and began providing access to books and journals normally located in Zimmerman.
  • Online book paging system was set up that gave access to collections not unduly affected by smoke damage with a 24-hour turn around time.

Over the next few weeks, all journals, microforms, and newspapers located in Zimmerman Library were removed by the company hired to manage this aspect of the damage (BMS-CAT). Those collections remain in Ft. Worth, Texas undergoing remediation services (They are expected to be returned during the Fall 2007 semester. The reconstructed basement is scheduled to reopen in early in the Spring 2008 semester.)

Unusual Roles

The role and responsibilities of every UL employee were impacted by the fire in some way whether specifically involved in the recovery or by adding to an employee’s overall volume of work. All provided information about the fire and directed our customers to the alternative services in place. Many stepped in to staff the reference desks around campus. Our IT offices were located in the basement but fortunately, all servers were located off-site in the campus-wide IT facility, so no loss of data or access to online catalogs or websites were experienced. The library IT staff quickly began working to install new desktop and laptop computers for all displaced employees and for the temporary public services information desks. Our accountants processed the first payroll after the fire on time in spite of having to process it manually in a temporary location. Staff and students volunteered for the book paging system. This required them to wear hard hats and masks, working only two hours at a time on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building to avoid excessive exposure to smoke damaged areas. A few key employees were called upon to coordinate the difficult job of sifting through the thousands of bound journals that were not completely burned to determine which were still salvageable – a job that required a hard hat, a respirator, and boots! Facilities staff also assisted with the removal of all journals, microforms, cabinets, shelving, equipment, and furnishings in the basement. All of the employees who normally work in Zimmerman worked in unfamiliar environments as they relocated in one of the other branch libraries, often at make-shift desks and shared computers. The employees who do not work in Zimmerman shifted their work spaces to make room for these redeployed employees – and always with grace and humor. We should add that approximately one-third (about 50 individuals) of all the displaced employees still have still not returned to their normal work environments as the rebuild of their spaces is currently underway. We anticipate their return in late 2007.

An unusual aspect to the recovery was that Zimmerman Library’s alarm system was only partially functional after the fire. The Fire Marshall permitted reoccupation of the building, but only if a manual “fire watch” was deployed until the alarm services were fully operational again. This involved scheduling individuals to patrol all areas of the building during our hours of operation. The fire watch squads were outfitted with hard hats and air horns and were tasked with alerting the building’s occupants at any sign of fire. UL employees were called upon to provide fire watch duty of up to five hours per week. More than three months later, fire watch duties were turned over to a security agency.

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

Our recovery efforts have led to several innovations that are still used today including unique workflows, streamlined procedures, and synergistic work unit configurations. The rebuilding process also provided several opportunities to improve work unit and public spaces including a marked increase in public computer stations, group study space, as well as better access to collections.

The basement area that burned will be fitted with a new compact shelving system thanks to funding provided by the state legislature and UNM’s administration, dramatically increasing needed collection space. Our collection losses also allowed for some creative thinking on the part of faculty in the various departments whose collections were affected. These scholars and researchers will provide input regarding which of the lost bound journals can be replaced electronically and which can be stored remotely, again, saving much needed space.

A fire loss of this magnitude also brings out the best in a library’s established contributors, the community at large, and other library professionals. We experienced an outpouring of help from each of these groups and have established relationships that will continue to grow.

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

Libraries and their employees must play primary and instrumental roles in every aspect of emergency preparedness, planning, and recovery. Policies, response teams, priorities, and resources should be established, tested, and then revisited on a regular cycle. This has been the UL’s practice since the mid-1990s. These elements are critical to ensure first rate functionality of the facility and continuance of first rate services to our customers. I believe that every library employee has a critical role to play in the response to and recovery from a disaster affecting the library and its customers. Some of those roles are small and some are huge, but none are less than essential.

(5.) Please describe the nature of your relationship with emergency agencies or groups.

The UL has long-held working relationships with the State Fire Marshall Office, the UNM Fire Marshall, the UNM Safety and Risk Services, its Physical Plant Services, UNM Campus Police, Office of Capital Projects, Architects, Engineers, and various emergency response suppliers and contractors. Through our Administration and Facilities Services departments we constantly update and strengthen these ties. The UL also maintains a Preservation Committee and several members of the UL staff and faculty belong to the New Mexico Library Association’s New Mexico Preservation Alliance. Both of these committees are actively involved in disaster response and recovery planning and provide advice to other libraries throughout the state.

Terrorism Information Center, Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, Oklahoma

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Brad Robison, Director of the Terrorism Information Center at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, discusses his experience during the bombing in Oklahoma City in April 1995 and the disaster information services the library currently provides.

Interview date: July 18th, 2007


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

It was a beautiful spring morning on April 19, 1995. No one could have known that before the end of this particular day thousands of lives would change forever. As the director of a small private university library in Oklahoma City, I arrived at the library early that morning and began to settle in for the expected rush of students who had put off completing term papers until the last moment. It was about 9:00 a.m. and I was having a conversation with one of the reference librarians when suddenly the building shook and the windows rattled violently. Having taken numerous study groups to Japan and having experienced several minor earthquakes I immediately thought EARTHQUAKE. My second thought was, no this is Oklahoma, not a typical site for a violent earthquake. Geneva, the reference librarian, thought the weight of shelving and journals on the third floor of our building had finally taken its toll and the floor collapsed. I headed for the stairwell fully expecting people to be running down as I was running up but no one was in sight. When I arrived on the third floor I quickly surmised nothing had fallen but saw smoke rising from the downtown Oklahoma City skyline. Of course not knowing to put the smoke with the sudden shaking of the building, I determined that what Geneva and I had felt and heard was nothing more than a sonic boom from Tinker Air Force Base, just east of Oklahoma City.

Several minutes passed before my phone started ringing and friends in New York were calling to ask me what was going on in Oklahoma City. Not having turned on the TV I was unaware of what they were referring to. I rolled one of our TV’s into the lobby of the library, turned it on and saw for the first time the carnage of what ended up being a terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. At first, the reports were “there has been some sort of explosion downtown.” Perhaps it was a gas explosion. The thought of a terrorist bomb was not mentioned for nearly half an hour. The library, being at the physical center of the campus was a hub for the students to gather and watch the story unfold. Our staff brought in extra chairs as more and more students came by to see what was going on. The immediate thought on everyone’s mind was what we can do to help.

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

The lobby of the library quickly became the focal point on campus where students and faculty could easily learn the needs of the emergency response community. People gathered around the TV to know where to go to donate blood, where to take food and where donations were being collected. The lobby of the library also became a place for the sharing of tears as we learned that the explosion was probably caused by a fellow human full of hatred. We were learning too that children may have been included in the list of those that were obviously not going to survive the explosion and collapse of the building. By afternoon, the beautiful spring morning had given way to thunderstorms and a city full of shock and grief as the victims were removed from the bombed out building, one body at a time.

When the dust and debris cleared 168 people, including 19 children were killed and hundreds more seriously injured. Out of the rubble a plan for a multi-component memorial was established. The memorial was to consist of a remembrance component an educational component and a research component. It was the dream of the family members and survivors that the research component have a library and information center as the “living memorial” to their loved ones. Thus the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism was founded. An act of Congress was passed and appropriation made to begin development of the “premier source of terrorism information sharing among federal, state and local agencies.”

As the steering committee for the development of the Institute and Library began their work, it became clear the emergency response community would need to be actively involved in creating this new resource of information. As a volunteer for the Memorial Archive, I was invited to be on the steering committee for the development of the Institute’s information center and library. Though not apparent at the time, the need for information professionals, both librarians and archivists was a necessity. Thousands of cards, letters and artifacts were mailed to the bomb site along with thousands more being left at the scene on a daily basis. Archiving and preserving this information was the foundation of what later became the Memorial Museum. Many of the documents collected early on became the basis of the future Lessons Learned Information Sharing, (LLIS) the official lessons learned site for the Department of Homeland Security. Final reports, after action reports, studies, etc. from numerous agencies were collected with the hope of assisting other communities in preparation dealing with a similar mass casualty event. Reports and studies following a variety of terrorist incidents and natural disasters make up the LLIS database.

Fire and law enforcement professionals were brought to the table to assist in the establishment of key databases that would help these groups prepare and perhaps prevent future acts of terrorism. The Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) was created to assist the emergency response community know what protective clothing and equipment is available and whether or not it meets standards and who certified the equipment against the standards. The RKB also informs the emergency response community if grant money is available in order for them to make application.

The MIPT Terrorism Information Center and Library (TIC) is a wealth of information not only for the emergency response community but for academics, policy makers, and the public at large. Thousands of documents have been added to the TIC along with nearly 3,000 book titles easily available for checkout. Information on the topic of terrorism seems to be endless and the need to collect, organize and disseminate that information is essential for eliminating this scourge from the world. The services that libraries and librarians have traditionally provided remain very important.

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

The MIPT and its Terrorism Information Center work closely with emergency agencies on a regular basis. The TIC has held forums to bring members of the law enforcement community together to inform them of the information resources available. We have also brought together fire prevention and preparedness professionals in an effort to inform them of the valuable resources the TIC have to offer. We are currently working with Hospital Security Officials to make sure they are planning and preparing for whatever terrorists bring to the table with another event.

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

I suppose to sum everything up, I would say that librarians need to work closely with their respective communities and serve as neutral forums in bringing to the table people needed to plan and organize community preparedness programs. Whoever their constituency consists of need to be part of the planning. In a city, the mayor, city manager, fire chief, police chief, public health officials and personnel from utilities companies need to meet and develop emergency response plans. Librarians can lead the way in bringing these groups together by providing them with necessary information to develop their own disaster response and recovery plans.

Additional Question:

(5.) Were you involved in the response to any other disaster/emergency situations?

After the anthrax attacks our library staff, which consists of two, assisted the Oklahoma State Office of Civil Emergency Management by answering phone calls from a 24-hour call-in center. A phone number was posted via radio and TV for those having specific questions related to small pox and anthrax. It’s just another service librarians can provide.

Robert M. Bird Health Sciences Library, University of Oklahoma

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Marty Thompson, the Director of the Robert M. Bird Health Sciences Library at the University of Oklahoma, discusses how the library was involved in the aftermath of the bombing in Oklahoma City in April 1995.

Interview date: June 26th, 2007


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

The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the first terrorist attack on US soil. Now, I think of it as being very minor compared to others – but at the time, it was the most horrible thing we could imagine. The car bomb just ripped the building apart. We waited for news of survivors, but there weren’t many after the first afternoon. It was devastating for the community; most people knew someone who died (or knew someone who knew someone). There was a huge impact on children too.

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

The library system always jumps to help, but there wasn’t much we could do during the initial response phase. First responders were concentrating on finding survivors. And we just waited to hear.

Personally, my first priority was helping our staff members cope with the grief. Every staff member had a different situation as a result of the disaster. I had to treat them all as individuals and handle each of them appropriately. Only when the library staff members were able to move forward did we re-focus on the health professional community. We were very lucky as no one on our staff was directly involved. But we all knew families that were. Some staff found it very difficult to pull certain library materials (psychiatry and pathology). I believe that it was harder on the paraprofessionals than on the professional staff. The professional staff members were wonderful; they did everything possible to serve our community. Our reference staff acted very professionally and they were able to deal with any question. For the most part, the paraprofessional staff was shielded from medical cases.

But, everyone needed to find a way to deal with the constant reminders of this terrible event. The State Medical Examiner’s office is only one block from the library. Of course, all of the bodies went there. The building was roped off for a long time and our staff had to see it every time they came to work. I didn’t think beforehand about how this would affect them, but it was terribly upsetting. I had to suggest to some people that they take another route to work. It wasn’t obvious to some people that they had to change their regular routine in order to deal with the stress and the emotional impact.

Support came from everywhere. We received many calls from other libraries. They asked if we needed help with ILL (interlibrary loan). Vendors called to offer support. From just a few comments, they started to send us pathology and psychiatry resources. They suggested databases that might be turned on for a period of time. Everyone wanted to help; and I swiftly came to realize just how small and tightly knit the library community was. The headquarters for the Metropolitan Library System was only four blocks south of the explosion. Technically speaking, they were “inside the yellow tape,” for several days. The force of the explosion blew out all of their windows. As much as possible, we tried to support them and to solicit help on their behalf.

We had a strong desire to do more, but the reality was different. People will tell you to find your niche and fill in. But, it is a hard prospect. We tried to help everyday. But when disasters are happening; it is all about first responders. What we discovered was that our primary role was in the aftermath. The pathology department at the university became involved and we supported them through reference, literature searches, etc… The psychiatry department also was very active dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. The work that was done after the attack turned into numerous research projects. The university departments became first-hand experts with valuable knowledge for communities that had suffered due to terrorist attacks. Our people have been around the world helping others and the library has always been involved with supporting these efforts.

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

In conjunction with the Metropolitan Library System, we started offering courses on disaster response. We also became very involved with the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. Initially, we helped them build up their collection of health resource. But since then, we have established a decade-long working relationship with their library director, Brad Robison. He made me realize that we had never reached out to the first responder market. Brad worked to create databases to help responders in their work. As an indirect result of this disaster, we discovered a new market of first responders as library clients.

From a grant offered by the CDC, the Southwest Center for Preparedness was opened and is now located on the university campus. We have done a lot of direct training for the center.

The attack changed research directions for the entire campus. And, as a result, the library now collects more in the areas of emergency medicine, disaster planning, response, recovery, grief counseling, etc… In the weeks and months after the attack, we saw victims’ families coming into the library looking for information. This was just another indication of how dramatically our user group had changed.

The changes to our collections and services inspired an awareness that the library didn’t have before. Tornadoes are a regular occurrence in Oklahoma and now we are ready for them. We have learned to prepare for natural disasters that are likely to happen in our area; and we’re doing what we can to avoid being caught off-guard and to help other institutions do the same. But, as much as we can predict and plan, real preparedness is more about attitude than anything else.

One of my favorite stories about libraries helping was from Lee Brawner who was the director of the Metropolitan Library System (he has since passed away). We called him the “Consummate Library Director.” After the attacks, a church just north of the library headquarters was being used as a morgue. First responders were facing horrible and grisly work pulling bodies out of the rubble and bringing them to the church. Lee asked the responders what he could do to help. They told him that they needed a place to wash their dogs. Lee took care of it right away; he offered the staff lounge and the shower room at the library. It became the refuge for those responders. It was a place to relax, away from the mayhem. They could just wash their dogs and sit in peace.

Lee’s story isn’t about being at the site, acting the hero. It was about doing what you could, about being on the periphery and finding a way to offer effective help, even in the most non-traditional ways.

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

Teaching is the first role that comes to mind. My first class was organized with Brad Robison at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and the Southwest Center for Preparedness (with some financial support from the CDC). We taught Bioterrorism 101, which is now called “Disaster Planning.” I teach people that it doesn’t make a difference what the disaster is; you have to learn to cope with the unexpected. I’m not a “paper person.” I don’t think that a manual on a shelf is going to be much help when the time comes. Preparedness is more about knowing what you can do and how you can react. Recently, I became very frustrated with my night students. Instead of reacting during a tornado warning, they called to find out what to do. I told them to get below ground and to take the patrons downstairs. They all knew what to do, but they needed instructions. Real preparedness teaches us to act, not to wait around for someone else to tell you what to do.

In our classes, we present situations and ask the students what to do. If you were to ask me, I would tell you that my first priority is to take care of the staff. Then work on reestablishing the library. This is a lesson I learned from Lee: the library is an important constant for the community. Let them know that you are OK; and it will give them the confidence to move forward.

One of our scenarios involves an infectious outbreak in the community. The first reaction is always to go home. But, we have to think about opening again and establishing normalcy. Library is the touchstone and we set the tone for the campus.

Librarians have to know who to call; know who is in charge; know what to do. They have to be able to answer questions like: where are the freezers for the books?

A lot of the people that you need to know in a disaster won’t be part of your everyday lives (police, fire people, maintenance, etc…). However, they become immediately important in a disaster. It is very important to change your normal routine and get to know these people.

After the bombing, there was a heightened sense of awareness. People were really excited about teaching disaster planning. But then there was a drought for many years. People forget when everything returns to normal. It would seem that we all need some event to wake us up. However, now is the time for revival and retraining.