Center for Knowledge Management, Ochsner Health System, Louisiana

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

Interview date: August 3rd, 2007

Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Librarians should play the role of information gatekeepers.

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

University Libraries, University of New Mexico

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

Questions:

(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

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

Questions:

(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

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

Questions:

(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.

Tulane University Medical Library, Louisiana

William (Bill) D. Postell Jr., Director of the Tulane University Medical Library, talks about Hurricane Katrina, which directly affected the academic health sciences library in August 2005.

Interview date: June 25th, 2007

Questions:

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

Hurricane Katrina had passed and three of my staff members were still in New Orleans. I suppose they thought the worse was over; and most everyone in the city was lulled into a sense of security in the hours before the levees broke. When the terrible flooding began, the three of them all sought refuge in the medical center. Each of them had to travel between two and three miles to get there. Two of them made it and one of them didn’t. One rode in on a bike with his wife. Another managed to get there on foot. The third drowned. He was a library assistant; we called his position a “porter,” and he had been with the library for 37 years. His mother and his teenaged son both lived with him. They evacuated the city and he decided to stay behind.

All of my staff members knew to check in. The lack of communication from my porter was a signal. I knew something was dreadfully wrong when he failed to get in touch.

A forensics lab was set up with experts to identify the bodies. My porter had a university identification card, but that was his only ID. We were initially called because of his ID, but the final confirmation came a full four months later. It was a terrible loss.

One month after the storm, I was back in the city as part of one of the earlier waves back. My brother-in-law was a building contractor. He helped get me into the city when security was still tight. There was a sense that the response was thrown together at the last minute. No one knew what to do. People were making up rules as they went. And the rumors about the city were just wild! When I went through security, the personnel asked if I was armed. When I said yes, the guard replied, “good,” and let me through. But the level of lawlessness was nowhere near as high as it was reported. That the death toll was as low as 1700 was remarkable.

The change to the landscape and to the city was just awful; the devastation was immense. It looked like a battle zone. My home is smack dab in the middle of the city. Contrary to public opinion, not all of New Orleans is below sea level. But, my house was very low and it filled with seven and a half feet of water. The lower half of the house was completely destroyed.

Even though the students were gone, my library was being used as a dormitory by hospital and medical school staff and faculty in the aftermath of the storm. Despite there being nearly three feet of water above street level, the university hospital was still running. The medical school is connected to the Tulane Hospital via an overhead bridge. Staff members who were on the ground helped with patients at the hospital. Tulane’s patients were evacuated via helicopter, then staff and physicians, then everyone else. The Charity Hospital, located right across the street (but not accessible by bridge), was not so lucky. Their patients were essentially abandoned. As the water started to recede, the National Guard brought Charity patients over to Tulane via truck.

As of today, some of the city is still deserted. Rebuilding will take a long, long time. Luckily, the level of damage at the library was not too severe. The medical library is on the second floor but we also manage a public access computer lab on the first floor. Fortunately, two people who were there during the storm helped maintenance and security to move the computers up to the library on the second floor. Staff saved any other records that they could grab and brought them up to the second floor. There was a big fear of mold in the building. A team came through to look at the ventilation system and then they returned to the library mid January, 2006. At that time we were given the OK to return to the library; it was nearly 6 months after the storm.

Hurricane Katrina was unique in many ways. It would be false to make too many comparisons to other storms, like the ones that happen annually in Florida. In New Orleans, the water didn’t have an escape route. It became trapped and needed to be pumped out. It is almost a blessing when the water recedes quickly because it leaves a clean landscape. New Orleans suffered greatly because of the length of time that the water filled the city. People couldn’t respond because the city became impenetrable.

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

Eighteen of my staff members had evacuated the city and I was in Houston. I’m a native of New Orleans and I’ve been through many hurricane seasons. For the most part, evacuations were well planned in advance. However, others were not so lucky or well-prepared. People ended up roaming around the south for weeks. A lot of them were sheltered by churches along the way. The church groups were amazing; across the whole region, their level of response was astonishing.

I found out about the flooding the morning the levees broke. And I was contacted by one of the university officers of administration quite quickly. The sharing of cell phones was going on between senior officers. Ten other administrators and I were invited to a meeting at the home of the president of Baylor’s College of Medicine. There, we were de-briefed on the status of Tulane.

I was constantly trying to call all of my staff members to find out where they were. My node for cell phone service was New Orleans (504). My advice for people developing disaster plans is to get a cell phone with a “safe” area code. All the re-routing equipment for 504 was destroyed. I was able to get through one out of three times in the first week.

A comprehensive list with all the staff and all of their phone numbers was prepared beforehand and kept up-to-date through constant revisions. But, we did not have remote contact information (friend or family outside of the area). Now, we include information about one person close by and one more than 150 miles outside. University communications were down for quite a while and alternative methods had to be established. IT staff was very good at getting people to set up backup email accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, etc…). Within 10 days, they had found everybody and had backup emails in place for communications. One third of Tulane’s people were not traveling with lap tops. However, the provision of public access to computers was excellent.

A total of four staff members were in Houston with me. During the post-Katrina recovery period, Tulane’s Medical School was sheltered by Baylor College of Medicine and the School of Public Health was hosted by the University of Texas School of Public Health. The city of Houston and their academic institutions really came to the aid of the people of New Orleans and the students, faculty and staff of Tulane.

The Tulane people who were in Houston joined the staff of HAM (Houston Academy of Medicine) and worked to support the medical school which was there for a whole year. The librarians and other displaced workers did as much as possible to relieve the burden on HAM.

Library people who were on the ground in New Orleans helped in many “non-traditional ways.” Those who were at the medical school helped to evacuate patients from the hospital. They assisted in every kind of physical and surgical procedure you can imagine. The hospital workers were completely exhausted after two days. Anyone available was called in to help.

Many of Tulane’s people who stayed in New Orleans ended up working or studying with the Ochsner Health System (a large hospital group). Some of the librarians at the Houston Academy of Medicine went to help out at the evacuation centers in Texas. But, the magnitude of the destruction in New Orleans made it impossible to respond in the same way. The infrastructure had completely collapsed. People could not return for weeks and weeks. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced across the south.

I spoke with vendors and found them to be very cooperative. They provided free access for Tulane people who could not connect through the university servers. We now have duplicate, off-site servers to help serve displaced users. Some vendors were hesitant because the whole situation was so strange. But, in less than a day, they were calling back with solutions.

I returned to the library at Tulane on December 17th, 2005. We ended up operating out of a conference room in an adjacent building. But we were still able to serve our users remotely. The students came back to the school in June, 2006. The library returned to regular service at that time. Faculty came back piece by piece. We lost one quarter of the faculty because the university couldn’t afford to keep everyone anymore. The library lost one third of our staff. Despite these cutbacks, the student body stayed the same and we needed to find ways to continue serving them as before.

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

In terms of service and resources, we have made significant collection changes. Prior to Katrina, 65% of our collection was online. Once communications were working again, we could operate remotely and still serve our users. And it was possible because so much of the collection was online. Katrina taught us a lesson about serving a displaced group of users. We are now about 95% online. To be honest, we didn’t really see a need for print resources at the time or afterwards. You couldn’t get around the city anyways, so print was out of the question. People adapted to use what they could.

Physical traffic in the library had been in decline before the storm in any rate. Our gate count was going down, so were our circulation statistics, ILL requests, etc… The numbers diminished ever further after Katrina. Many reasons contributed to the changing patterns of use. Remote access meant that libraries could operate in an automated mode. The technology has altered the library experience. But the decreased foot traffic meant that our reduced staff was able to cope.

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

At the time, our staff continued to fill professional roles at a distance. There was an effective working radius from Houston through a huge semi-circle around the coast. Everyone was pitching in from all over. Libraries were used for a lot of non-health-sciences related activities: finding families, filling out insurance forms, etc… Public libraries were very good at providing for people with basic computing needs.

Our physical library became a base of operations for the security force. The staff lounge became the armory; our fax line in the conference room was heavily used as it was one of the longest functioning phone lines in the whole facility. To a great extent, the physical location was commandeered for other purposes, but library services were able to continue because of the prevalence of electronic information resources.

Librarians can help support these services by building redundancies into the system. We need to build backups into all of our data. The issue of maintaining access has overshadowed preservation of paper. We don’t have to protect the paper anymore.

But the primary issue was getting people out well in advance. Our contact lists are now much deeper than they were before. Along with the contact information, we learned other lessons that have been essential in rebuilding. Many institutions have moved to higher ground. Electrical systems have also moved to higher levels in the buildings. Institutions are drilling their own wells so that they can get their own water supply.

Needs were very basic. Consumer health and public health issues were vitally important: basic sanitation, disease control, housing, and clean water, etc… The situation was akin to a mission to a third world country. People were concentrating on survival.

Louisiana State University, School of Library and Information Sciences

Adelaide Fletcher, currently a librarian at the Denver Medical Library, Presbyterian / St. Luke’s Medical Library in Denver, Colorado and formerly a student at Louisiana State University, School of Library and Information Sciences in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, discusses her Hurricane Katrina experience from August 2005.

Interview date: June 8th, 2007

Questions:

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

I was a student at Louisiana State University’s School of Library and Information Sciences when Hurricane Katrina swept through the gulf coast. At the time, I was in Baton Rouge. But, I ended up volunteering at The Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales (about half way between Baton Rouge and New Orleans). The Expo Center filled with more than 1800 evacuees from New Orleans after the levees broke.

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

I volunteered at the Expo Center, doing whatever was required. I provided “general support,” getting people toothbrushes, basic supplies, etc… It was while I was getting someone an aspirin that I stumbled upon the medical treatment area of the Expo Center. I saw a Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) lying around and I asked the doctor if he wanted more reference materials. He asked for a Merck Manual and three Washington Manuals.

I posted a request for books to the medical libraries listserv, MEDLIB-L and three other listservs. Well, the email was forwarded and forwarded … And the books came and came … They all came to my home. It was a tremendous response! The medical librarians sent some great books – much better than the ones I originally requested. I tried to send as many thank you notes as I could, but there were just too many donations. Some of the books were unsuitable (like a 1965 Merck Manual), but I had more than enough to build a collection in the shelter.

I tried my best to distribute the extra books but it was an absolute nightmare getting around at that time. Also, I didn’t know where the other shelters were located. Later, I ended up donating materials to under funded local hospital libraries in Southeast Louisiana.. I worked with my friend Becky Hebert, an outreach librarian for the Mid Atlantic Chapter of the National Network of the Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM). She and I tried to supply shelter health care providers with computers, Internet connections and volunteer librarians to do distance searching. Her husband worked in IT and he helped get a bunch of free computers. Unfortunately, most of those computers weren’t used because they had Linux as an operating system and people couldn’t fill out their FEMA forms unless they had Internet Explorer. But, people needed to get online. Eventually, FEMA provided a few lap tops. These helped a bit with reference and searching for people, but they were mostly used by kids to play games. I worked a bit helping people use the computers, especially since many were unfamiliar with the use of a mouse and keyboard. Web 2.0 responded in a big way; but, it could only go so far. People on the ground were unable to take full advantage of blogs and wikis, etc… because they didn’t have:

1. the connectivity

2. the computer skills

3. the knowledge of what was out there to help them.

After it was all over, I wrote an article about my experiences.

(3.) What did you learn from this experience?

The experience was totally exhausting and it took an emotional toll as well. But, in the end, I learned a lot. For example, there were a lot of shelters that were in the same boat. My response could have been much more coordinated. I did ask for multiple copies of resources, but I didn’t plan a way to deliver them. And the next time I appeal for donations on a listserv, I will be more specific and include a time limit. I should have asked for current materials and different titles. People wanted to help, but I didn’t tell that what exactly was needed and my friends and I quickly got bogged down in the details. A lot of items were received well after the point when they could have been any use.

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

There isn’t really one answer to that question because every disaster is so different. Librarians shouldn’t wait for an invitation; just start helping. People needed basics and they didn’t necessarily think about information. But, they really did need information; just look at how the public libraries were overwhelmed. So many people turned to the library. There is definitely a role for the library in a community disaster response.

When I was serving food with Becky, We realized that there had to be something more that we could offer. There were hordes of volunteers, but we could offer something different. That was how we got started. But, it was hard being “free agents.” No one wanted to talk to us and it was hard to articulate what we wanted to do. The Red Cross didn’t have time to talk to us. We tried to find out from them where the other shelters were, but they were having a hard enough time figuring that out themselves. The Red Cross was overwhelmed with need and volunteers at the same time, but they couldn’t handle both in that magnitude.

I went to the Red Cross headquarters first off, but they told me that I was too late for the training session that day. They told me to come back in a few days But, when we went to a shelter that night, the need was urgent and they pulled us right in! That was how we ended up at Lamar Dixon, which was desperate for volunteers. There just seemed to be this disconnect between the Red Cross central office and “its” shelters.

A lot of library school students helped. But they all went off on their own right away. I can see a role for the library schools in organizing the student volunteers. In many ways we were ideal because we were more available to help out. I was encouraged by my boss, the dean, to volunteer rather than work.

But actual coordinated groups didn’t form until later. I think that librarians need to be more unified in their initial response. We could learn a lot from the church groups. The Scientologists, for example, were everywhere. They wore matching shirts. They identified themselves. They seemed to be totally organized. Religious organizations did more for anyone than any government agency. That’s just what they do; they respond immediately. And they never stopped to ask, “should we help?” I think librarians were way too hesitant about helping out. They need to learn to trust their instincts. When the time comes, you’ll know what people need and how to help them.

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

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.