Sumter Regional Hospital, Thompson Medical Library, Georgia

Claudia LeSueur, from the Thompson Medical Library at the Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus, Georgia, talks about a tornado that affected the hospital library in March 2007.

Interview date: July 12th, 2007


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

On March 1, 2007 at about 9:25 pm, a devastating tornado hit our community and destroyed our hospital.For photographs of the tornado damage, see:

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

News about the tornado reached me about 10:30 pm. It took me one hour to drive two miles due to trees having fallen across the roads all around town. Much help was needed at the hospital and people really rallied. However, by the time I got there the patients had been moved to the OR and ER areas. Patients were being transferred to other hospitals and ambulatory patients were waiting in hallways near ER to be transported as well. I briefly visited the library when I arrived and saw a lot of devastation. Books and journals seemed safe (no windows near them) and the water that had fallen from the ceiling had not fallen in this area. About the only thing I could do at that point was help talk to people to relieve some tension. Our staff had done such an excellent job and the activity that seemed chaotic was actually very organized. It was beginning to be so crowded that they really only needed a few people so I left.I felt like just finding a place to stake a claim (geographically speaking) was very important for the library. People tend to think everything is on the internet and they might realize too late that it isn’t. Promoting awareness that you are there and have services that need to continue is a must.

When you are dealing with just plain survival the “extras” can seem small. The first place the hospital went the night of the tornado was to First Baptist Church where first aid was set up. We operated there until we got some tents from FEMA. From the tents we have moved to some FEMA/GEMA modular buildings and are just starting the building of the 70 or minus bed interim hospital. It is an unbelievable story and it goes on day after day after day. There is almost no way to describe it.

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

I was able to get in the hospital after about three days to see the library and assess the damage. The text and journal collection looked safe. Water had not fallen in this area. However, my office had two large windows and water was everywhere as well as debris. My cabinets in the library were near the windows and they had a large amount of debris on them. I began looking for a temporary place and started out in a building being used by hospital administration. Then someone helped me find a larger office in a modular building owned by the hospital and across the road from the rear of the hospital. We have a company that is helping with salvage and we have a warehouse where cleaned furniture is being placed. From this warehouse I have removed bookshelves and am using them to house the journals collection.At this point we do not have an open library for people to walk in at any hour. We are members of the Mercer Medical Library (Macon, GA) GaIN (Georgia Interactive Network network and this has been an excellent resource in the past and is more so even now. Our doctors and employees have access to such databases as MD Consult. This gives 24 hours access to knowledge based literature. I am doing literature alerts and have offered a table of contents service for the journals we take. These journals are in my current “library” which is really an office in a modular building across from the hospital. An interim hospital is being built now and there will not be a place for much more than clinical service. I face about three years of keeping the library viable for the physicians and employees so I will be constantly seeking ways of reaching those in need and helping in any way I can. As the interim hospital is built I will look for ways to create awareness and offer services.

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

Clinical needs become so acute when a disaster strikes, so the librarians have to be ready to help meet information needs that arise. As people stay focused on survival and rebuilding, look for ways to helpfully respond and offer information resources. Librarians should serve on disaster and recovery committees. Awareness of the work of these committees can help you meet their information needs as well.

Pasco County Library System, Florida

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

Interview date: June 18th, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO KITS Contents: romberger_terri_gokitscontents1

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

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

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

Joyce Shaw, a librarian at the Gunter Library in the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, discusses the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the academic library in August 2005.

Interview date: June 8th, 2007


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

Ocean Springs, Mississippi was very hard hit by Hurricane Katrina – even though we were 50 miles from where the storm made landfall. The damage was so extensive that we are still living in a disaster zone today.But, it looked like we were out of the way when the storm was still out on the gulf. We had some basic supplies ready. There was an announcement to evacuate, but my family and I did not. I came into the library on the Saturday before the storm. Everything had been up in the air on Friday. Nothing “official” had happened yet. One of my staff was returning from a trip to Atlanta and the other had plans to go to Jackson. Summer School was out by this time, so there were no undergraduates or out of state students on campus (which was very lucky).

We have big windows facing north and I am always worried about it smashing because of debris. I never thought for one minute to worry about flooding.

After implementing our standard hurricane procedures at work, I went home to weather the storm. You couldn’t say that I was terribly prepared; the whole time I only had $12 on me. But, I couldn’t have used it anyways as everything was closed! The electricity went off at about 6:30 am on Monday the 29th. At around 9:30 am a tree hit our house. Then water started coming up at the back of the house from the harbor, which was pretty surprising as our house has an elevation of 21 feet. The storm surge pushed the water into everything. My son and I were running around trying to save our stuff. I grabbed a towel and put it under the door – it was the stupidest thing I could have done! But, I wasn’t thinking straight. I would call it an “in the moment experience.” And we didn’t have it as bad as the people who got stuck up a tree!

The storm just seemed to keep going and going. It seemed to last around 12 hours and after the first six hours it just got so boring (after the excitement of the tree and the water coming up) waiting around for it to end. The next morning, there was no phone. No cell phone. Trees and utility poles were down every where. I walked to the house of one of my library staff lived around five blocks away. It was my first realization at how bad things were. When I came home, my brother and sister-in-law had arrived to tell me my niece and her family had lost their home which had been our grandparent’s house built in 1902. His architectural firm in Gulfport had flooded. He gave me a ride to work. I couldn’t believe how bad the damage was everywhere. We couldn’t get very close to the research lab, but I knew things were bad. In the end, I didn’t get officially called back to work until September 8th. I made several trips to campus prior to that to meet with the director and to grab a year’s worth of blood pressure medicine I had left in my office.

The electricity was out for two weeks. The whole time I was just holed up at home, cleaning debris from the yard every day, listening to radio reports at night of what had happened in New Orleans. There was nothing on the news about the Mississippi coast at first. But, after a while I learned how lucky Ocean Springs was; we didn’t lose our downtown (it was one of the only ones left on the coast). Shelters started to open up on Monday. There was one in the high school in the next town over. Churches were opening their doors too. And the Red Cross arrived and started to provide basic shelter and supplies. The National Guard set up water and ice distribution centers called EOCs. When I wasn’t cleaning up debris around my home, I was waiting in line for ice and water and distributing it to several of my elderly neighbors.

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

Before I left the library, I went through my regular hurricane procedures. I covered the computers with plastic and moved them away from the windows and bagged up everything I could. The library is right on a marsh and a bayou and the campus fronts the Mississippi Sound. This certainly wasn’t my first hurricane warning. I’ve been through this about 6 or 7 times – I pack up the same way every time. I didn’t pick anything up off the floor though (I wish I had).The morning after Katrina, as I was walking to the campus, I encountered one of our parasitologists who was climbing over the debris of several homes that blocked the road to the campus. He told me that buildings were lost on campus. In was pretty interesting (and creepy too) that some of the buildings that were lost to Hurricane Camille in 1969 were also lost this time. The buildings were even named the same! Camille and Katrina had been similar in their paths. Hurricanes are just a fact of life on the Mississippi coast, but not a regular occurrence. Not like this.

Apparently, my building was standing but flooded. But, I couldn’t find a way to get there except over the debris mountain. Right then a woman drove up and asked if I was trying to get into the research lab. She offered a way to get there without crawling over the debris. In exchange, I would help her find her daughter. After we found the daughter, taking a back way she drove me to the gate of the campus and left me there. It was like going through a battle zone. There were a handful of employees doing the same thing I was. I asked one of them if he would go into the library with me. It sounds silly, but I was too scared to go into the building alone. I must have been visibly upset. We pulled and pulled to get the door open. Inside, it was dark and hot. I started to feel faint from the extreme heat. Furniture had been thrown everywhere and there was this muck everywhere. It was slippery and sticky and disgusting. I fell down in it. Even without a flashlight, I could tell we were flooded. I tried to find the emergency file with the phone numbers (not that it would have done any good since there were no phones). I couldn’t find anything for the office being flooded. I did find the file eventually – around nine or ten months later! The label on the file folder had fallen off due to the dampness.

There was nothing more I could do that day, so I went home to start thinking. I was worried about my job. Lots of other people at the research lab were thinking the same thing. They were all wandering around like me, with the same worried looks on their faces.

I went back the next day and talked with the director of the research lab. My library does not answer to the university libraries, we report to the campus director. He gave me permission to hire a catastrophe company to help salvage the library. There were lots of things that I didn’t know at the time about the university’s disaster plans – like that they already had a contract with a disaster company. I tried calling the University Libraries in Hattiesburg every time I found a phone for the next week. I couldn’t get through.

I didn’t know who else to call and I only had two minutes to make a call when I had a working phone. I had grabbed some numbers, including the archivist at Duke University who gave me the number of some companies. I finally got in touch with the University Libraries on the Tuesday after Labor Day and two days later they sent down a representative to assess the damage. It took four more days after that call–two weeks after the storm hit–to get a company to come and the whole time our collection was wet and sitting in muck.

In the meantime, I started to address the environmental conditions. I sealed off the space and cleaned all the vents. Our Physical Plant folks got the electricity on September 8th, so I was able to run de-humidifiers which were important because the building’s HVAC was damaged by the storm. My staff and a graduate student volunteer used Clorox wipes to clean just about everything not water damaged by the flood. I had two lab technicians and two graduate students who began mucking out the building.

We ran the library from the front porch of the building for several weeks. There was a sheltered portico and we set up a desk there. Once classes began about 3 weeks after the storm, the students came back. I would just fetch things for them out of the building. They couldn’t go into the building because it was labeled by state inspectors as unsafe. But, we took our services portable. We had a lap top and just went wherever we were needed. One of my staff worked at home with a laptop compiling an inventory of lost books and journals.

During this time I was asked by one of our scientists to help a retired ichthyologist who lived near campus whose house had severely flooded. Several of us went to his home and found it in terrible condition-books, filing cabinets, this man’s life work-thrown about by the flood water and coated in mold. He was endangering his life trying to work alone in the mold to save his scientific materials. We helped him salvage what he could and packed over 150 boxes of files, books, journals, and reprints. Two years later, the library still has his collection stored. He and his wife have moved from the area and relocated to Atlanta. Their lives have been changed forever.

The company that was hired to clean the library was being used to clean other rooms in the building before doing the library. Then on Wednesday they were sent away because it was determined that their services were too expensive. By this point, I had been waiting and waiting. I couldn’t believe it! Finally (and after talking with the director) a crew started cleaning, but they did a hurry-up and get-out job. They clearly didn’t care. But I did. So, I went back and finished it up myself.

In the end, we lost our bottom shelves of books-everything 13″ or lower. But it could have been worse. We could have lost the bottom two shelves. The hardest part was facing what I had lost. I had to watch as about 20% my collection was picked up by a front loader and put in a dump truck to be taken to a land fill.

We spent weeks outside in front of the building cleaning what furniture we could salvage from the library and the classroom down the hall using bleach and WD-40. The rest of the furniture and our circulation desk were hauled off to debris piles. But we saved our big library table, a book truck, and a host of task chairs and smaller tables from the class room. The University sent down some used furniture from their surplus for our campus and we were given two desks from that donation.

The same clean-up work was going on all over campus. Every person was responsible for cleaning their work space, lab, office, etc. With over 35 employees and students made homeless by the storm, our director made the priority to get the dormitory cleaned and set up as temporary housing for staff and students. National Guardsmen were stationed at the gate and once a day the Red Cross van would bring food to campus for them. Our campus is located in a nice residential area of town that was severely damaged. There were fears of looting especially because there were no streetlights and no people able to live in what was left of their homes. We felt safe having the National Guard close at hand. With humvees, helicopters, armed military, and debris and disaster everywhere, it really did look and feel like a war zone. And we were in the “lightly” hit area. Even 10 miles west of us it was much worse.

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

I’m trying my best to make better preparations. Next time, I’ll be sand bagging the building (even if I have to do it myself). I’ve been trying for years to get hurricane shutters and I’ll keep trying. I think I’ve become more proactive about fighting for the things I need.The library went portable for a long time. We didn’t really have much choice as we had to serve our students and faculty. We now have wireless access in the library which is good because many of our faculty and students had replace their desk top computers with laptops.

The library received a SOLINET (Southeastern Library Network) grant to help rebuild the collection. I had to make a list of everything that we had lost; there were over 1300 books. It was emotionally devastating to go through the list, trying to decide what to replace. I was faced with the names of items that were irreplaceable. I realized that you can’t ever get it all back, no matter how much money people give you.

We received a donation from Rotary Zones 29 and 30 to replace lost equipment and furniture. And we received two computers, a scanner, and five books from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine/Southeastern Atlantic region. These gifts have been a blessing.

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

Librarians need to save the libraries. I wish I could have been more involved in the community response, but I had too much on my plate and little support. If I could do it again, I would be more proactive. Librarians have to make themselves heard. They should be disaster management teams for their universities. I tried my best at the time, but my voice just wasn’t heard. Being part of an institution didn’t help. No one thought about the library; the place was just too hard hit. I did my best to rise to the occasion, but all I could do was try to save what was left of the library. But now I am on three different task forces and doing my best to be heard.Librarians really need to get some perspective. I received a survey questionnaire months later asking how effective a blog had been at helping me. I couldn’t believe it. A blog? How effective was their blog??? I wanted to yell at those people, “Don’t start a blog! Go and help! Just go!”

Here are pictures that illustrate Joyce Shaw’s story:

Photo by A. Russel. [Joyce is...] in the pink socks. August 8th 2005

Joyce next to book case

August 2005 035 (photo by A. Russell) Gunter Library Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Gunter Library Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Caylor water line after Katrina 30 inches in the hall way but only 13″ to 15″ in the library–very lucky! (J. Shaw photo)

Water Line in Library

GCRL Karina (5) library in the portico of the building. Those are BMS Cat. guys (the clean up company) horsing around. (J. Shaw photo)

BMS cat. guys

GCRL Karina (1) Library furniture (and stuff from some of the laboratories) in a debris pile.

Debris Pile

107 Pine Drive on 30 August 2005 This was my house the day after Katrina.

Joyce Shaw's Home

107 Pine Drive Katrine (2) Within a few day after the storm, everything turned brown! The salt spray burned the trees. Compare this photo which was about 2 weeks after the storm to the day after. The area looked like somebody took a match to everything!

Two weeks later

A big limb smashed the door and the wind blew the pictures out of the frames! Hallway of Caylor Building–where the library is located. (photo by Joyce Shaw)

Hallway of Caylor Building

August 2005 038 (A. Russell photo)

Library Stack

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Memphis Public Library and Information Center, Tennessee

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

Interview date: June 6th, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ø Limited number of free copies made available to evacuees.

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

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

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

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

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

Ø Meeting rooms were set aside for service provider groups.

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

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

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

Ø LINC staff served on the Hurricane Katrina Taskforce.

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

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

Ø Worked with EMA to identify basic needs assistance.

Ø Identified locations for temporary housing of pets.

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

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

Ø EMA collected donations in the Central Library parking lot.

Ø Many branch staff collected donations on their own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ø Participate fully in FEMA disaster plans on national level.

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

Rowland Medical Library, University of Mississippi Medical Center

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

Interview date: June 1st, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview date: May 31st, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Questions:

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

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

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

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