Pandemic planning exercise

Yesterday, Tuesday, May 5, we convened a meeting at our library to review our pandemic plans and conduct a brief table-top exercise.  The meeting produced some excellent observations and insights, both for successes and things we need to work out.  The first half of the meeting was a review of our procedures, based the table (see below in the “Planning for Service Continuity During a Pandemic” post) from our library’s emergency preparedness plan.  All the “key players” attended, including:  the library’s emergency response coordinator, the library Director, IT manager, web development manager, business manager, head of reference services, collection development manager, database coordinator, ILL supervisor, and Circulation supervisor.  All these positions played roles in the planning and in the response exercise.  The scenario we used for the table-top exercise:  it is 3 PM on a Sunday afternoon, when the University decides to close all the libraries on campus to enact social-distancing measures.  The closure is intended to prevent the spread of influenza resulting from a pandemic.  What is done immediately?  What is done Monday morning?  Before beginning the discussion of procedures for this scenario, participants drew slips of paper from a bowl, which designated them as “sick” or “well.”  One-third of the participants were designated “sick,” and therefore did not play a role in the exercise.  This pointed out the need for back-up in certain key positions.

Some questions arose that might be helpful to others in the planning process, among them:

  • can you change the voice mail message on your library’s main phone from your home?  who has the authority and the access needed to do this?  who is the backup for that person?
  • who has current staff home phone number information?  is someone responsible for keeping the list upddated, and for distributing it?  should lists be given to everyone, or to select people?
  • do the appropriate library staff have access to the “Ask a Librarian” chat function from home?
  • do you need an official “voice” for providing information about the status of the library?  if so, will that person have access to communication channels, such as announcements on your web site?
  • can the person responsible for ILL/Document Delivery access resources needed to provide ILL requests to your patrons from home, i.e. is the required software installed on the home computer/laptop?
  • is there a provision for emergency access to print materials for affiliated patrons in the event of a patient-care emergency while the library is closed?
  • is there an institutional need for designating a way to account for time worked at home by library staff?  

Besides refining our procedures and identifying a few areas to be improved, everyone agreed that the meeting/exercise was an excellent way to keep emergency preparedness, and pandemic planning particularly, in our corporate awareness.

Some excellent advice about TTEs (Table-Top Exercises)

Click here to see a page that gives an excellent explanation of what a table-top exercise is, and how to create and run one.  The author is Joe Olivo, of Strohl Consulting Services.  Joe is a Certified Business Continuity Planner, and while the page notes that he has consulted with financial institutions, law firms, and businesses, I think that his advice can be easily adapted for just about any type of institution, including libraries large and small.  It’s a good example of providing information that is general enough to be adapted, while specific enough to be helpful. 

I particularly like this part:  “Based upon the effectiveness of the pre-exercise meetings, the exercise will almost run by itself with team members knowing what has to be accomplished. Exercising is a primary means of training. In any actual recovery effort, the best team members are usually those who have participated in exercises.”

We are beginning monthly training sessions here at UVa’s HSL with staff who are responsible for emergency response, using a table-top exercise each month for a different scenario.  The first scenario was an epidemic of influenza, in which the library’s staffing was compromised.  We talked through how the library would be opened, how to determine if it should stay open, how core services would be maintained, how patrons would be notified if necessary.  We were able to address questions about communication and availablility of various resources, among others, and found the exercise to be quite helpful.  Our staff enjoyed working through the scenario, and felt better prepared to respond afterward.

Dan also used table-top exercises in training sessions for NN/LM’s RML staff and emergency response coordinators this year, and the exercises were very effective in helping everyone understand their roles and how the established plan would be implemented across a given scenario and by the various “players.”  Many thanks to Joe Olivo and Strohl for making this information available in such an accessible format.