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The Disaster Communication Summit

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,
Gang aft agley,

From “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns

In 2012, the NN/LM MidContinental Region, the Greater Midwest Region, and Dan Wilson from the Emergency Preparedness and Response Toolkit started planning an event focused on the issues surrounding communication and disaster preparedness. The meeting was scheduled for March 7-8, 2013 in Chicago. Rooms had been reserved, presenters and workshop instructors confirmed, and participants registered.

But then the emergency struck. Sequestration happened and Cindy Love, from the NLM Disaster and Information Management Research Center, had her travel rescinded three days before the event. Cindy was scheduled to present in a morning session and teach the workshop “US Response to Disasters and Public Health Emergencies.” The day before, Mother Nature decided that a snow storm should hit the East coast canceling Dan Wilson’s flight out of Virginia (and cutting off his electricity). Dan was the host of the summit and the instructor for the “10 Steps to Service Continuity Planning” on the second day of the event. Just before the event one of the keynote speakers got sick. The planning team scrambled.

Attendees at the Disaster Communication Summit

Attendees at the Disaster Communication Summit

The Greater Midwest Region staff stepped up to the challenge using technology to conquer the distance between presenters and participants. Dan Wilson and Cindy Love were brought in via Adobe Connect. Polycom teleconferencing was used to so that presenters and participants could hear each other. A colleague replaced the sick presenter and the two Associate Directors subbed as hosts for Dan Wilson. Workshops were moved to a classroom where videoconferencing was possible.

The first session of the morning brought in David Ibrahim, Director of the Emergency Management and Continuity Planning Certificate Program University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health. His talk, “Regional Public-Private Interoperable Communications for Catastrophic Events” described the complexity in developing a communication network that accommodates communication systems from public and private entities in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin–think flow charts and mind maps. Jason Parker, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the University of Illinois Hospital, brought the issue down to an institutional level. He described how the four Chicago hospitals, located within feet of each other, work to keep each other abreast of emergencies within one institution that may affect others. Cindy Love reminded us of the resources that NLM has developed which are available from the Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC) site. ( At the end of the morning, we had an excellent example of a librarian in a new role. Kacy Allgood is embedded with the emergency medical services in Indianapolis. Kacy emphasized the appreciation her user population has for her expertise as an information professional.

The workshops later that afternoon and the next morning involved the participants in animated discussions and provided them with tools, knowledge, and inspiration to take back to their home institutions. The majority of participants gave an “A” rating to the Disaster Communication Summit. Constant communication between the planners and the presenters who could not be present, enabled a successful recovery for the Disaster Communication Summit. For handouts and pictures of the summit

-Claire Hamasu, Associate Director

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