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Express Outreach Award Highlights: Community Emergency Preparedness Health Information Outreach Program in San Diego

by Naomi C. Broering, MLIS, MA, FMLA
Dean of Libraries
Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
San Diego, CA

Typically, disasters strike when least expected and they surprise everyone! The greatest disaster risks in Arizona, California, and Nevada are wildfires, earthquakes, chemical or radiation hazards, terrorism, and disease epidemics, such as influenza. Access to immediate health information is critical and essential in times of crisis; and provision of recovery services directly affects people in need. What should we know before, during, and after a disaster? How can we prepare for such events, and how will they impact our community, libraries, and service organizations we rely on? The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) Library wanted to develop a community emergency outreach service, and we began preparations by attending two MLA CE classes on Disaster Health Information. Based on this instruction, new knowledge and skills, plus our teaching experience, we then submitted an NN/LM PSR Express Outreach Award proposal.

Funding from the NN/LM PSR 2012-13 Express Outreach Award enabled us to launch a collaborative Community Emergency Preparedness Outreach program with the County of San Diego, Public Health Services, Health and Human Service Agency (SDPHS), and six community libraries and organizations. It helped support a critically needed mini-conference training program in San Diego to promote awareness, access, and use of NLM disaster and emergency preparedness health information in times of crisis. Project objectives included:

  1. Implement six mini-conferences at participating community sites; including San Diego Public Library, San Diego County and Chula Vista Libraries, AME Prince Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, La Jolla Community Center, and the PCOM & UC San Diego Integrative Medicine Group.
  2. Teach public librarians, emergency health workers, and the general public to use NLM disaster resources, such as DIMRC, WISER, MedlinePlus, etc.
  3. Enhance PCOM’s Library Webpage with NLM Disaster and SDPHS Emergency links, to facilitate training.
  4. Develop instructional manuals, handouts, and emergency planning tips.
  5. Conduct an evaluation assessment, based on survey questionnaires, discussions, and observations, to gather important evidence for data analysis, lessons learned, and project outcomes.

Saman Yaghamee (County of San Diego HHSA PHS) speaking at SLA San Diego Chapter Meeting

Project implementation began with project partners planning meetings, to set program calendars, agendas, speakers, and the library’s instructional program to train participants to quickly and easily access NLM’s disaster information on fires, earthquakes, blackouts, tsunamis, and other disastrous events. Publicity about the proposed mini-conferences was essential to attract attendees, and we utilized community newspapers, library user groups, health care providers, and community groups to spread the word. From prior experience, we learned that selection of program dates convenient to partnering organizations and their users is a key factor to increasing potential attendance. It is essential to go when and where the people are, which often requires driving many miles in the county, typically at the end of the day or on weekends, when people are home from work. However, good attendance with interested people is extremely rewarding. The aim is to inspire the targeted librarians and first responders to exchange valuable needed information and encourage partnerships to share expertise with each other, but also simultaneously make it convenient to inform the public about the NLM and local San Diego emergency resources that are available at everyone’s fingertips.

Almost immediately, the program emerged as overwhelmingly successful, and we received requests to extend it to more community libraries, centers and churches. We were also invited to participate in local health conferences and safety fairs. What began as six meetings quickly expanded to over 20 sessions, three fairs, and two conference exhibits. Evidence gathered from assessment data questionnaires indicated that librarians, health practitioners, and emergency responders gained valuable information to improve their community services. The responses showed that 72% had not used MedlinePlus previously, 75% had no knowledge of NLM databases such as PubMed, or toxicology sites, such as TOXNET, CHEMM, or REMM. However, 98% of attendees found emergency preparedness information useful and 99% plan to use the NLM resources. When we demonstrated NLM Mobile and WISER apps, attendees enthusiastically stated they planned to download them on their iPhones and iPads! Surprisingly, volunteer emergency corps personnel commented that they were unaware of NLM’s resources and took handouts to share at their divisions or stations. Several librarians took the library assistance toolkits distributed to them. Community residents also indicated no prior knowledge of MedlinePlus, DIMRC, WISER, or even the local San Diego Emergency Services and 211 links.

Naomi Broering (PCOM) presenting at Rancho Penasquitos CERT Meeting

Other observations and conclusions from discussions demonstrate a continual need for this community service. Project partners also recommended additional sites for training sessions. Establishing good relationships with community libraries and users is an invaluable asset of the program. Attendees are most appreciative of the information they received, and mentioned their own personal interest in emergency recovery planning, and also for their families, parents and grandparents. All attendees eagerly took the SDPHS sample emergency tote kit lists we distributed at the sessions, and requested extras for their families and friends. One person commented that she was giving her grandparents emergency tote kits for their holiday gifts! Many public attendees only have computer and internet access at their local library or community center, since they do not own computers, but were eager to begin using the sites.

The program is immensely beneficial to the public, especially those residing in geographically dispersed and high-risk areas of East and North San Diego County. The library is so dedicated to this service that current plans are to incorporate emergency preparedness in all the consumer health outreach programs we conduct throughout the county. A value added benefit is that while learning to use MedlinePlus for disaster recovery, attendees also learn its great value for health information. We were able to transform the uninformed to informed, knowledgeable users, who are inspired to encourage others to plan emergency preparedness activities!

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