Disaster Management and Continuity Planning in Libraries: Changes since the Year 2000

Disaster Management and Continuity Planning in Libraries: Changes since the Year 2000

Rebecca Hamilton (State Library of Louisiana, USA) and Diane Brown (State Library of Louisiana, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8624-3.ch001
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Since the year 2000 libraries' concepts of disaster management, contingency planning and the role of libraries in a major disruptive event have changed dramatically. Libraries have gone from an emphasis on protecting and restoring collections and facilities to an emphasis on service continuity. Although broadband adoption nationwide remains disproportionate at best, the advent and widespread use of the Internet and e-government mean that libraries have become the centers of communication for their communities in a crisis. This chapter will demonstrate the essential role of libraries before, during and after a disaster, both short term and long term and how to get a seat at the table with community planners by demonstrating the functions that are critical to recovery. In order to fulfill this community role, a library first needs to be prepared with its own business continuity plan.
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In August of 2005 Hurricane Katrina unexpectedly and in a spectacular fashion threw libraries along the Gulf Coast of the United States, especially public libraries, into the national spotlight as they assisted an unprecedented number of displaced users in finding shelter, locating loved ones, filling out FEMA forms, applying for unemployment, making insurance claims, replacing birth certificates and driver’s licenses and much more. It became apparent to everyone, at least within the Louisiana library community, that previous iterations of disaster plans were not sufficient to cope with a disaster of this magnitude. Up until this point, most disaster planning for libraries was built around securing buildings and physical collections--collection preservation, collection recovery, collection replacement. There were no manuals detailing how to work in a situation in which citywide public infrastructure was seriously damaged or non-existent. Having a list of phone numbers of emergency services such as fire and police was useless when these entities were under water and/or disabled as well. Likewise, having a list of staff home phone numbers was useless when landlines were down and the staff scattered across five states. In a nutshell, this chapter will work forward from basic critical lessons learned as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Those lessons are:

  • 1.

    Existing emergency plans were inadequate.

  • 2.

    Business (i.e., library service) continuity—both how to keep the libraries open immediately after the disaster and how to maintain the continuity of library business—was not a feature of prior public library disaster planning.

  • 3.

    Traditional lists of staff home phone numbers or other electronic contacts were inadequate. Landlines were down and communication was effectively cut off.

  • 4.

    Community expectations and the fact that even people that had never been library users came to public libraries for assistance cemented the role of public libraries in a disaster (Hamilton, 2011, p.43).

What made Katrina substantially different from previous disasters along the Gulf Coast was one significant thing -- the Internet. Over the years, as more and more services especially local, state and federal governmental services were made available via the Internet and in some cases available only on the Internet, libraries became de facto centers of communication for their communities on a daily basis. Library staff expertise with the management and use of electronic records and documents and more sophisticated BlackBerries and cell phones fundamentally changed how libraries communicate with and serve the public before, during and after a disaster. Because of the Internet, during a disaster, libraries of all types became an essential link to the world outside of the disaster zone. This began to take shape as far back September 11, 2001 when libraries stepped into new roles and established new models of service for citizens in the aftermath of a disaster. Libraries were able to update their websites with information for their clients and get email reestablished while moving the base of operations to a different site outside of the destruction zone (Eng, 2002). Similarly, in 2005, libraries along the Gulf Coast quickly adapted to what was happening around them whether or not they were directly impacted and shifted their priorities of service to meet the numerous and essential needs of evacuees and other responders.

The goal of this chapter is to examine and validate the important roles traditionally performed by public libraries prior to the year 2000 and still performed today, as well as the additional roles now being played as demonstrated by rapid changes in technology and recent natural disasters. These duties include providing 24/7 Internet access; updating websites and blogs to keep officials and the general public up to date on all relevant, local information; facilitating computer centers for business continuity to continue to meet established community expectations; initiating access to information for citizens to locate and communicate with loved ones; and command centers for FEMA and local officials. But the duties also include those traditional services that libraries have always provided such as shelter, storytelling (for displaced children), reference assistance, etc. that provide a sense of normalcy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gmail: A free email service provided by Google and supported by advertising.

Disaster Kit: A collection of basic items a household or organization may need in the event of an emergency.

Redundancy: The duplication of critical functions of a system with the intention of increasing reliability of the system in the form of a backup or fail safe system.

Evacuation Order: The immediate and urgent removal of people away from the threat or actual occurrence of a hazard.

Temporary Facility: Usually a trailer, rented facility or donated space where core services can be reestablished.

EOC/Emergency Operations Center: The central location for personnel to stage operations to carry out emergency preparation and emergency management functions in an emergency situation in order to ensure the continuity of operation of a company, political subdivision, or other organization.

Disaster Management: The effort of communities or businesses to plan for and coordinate all personnel and resources needed to either mitigate the effects of, or recover from, natural or man-made disasters, or acts of terrorism.

Business Continuance/Continuity: The processes and procedures that an organization puts in place to ensure that they can continue to provide essential functions during and after a disaster.

Google Drive, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides: Free, web based word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs which are all part of an office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It was formerly a storage service as well, but has since been replaced by Google Drive. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating with other users in real time.

Google Talk: An instant messaging service that provides both text and voice communication.

E-Government/Electronic Government: Government services between citizens and their governments, local, state, or federal, that are only available online.

Disaster Plan: The policies and procedures, people, supplies and equipment designed to limit the disruption of business operations of an organization in the wake of a disaster and allow the organization to maintain or quickly resume mission-critical functions.

Anchor Institutions: Nonprofit institutions such as universities, hospitals and libraries that, once established, tend to stay in place long term and that can also serve as a central location for community services. Also refers to centralized points of contact for needed community services.

Staging Area: A location where people, vehicles, equipment or materials are assembled before use. It can be any location in which personnel, supplies, and equipment can be temporarily housed or parked while awaiting operational assignment.

First Responder: An employee of an emergency service who is likely to be among the first people to arrive at and assist at the scene of an emergency, and typically includes police, firefighters and emergency medical responders such as paramedics and emergency medical technicians.

Contraflow Lane Reversal: The altering of the normal flow of traffic on a controlled access highway such as a freeway or motorway, to aid in an emergency evacuation.

Mitigation: The act of lessening the force or intensity of something.

Computer Backup: A copy of a computer file or directory placed on a separate storage device for storage elsewhere.

Vital Records: Records, regardless of medium, which are essential to the organization in order to continue with its business-crucial functions both during and after a disaster. They need not be permanent, might be active or inactive, originals or copies.

Continuity of Operations (COOP): The ability of an agency/entity to continue to perform essential functions under a broad range of circumstances.

Contingency Plan: A plan that allows an organization to respond appropriately to a specific type of unplanned event.

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