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Disaster Preparation: What Libraries Can Offer

Disaster is rarely something that can be anticipated, but with the proper preparations, you can help minimize the risks, damage, and perhaps even prevent some incidents.

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The Heart of a Community

A library has a unique place in a community. Typically, we're tucked nicely into the very center of a community -- after all, the library's very purpose is to provide its services to everyone. As such, during a disaster, a library can provide a number of services, even if it too has been affected.

In October of 2012, Superstorm Sandy veered into the eastern coast of the United States, wrecking havoc on a population unprepared for such torrential downpours and flooding. Queens, NY was hit especially hard, cutting electricity to the entire region and damaging buildings. Four of the seven public library branches were structurally damaged and none of the branches had power, heat, or running water. The supplies available to purchase in the region dwindled quickly as the few stories that were still open were rushed by people in desperate need of water, food, and medical supplies.

So, what did the Far Rockaway branch do? They opened, of course. Sharon Anderson, the manager of the branch, quickly found samaritans arrive with food, water, diapers, and batteries. People flooded in for the support and supplies, and sometimes just to take a little bit of a reprieve from the hardship of trying to mend their lives back together. Eventually, the library had local churches providing hot meals, the Red Cross set up a station to give out medical suppies, the library parked a trailer with power outlets so people could charge their devices, allowing them to contact their loved ones.

So often we think of how to prepare our libraries and staff for a disaster, that we might forget how a library can react to one to provide for its patrons. The library can partner with groups like the Red Cross, nearby hospitals, the city police or sheriff, firehouses, local government departments, even religious groups to give supplies, training, shelter, and simple support in times of crisis.

Don't just think about the physical items, too. One of the most important reasons why so many people flocked to the Far Rockaway library was simply because of the feeling of community and support. Not everyone came to get a warm meal. Some came just to have their story told to someone who would listen. Some just came to escape in a book.

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