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Disaster Preparation: How Prepared Is Your Library?

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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How Prepared Is Your Library for a Major Service Disruption?

Take a look at the items below and see how many accurately reflect you and your library. Not all of these are possible in all libraries, but the list is a good place to start to get ideas of how to work around your unique limitations or issues.

  1. We are committed to purchasing core print materials that may be needed if power is down for an extended time or the Internet is compromised.
    • Remember that, while digital content has a lot of positive aspects, if the power goes out or the Internet connection is down, print is going to be the only way to provide not only information, but an escape in entertainment for many patrons.
  2. Our proxy server has unlimited emergency backup power.
    • This may be a question for an external facility as far as cataloging and checkout services remaining active during a disruption.
  3. We have a response station that includes items such as flashlights, first aid kit, bullhorn, plastic tarp, and a battery operated radio.
    • It's always a good idea to regularly check the items in this kit, as batteries can die, bulbs can break, etc.
  4. We practice situation awareness reporting (what, when, and where) before, during, and after any kind of disruption.
    • Practice makes perfect. Or as close as you can get. It's important to instill a form of muscle memory for disruptions and disasters. Also, when you practice, the cracks and missteps in a plan can become apparent to be fixed.
  5. We regularly drill our staff on how to respond to unplanned incidents, such as tornadoes, shooter, behavioral emergencies, and HAZMAT incidents, and we perform at least one evacuation drill per year.
    • You and your staff should be able to react to a situation without thinking about it. If it's ingrained, the proper reaction to dangerous situations will be all the quicker.
  6. We conduct at least two tabletop exercises per year. (One for planned and one for unplanned events.)
    • Planned events are things you have fair warning for, such as hurricanes, snow storms, etc. Unplanned events are problems that arise spur of the moment, like active shooters, fires, etc. You should have formal meetings where you simply go over a plan step-by-step.
  7. We conduct after-action reviews within 7 days of service disruption.
    • If a disaster occurs, remember to evaluate just how the reaction worked out. Whether it was covered by a plan or if it was something completely unexpected, take the time to see what worked and what didn't and how you can improve if it happens again.
  8. We communicate to patrons using Facebook and Twitter and can change hours and post messages remotely on our library's website.
    • Access to the Internet may be cut off from within the library or through the library's connection, but you should still have a way to update information and connect with those outside the library.
  9. We have discussed emergency staffing issues with Human Resources.
    • Who will be able to make it to work during a storm? And if they can't make it, how long before it becomes an issue with staffing and with their paycheck? If roads are blocked or damaged, are they going to reprimanded for missing their shifts?
  10. We have a mutual aid agreement with other libraries to assist us in the delivery of core services if ours are compromised.
    • You probably already have a network of libraries that support you in many ways. Can some of these libraries in other areas be given the reigns for updating your website, Facebook, or perhaps even staffing if need be?
  11. We have identified our unique or hard to replace materials and have created a partnership with a commercial salvage and recovery company or a local preservationist.
    • Many libraries hold important local history materials or one-of-a-kind items that cannot be replaced. Make sure these items are in low-risk areas of the library and that someone can replace or fix what might be damaged.
  12. We have worked with local law enforcement to determine best practices for sheltering-in-place and for responding to unplanned emergency situations.
    • Most of the time, local law enforcement will be more than happy to provide guidance and training at your library. After all, the more they prepare the community for disasters, the more manageable it becomes for them.
  13. We know the areas of the library that are most vulnerable to water leaks. We have worked to mitigate those areas and we regularly check them during and after a rain event.
    • Basements can flood, so it's best not to keep valuable material on the floor. What are your problem areas? How will you minimize damage there during a disaster?
  14. We have created a Service Continuity Team (SCT) that we activate for emergency situations. The SCT strives to keep our core services and resources if we need to close the library when we are normally open.
    • Sometimes, with a small staff, the SCT will be one person. However big the staff is, there should be someone(s) who can enter a potentially hazardous building in the event of a disaster, someone who keeps the necessities in check during a disruption.
  15. We have plotted a map of where members of our SCT live, noting power issues and other logistics.
    • Keep in mind that while the library has a power outage, some of the staff will have power who live farther away (these people may be good to have on a list to update your website or Facebook). If there's a snowstorm, who will be blocked from getting to work because of dangerous roads and who could potentially walk to work? Have a map of each person's house and a phone tree (and test it) to get ahold of people during an event.
  16. Members of our SCT are prepared at home for going 3 days without power.
    • Make sure these people have basic emergency kits, food, and perhaps even generators.

Disaster Plan Templates

Disaster plans can be a tricky thing to write up since you have to keep track of so many moving parts and plan ahead in case one of those parts stop. Your plan may not be as complex as those below, but it's a good idea to see exactly what these people had in mind when designing theirs.

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