Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Disaster preparedness planning

Disaster planning is the third major part of an overall security plan. It is also the part that may take a long time to develop. It could take up to two years to develop the first plan and revision. (Note: a risk management firm may now require they have a current copy on file.) One reason it takes so long is that it involves every department and ought to have wide staff involvement. In large organizations the library’s plan must fit into the institution’s comprehensive plan; this may require rethinking and rewriting parts of the plan. A small steering committee is essential to keep the work moving; and someone must take on the basically thankless task of writing and rewriting drafts of the plan.

Keys to successful planning are:

  • assessing potential sources of emergencies (fire, bomb threats, floods, water pipes breaking, earthquakes, and occasionally major vandalism);
  • considering the difference in handling just a library disaster from one that is part of a larger or regional problem;
  • setting collection priorities (that is, what is irreplaceable, what is expensive but replaceable, what is easy to replace?);
  • determining insurance coverage and access to emergency funds;Does insurance include money for recovery? Can the disaster team leader have authorization to commit money to salvage work? Will cash be readily available?;
  • preparing summary posters of the plan’s steps and posting them in all staff areas;
  • developing an emergency telephone tree and keeping the telephone numbers up-to-date (A telephone tree is simply a listing of calls to make and their priority of placement. The tree’s design is such that no person makes two or three telephone calls.);
  • writing up the plan, reviewing it internally, checking on its agreement with broader-based organization-wide disaster plans, and training the staff in its implementation, which should include a walk-through exercise;
  • having floor plans in the document that clearly indicates the first-priority areas for salvage teams;
  • collecting supplies for handling the various emergencies;
  • having a list of service supply companies and experts that can assist in the recovery work as an appendix to the plan;
  • setting up the disaster team, training them, and conducting practices;
  • making certain fire and security personnel know where a copy of the plan is and whom to call first; having copies of the plan on and off site;
  • spending team members to workshops and conducting in-house disaster handling programs to keep the staff up to date on developments in the field;
  • conducting plan reviews with new employees and yearly plan update sessions for all employees.

Probably the most common disaster in a library is water damage. Storms such as hurricanes and tornadoes can cause structural damage to a library and perhaps damage some of the collection. It is, however, the rain that accompanies these storms that causes the most damage. Most of the time water damage in the library results from an internal library problem. A broken water pipe, a ruptured sprinkler system, or an air conditioner located on the roof that springs a leak during the one weekend of the year the library is not open are common water disasters that libraries encounter. While such disasters are seldom worth even passing notice in the local newspaper, they still present the same recovery problems a major storm, flood, or fire would cause.

The Western Association for Art Conservation has produced a brief but comprehensive set of guidelines, which have been adapted into a Web page, Betty Walsh’s “Salvage at a glance” ( Conservation OnLine (CoOl) at (the homepage which links to the chart) is an exceptionally useful site for authoritative and current information on all aspects of disaster planning and recovery, as well as conservation and preservation topics in general.

Fire protection
Despite their occasional malfunction, sprinklers in the library are the best fire protection. Properly installed and maintained, they provide a quick response to a fire while it is still small. More than 80 percent of all building fires are controllable by three or fewer sprinkler heads, assuming proper installation and maintenance. Yes, there will be water damage, but not as much as when the fire department turns on its fire hose. (A fire hose puts out 2,500 gallons of water per minute, compared to 100 gallons per minute for a typical sprinkler head.) If the sprinkler system is an older zoned type, where perhaps a quarter or a third of all the sprinklers go off at one time whenever one sprinkler responds to a fire, the damage can be much greater. Together, however, they still will not put out as much water as one fire hose.

Everyone working in public service should know how to handle a fire extinguisher and how to determine which extinguisher to use on a specific type of fire. There are extinguishers for combustible materials such as paper and wood (Type A), for electrical fires or flammable liquids (Type B), and for any type of fire (Type C). Comprehensive (Type C) extinguishers are the most expensive but they eliminate worries about which unit to use. In an emergency, the fewer things the staff must worry about the better they will handle the situation. Most fire departments are willing to come to the library to teach people how to put out a fire with an extinguisher. A half-day fire safety workshop with fire extinguisher training is well worth the time lost from regular duties; annual updates and reviews are very useful.

Building evacuation
Another aspect of disaster handling that staff can practice is evacuating the building. Because public service staff work in areas with or near customers, they carry the major responsibility for clearing the building of people in an emergency. The type of alarm system the library has (or does not have) will determine how hard or easy it will be to clear the building. Many libraries lack public address systems and must depend solely on a fire alarm system’s signal. That signal may work well and be appropriate in a fire emergency, but is it good for a bomb threat or other non-fire situation that requires cleaning the building? This becomes even more of a problem if the fire alarm system connects directly to the fire department. Another concern is whether or not one can hear the alarm in every location and office. Individual or group study rooms or audiovisual rooms are special problems. People using such rooms may be concentrating so hard (or have earphones turned up so high) that they do not hear the alarm even when it is audible in the room. What all this means is that public service personnel must go through the library, almost like the closing procedure, to be certain everyone leaves.

There are two big differences between the closing routine and evacuating the building. The first obvious difference is that, in the emergency situation, speed is important. If the emergency situation arises during a period when there is full staffing, usually only at peak times, the process of clearing can go quickly, because there are enough staff members to go to the key areas at the same time. When the problem comes up during short staffing periods (for example, nights and weekends), however, there are fewer staff present. Too often when a library conducts a practice evacuation it is with a full staff. Libraries should plan for and practice both full and minimum staff evacuations.

The second difference from closing routines is that there may be more problems with people. An emergency can occur at any time, but the chances are it will not be just before closing time. This means people will not be ready or willing to leave, especially if they must leave their work behind. Convincing people that there is a problem and that it is important to leave quickly can be difficult. It is particularly difficult when the alarm system is not clearly audible and there is no real indication of a problem, such as the smell of smoke. Knowing how to handle the reluctant individual is a key to quickly clearing the building. Deciding under what circumstances people may or may not pack up their work takes careful planning with the assistance of public safety officials. Another issue that ought t o bethought through with public safety officials is what to do about disabled staff or customers. This can be a challenge in multi-story buildings because elevators are often “off limits” in an emergency.

Earthquake preparedness presents several special challenges for public services staff. One is in maintaining the collection stacks in a safe manner. As one begins to run out of shelf space, there is a tendency to look at shelving dust canopies (usually a lightweight metal cover) as extra shelving. Although not as strong as regular shelving material, dust canopies are usually capable of carrying the weight of one row of books. The danger comes from the fact that even a moderate earthquake can throw the books in any direction because they are freestanding. A bound volume of Newsweek simply dropping from a height of eight feet (the usual height of open stack shelving) can cause an injury. Having it thrown off the dust canopy by a 5.5 to 6.5 Richter scale earthquake can cause a serious injury. The potential for injury is high enough in such an earthquake that there is no need to add it by shelving materials in an unsafe manner. For example, “wire” book supports (those that hang from the bottom of a shelf) tend to allow more books to fall than book ends, at least the ones with nonskid bases.

In countries and states where earthquakes are common, there are usually special building code requirements for library stack ranges and other storage units. Seismic bracing adds to the cost of installing shelving and, as earthquakes in California have demonstrated, that does not mean shelving will not fall or twist out of shape; but it does provide better safety for people. This is because the linked ranges do not normally fall to the floor but rather twist or lean over as a block and never completely collapse. Certainly, much of whatever is on the shelves will end up on the floor. Study tables or carrels, however, are likely to avoid being crushed by heavy steel or wood shelving. This is important because hiding under a table or desk gives people some protection during an earthquake.

Libraries in areas of high earthquake potential, especially in large urban areas, need to consider what type of supplies they should have on hand when a major quake strikes. Earthquake specialists suggest that any earthquake registering over 7.0 on the Richter Scale occurring in an urban area will disrupt community services for about 72 hours. This means being without fire, police, or medical assistance for at least three days. Many libraries in California are now setting up storage areas for food, water, basic first aid materials, and rescue equipment. One question facing libraries is whether to have sufficient food and water for three days for the normal work force, for all the staff, or for all staff and an estimated number of customers trapped at the library. A second question is, who provides the money to pay for these supplies? For libraries in earthquake zones it is not a question of if it will happen but only when.

FEMA (Federal emergency management agency)
After a major natural disaster strikes an area in the United States, it is often declared a federal disaster area. When that happens, FEMA teams come to the area. FEMA is a federal agency with the power to provide money to assist local jurisdictions in recovering from a disaster. There are two types of funds: loans to individuals and grants to local government agencies. A FEMA representative or team will assess the damage and prepare a Damage Survey Report (DSR). (DSRs are the basis upon which FEMA determines reimbursements.) The second step in the process is an “audit” by either FEMA staff, that is, a second survey. The second survey may approve, modify, or disapprove the first DSR. The last step is a later FEMA visit to determine what was done with FEMA funds.

The overall objective of DSRs and recovery money is to return the location/person back to the same condition as prior to the disaster as soon as possible by the “most advantageous and economical means possible” (DSR Team Briefing Sheet, January 1994). There is considerable room for interpretation as to what constitutes the “same condition” and what it will cost to achieve.

During the 1990s, California libraries have had more experience with FEMA and DSRs than they would like. However, those experiences have generated a few ideas for librarians working with FEMA personnel. Perhaps one of the most important facts to keep in mind is that they are trying to be fair (contrary to what one may think at the time). FEMA personnel have a responsibility to assure that funds, which are not inexhaustible, go toward warranted recovery efforts. The goal of a representative of a local jurisdiction or “individual” in the case of private institutions is to secure as much of the disaster recovery costs as possible. While these are not mutually exclusive goals, it is clear there is plenty of opportunity for disagreement.

One way to reduce some of the uncertainty and conflict is to have good documentation. As the Earthquake Preparedness Manual for California Libraries suggests, “Write it down, log it, or photograph it.” (Earthquake Preparedness Manual for California Libraries. (Sacramento: California Library Association, 1990, 22.)) Any photographs that are available showing pre- and post-disaster damage will be very useful in assisting the FEMA team as they make their determinations. (Note: FEMA does not pay on the basis of photographed damage. However, the library may not be at the top of a long list of sites the inspectors must visit and some clean-up activities are likely to be underway if not completed when the inspectors arrive. An example might be picking up and reshelving materials dislocated during the disaster.)

FEMA will reimburse for the cost of books and other collection items lost in a disaster, if they were in the library at the time and the library can provide author, title, or other documentation. If one has an online catalog and back-up tapes are available, the documentation should be available.

When it comes to earthquakes, most FEMA inspectors do not know about seismic specifications for shelving. For that matter, they are not familiar with the cost and complexity of library shelving. Having a copy of seismic standards for library shelving and/or a written cost estimate for replacement and repair from a library shelving vendor will help speed the process and reduce some of the conflict between inspector(s) and library staff. Another useful step is to have someone available from the department that maintains the library during the site inspections. Library staff are not architects or contractors and having a knowledgeable person available who can point out special structural issues is helpful.
Evans, G. Edward; Amodeo, Anthony J.; Carter, Thomas L. Introduction to public library services, 6th ed. (Greenwood Village, CO. : Libraries Unlimited, 1999.) pp. 443-450.

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