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Disaster Preparedness
Spring 2005

Across the Board | Spring 2005 | Topic: Disaster Preparedness
The Mid-Hudson Library System's Quarterly Newsletter for Public Library Trustees

Late 2004 and early 2005 saw “a series of unfortunate events” in a number of MHLS member library buildings. The Grinnell Library of Wappingers Falls had water damage to their entire first floor due to a burst pipe. The Kent Public Library saw the basement of their brand-new building flooded (more about that later). And the Mahopac Library suffered severe water damage at their new facility, which had a serious impact on all three floors of the building. This disaster was followed up by an attempted arson at the building one week later. With these recent events many libraries are thinking more seriously about how they would handle similar situations in their facilities. “The key is to remain cool, calm and collected,” said Pat Kaufman, director of the Mahopac Library and veteran disaster survivor (one fire, one flood and an arson attempt). “Having the right attitude in a crisis situation will make a big difference.” Dona Boyer, director of the Kent Public Library, experienced a flooded basement within months of moving into a brand-new building. Here are some tips from Dona:

Planning For The Worst
Planning not only reduces permanent damage or loss to collections, but can sometimes help prevent damage from happening in the first place. Emergencies happen all the time. It is your responsibility, along with your director’s, to protect the collection the public has entrusted you to preserve. It takes years to develop a collection and mere minutes to lose significant parts of it in an emergency situation.

Preventive Maintenance
Preventive maintenance can be thought of as a way to control time. Practicing preventive maintenance can provide the best protection for the most common causes of loss. A good place to start is to have your library director do a building walk-through to assess potential problems and vulnerable areas. Consider using the “Hazard Survey Forms” available at, which can help staff discover possible safety hazards in the building. Following are three other preventive steps you can take.

3 Tips To Help You Prepare Your Disaster Plan
[1] Prepare Staff. All staff should know:
How to turn off water-bearing pipes and the location of the shut-off valves
for gas and electricity;

[2] Bring in the Fire Department. They want to meet you and your building now, not in the midst of an emergency situation. Fire departments can often provide staff fire-safety training, monitor fire drills, help you with evacuation procedure plans, including plans for evacuating people with disabilities. Did you know that 77 perccent of fires are caused by arson? Libraries and cultural institutions have a higher than average risk for this crime. And since libraries have a high fuel load, fire can be the most devastating disaster possible.

[3] Investigate Your Insurance Coverage. Find out what is covered and what is not. If you were to have a disaster at your library, your insurance company can tell you exactly what type of help and money you would receive. Your insurance company can often help you set priorities for collection salvage. They can also let you know if replacement would cost more or less than restoration and if your coverage will pay for one but not the other.
Other general preventive maintenance tips:

Disasters or emergencies aren’t just acts of nature. They can include threats to your staff, property and data. Don’t neglect the other areas related to disaster preparedness listed below:

Electronic Records
Do you have duplicates of important files, including Board minutes, financial files, employee records? Be sure to back up computer files on a routine basis and store copies off-site. A data disaster (for example, a virus, worm, or hacking) can spread from your library into the shared database, having an impact on all 66 MHLS member libraries. Help prevent such a disaster from occurring.

Physical Security
Are your computers and other electronic equipment ripe for stealing? Are they located where they can walk out of the building? Can patrons access staff offices and technical services processing areas when no one is there?

Computer Virus
Have anti-virus software installed on every computer with Internet access • Update anti-virus software regularly • Protect the confidentiality of sensitive data: Are staff who work with patron records aware this is sensitive information? Require passwords on staff computers at all times. Change passwords regularly. Limit who knows them. Change them when an employee leaves • Don’t put Millennium software or Telnet (NetTerm) on public access computers • Don’t put storytime or other program registration lists on public access computers.

A significant number of disasters happen during construction and renovation projects.

Disaster Planning Resources From MHLS
STAFF: Merribeth Advocate, Outreach & Continuing Education Coordinator,, 845.471.6060 ext. 254
Professional Collection

Web Site Resources


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