Disaster Preparedness

Disaster Preparedness
MHLS Across The Board | Spring 2005

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:

  • Have a list of emergency contact numbers for the contractors that you use, such as the plumber. “Since our building was new, what we ran into was that the jobs seemed to have sub-contracts, and we weren’t sure who was responsible for what—that probably wouldn’t be an issue in an established building. Nevertheless, you need to call people to get things started.” This list should be kept off-site as well by the director and board president in case you cannot get into your building.
  • Have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which is a list of the chemicals in the building. Information about these chemicals is available in various places, such as grocery stores and online product sites. “For example,” said Dona, “we had antifreeze in the sprinkler system that malfunctioned, and the firemen didn’t know what they were dealing with when they responded.”
  • It also helps if you have a very specific, written hierarchy of who is responsible in the library, who gets called and in what order. “In our library, first the director is called, then the Assistant Director, Board President and Children’s Librarian. Usually, it doesn’t have to go past one or two people, but it has to be established first to work!”

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.

Preventative 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. Read the Hazard Communication Guidelines for Compliance  by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, US Department of Labor.

3 Tips To Help You Prepare Your Disaster Plan

  1. Prepare Staff :
    How to turn off water-bearing pipes and the location of the shut-off valves for gas and electricity:

    • Layout of building and possible danger areas;
    • Locations of alarms, extinguishers and how to operate them and keep them in working order;
    • Who to contact, and when, in an emergency.
  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 percent 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:

    • Identify your unique resources, which can help you set salvage priorities.
    • Is the item important to the community? Can it be replaced? At what cost? Can you afford it? Would replacement cost be more or less than restoration?
    • Clean up storage areas, so in a “pack-out” it is very clear what should be rescued.
    • Store papers in boxes and follow proper records retention schedules. (For information about records retention schedules, start with the MHLS web site
    • Write up your disaster plan and procedures. For an outline of a generic disaster plan and for a sample plan, go to https://calpreservation.org/disasters/generic/intro.html. Remember, the best plan is ineffective if staff is not aware of it or it is outdated or you can’t find it!

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:

  • Do you have a written security policy? Elements of a security policy could include: Contact information for the security system provider
  • Who has access to the security codes for the building
  • Under what circumstances staff should contact law enforcement
  • How to evacuate the building, etc.
  • Be sure to adopt an Incident Report Form for documenting problems with patrons in your library (sample forms are available at the URL listed on side 2).
  • Let your local police know if you are having problems. It helps them with their job of making the community a safe place. Law enforcement may appreciate the opportunity to develop a relationship with you.
  • Keep a list of current key-holders.
  • Require all staff to turn in their keys when leaving their library positions.
  • Initiate or see if you can improve closing procedures:
    All doors and windows are locked;
    All equipment is turned off or unplugged;
    All lights and water faucets are turned off;
    No unauthorized personnel are in the building.

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.

  • Does your contractor have the proper insurance?
  • If the roof is being fixed, do you have a library representative come in every day to check the status? Watch the weather reports.
  • Is work being done near a water main?
  • How will you keep the building secure? As outside contractors come and go, a stranger might not arouse concern. Although no facility can be made disaster proof, there are simple and inexpensive measures that can be very effective in preventing a disaster or in lessening its effects. Take the time to use the tips above to help your library prepare for the worst. We guarantee you will wish you had!

Disaster Planning Resources From MHLS
STAFF: Merribeth Advocate, Outreach & Continuing Education Coordinator, madvocate@midhudson.org, 845.471.6060 ext. 254

Available through your local library:

  • Disaster Response and Planning for Libraries, by Miriam B. Kahn, 2003
  • Disaster Planning and Recovery: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians and Archivists, by Judith Fortson, 1992
  • Library Disaster Planning and Recovery Handbook, edited by Camila Alire, 2000
  • Library Security and Safety Handbook: Prevention, Policies, and Procedures, by Bruce A. Shuman, 1999

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