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TL v58n2 Emergency Preparedness and the Role of Information Services
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 58 Number 1



Emergency Preparedness and the Role of Information Services

Sandy Oelschlegel
Director, Assistant Professor
Preston Medical Library
University of Tennessee

Panel Contributors:
Disaster Plan Basics -Nedra Cook, Fort Sanders Regional, Knoxville
Continuity of Services- Rick Wallace, ETSU Quillen College of Medicine
Role of Hospital Libraries in Disasters- Jan Haley, St Thomas Hospital, Nashville
Strengthening Partnerships- Suresh Ponappa, ETSU Quillen College of Medicine

Program Abstract: When faced with a disaster, whether a broken water pipe, a local tornado or regional hurricane event, is your library prepared? If the pandemic began tomorrow, could you continue to provide services to your community? What would they need? This panel discussed strategies for preparing for such events, including individual library disaster planning and community partnerships.

Why Should Your Library Plan?

Disasters are low probability, high impact events, and although everyone understands that preparation is important, most individuals and organizations do not have an emergency plan in place. Perhaps because of the low probability, it is difficult to convince most people to prepare for an event that may never happen. In fact, the non profit organization Heritage Preservation found in 2005 that 78% of libraries had no local disaster plan. This includes public, academic, and special libraries 1.

Being prepared by creating a response plan is one of the few things a library can do in the event of a disaster 2 and identifying the risks to your library is the first step in plan development. So what are the risks in Tennessee? Why should your library plan for emergencies and “disasters”? Depending on which region of Tennessee your library is located in, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) has listed the major hazards which you should consider in your planning. The major hazards listed for each region of Tennessee are listed in the table below 3.

East Tennessee

Middle Tennessee

West Tennessee Region

Sequoyah and Watts Bar Nuclear Plants (TVA)




Earthquakes (The New Madrid Seismic Zone)


The U. S. Department of Energy Facility at Oak Ridge


Hazardous Materials




Wildland/Forest Fires


Severe Weather (storms and tornadoes)


Hazardous Materials





Severe Weather (storms and tornadoes)


Hazardous Materials




Severe Weather (storms and tornadoes)








In addition to the hazards listed by TEMA, there are other more local hazards that should be considered. Example of these local hazards include: building fires, leaking or burst pipes, leaking roofs, local power outages, widespread power outages, epidemics, terrorism events, and violence such as the recent school shootings.

Although most disaster planning scenarios discuss situations in which your library is a part of the disaster, sometimes your library may be needed as part of a response to a disaster in which it is not directly involved. Some examples of Tennessee disasters where library services were important include the East Nashville Fire March 22, 1916; Dutchman’s Curve Train Wreck July 9, 1918; and the Waverly Explosion, February 22, 1978. In each of these cases, the service and resources of the medical library at St. Thomas hospital was utilized in patient care 4. In fact, among the archives of material from the Waverly Explosion were copies of articles on treatment of burn patients, a tribute the importance of that information to the people who stored the information in the archives. In another example of a library playing and important role during a disaster, the Minneapolis Public Library posted “Emergency Resources for Bridge Tragedy” on its web site within 24 hours of the collapse, provided needed information to the community and increasing the credibility of the library as the place to turn for information 5.

Beginning the Process

After an initial assessment of the risks to your library, writing a response plan to address those risks is the next step. What should be included in an Emergency Preparedness plan? A basic plan should include the risk assessment, a communication plan, a list of actions to take, a plan for assessment of damages, salvage priorities, a list of supplies and where they are located and recovery plans, including vendors who can help with recovery.

There are many tools and resources available to libraries to assist with writing an emergency preparedness plan 6 .Two tools that will be discussed here include The Pocket Response Plan (PReP) ™ and dPlan™ .

The Pocket Response Plan (PReP) ™ 7 is a concise one page document for recording essential information. The focus of PReP™ is to collect all the contact information and other essential information needed by staff in case of a disaster. This is all recorded on a single legal size paper that is designed to fold up to the size of a credit card. Developed by the Council of State Archivists, developing this tool is an easy way to jump start the planning process.

The tool that is recommended to its member medical libraries by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Southeast Atlantic Region, Emergency Preparedness Regional Advisory Committee is dPlan™ 8. This is a free online tool with a comprehensive fill-in-the-blank template that is appropriate for any kind of library because of its scalability. It was created by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). Because it is a template, it will guide you through the steps ensuring that you have all the recommended components included such as contact information for staff and key personnel, preventive maintenance checklists and salvage techniques. Since it is online, you can do a little at a time, and your work is saved each time you exit the online tool. However, once completed all the sections, dPlan™ will generate a printed disaster plan specific to your institution. In addition you may update you plan at any time to reflect the changes that occur at your institution.

Continuity of Services

In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaged or destroyed all types of libraries in their paths indiscriminately. Between Mississippi and Louisiana, 141 public libraries were damaged or destroyed, and 33 academic institutions reported damage to their libraries 9. In addition, many hospitals and other special libraries were affected. Although an extreme case of natural disaster, this speaks to the need for libraries to prepare and it raises the question of the role of libraries in their communities, and how libraries may continue to provide essential services. Local public libraries serve as resources beyond the books they may provide. They serve as community centers, places where people turn to network and to reach out beyond the walls of the library through computers and the Internet. The Gulf coast disaster in 2005 revealed that while academic libraries often did not have to provide services because their institution closed, public libraries were overwhelmed with demands for information and services9 and medical libraries began providing information as soon as organized medicine began again.

The ability to provide continuity of service begins with identifying the services that are essential, and most likely to be needed by the community served by your library. It continues by including those services in your Emergency Response Plan in order to build in the capacity to provide these services. Rather than thinking of continuity of services planning as yet another step after writing the Emergency Response Plan, the current thinking, as stated by Anne M. Candreva, CIO of the Brooklyn Public Library “If the three components of disaster planning are preparation, mitigation, and recovery, the recovery component would be the continuity part 10 .

Forming Strategic Partnerships

One way to continue to provide some services is to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with another library. An MOU is an agreement with another library that outlines what you services you could provide in a situation when your “buddy library” is unable to provide those services. An example of this might be interlibrary loan. One model MOU was developed by the New Jersey Hospital Association and is being widely adopted by health sciences libraries11. Working through an emergency or disaster will require assistance and the time to identify strategic partners is BEFORE the event not AFTER. By establishing relationships now, your library will be in a better position if a disaster or emergency arises.

In addition to the partnerships that might be in place with “buddy libraries” through MOU’s, there are other strategic partnerships to be developed as part of your preparation. What are some examples of strategic partners? Your parent institution should be your first strategic partner. Find out if your institution has an Emergency Preparedness Committee or a plan in place and determine who is in charge. If the library is not included in the plans, offer to join the committee or contribute to the planning so that your library will be included. If you are not part of an institution, perhaps your regional library system has a plan in place. If not, be the one to start the conversation! The Tennessee State Library & Archives is another important partner for public libraries in Tennessee. They have developed a web site with a list of resources and have the capacity to provide a limited amount of freezer space for water damaged collections12 .

Library professional organizations are good resources, and identifying the role they can play in your libraries emergency planning or recovery is an important part of your planning. The American Library Association, Medical Library Association and Public Library Association all have web sites developed to assist the members of their organizations. The Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) is a not-for-profit membership organization which serves libraries in the Southeast. The SOLINET Preservation Field Service Program offers emergency disaster assistance to member libraries, including 24 hour a day telephone and email consultation during disaster. They also offer training on methods of salvage of collections13 .

The final strategic partner category to consider is your vendors. Finding out what your vendors can do to continue to provide access to your paid resources to your community if your library is damaged or destroyed. Having access to your online resources during an emergency will make it possible for continuity of service in this important area of service.

Librarians have demonstrated the capacity to handle many adversarial conditions during disasters as reported in the literature. But the most successful stories are of those libraries that were most prepared by assessing their risks, mitigating the damage through planning and by utilizing resources and services available to them during recovery. Make your story a success, start your emergency planning today.


1. Heritage health index results. Available at: Accessed July 8, 2008.
2. Green SL, Teper TH. The importance of disaster planning for the small public library. Public Library Quarterly. 2006;25:47-59.
3. Tennessee emergency management agency. Available at: Accessed July 8, 2008.
4. Haley J. Preparing for disaster….how can we help? Tennessee Library Association panel, April 2008.
5. Block M. One with the community. Library Journal 2007;132:52(1).
6. Strudwick J. A selected bibliography of library disaster stories: Before, during, and after. Public Library Quarterly. 2006;25:7-16.
7. Council of State Archivists Pocket Response Plan (PReP) ™ Available at: Accessed July 8, 2008.
8. dPlan™: The online disaster-planning tool. Available at: Accessed July 8, 2008.
9. Nevins K, Nyberg S. SOLINET's Gulf Coast libraries recovery projects for public and academic libraries. Public Library Quarterly. 2006;25:215-223.
10. Kuzyk R. Serving through disaster. Library Journal. 2007; 132:26-29.
11. National network of libraries of medicine: Emergency and preparedness toolkit. Available at:
12. Tennessee state library and archives: Public library manager’s toolkit. Available at: Accessed July 8, 2008.
13. Solinet: Preservation. Available at: Accessed July 8, 2008.

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