Magazine article American Libraries

Oklahoma City Bomb Explosion Closes Downtown Library

Magazine article American Libraries

Oklahoma City Bomb Explosion Closes Downtown Library

Article excerpt

"I thought for all the world a plane had crashed on our building or an adjoining building," said Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System Director Lee Brawner. It was only after the staff was quickly evacuated from the downtown library building that they learned of the explosion that devastated the nearby federal office building Apr. 19.

No customers were in the library when the blast occurred just after the building opened at 9 a.m. Of the 60 or so staff on duty at that time, only two were injured, receiving minor cuts; one was treated at the scene and the other went to a local hospital and was released that day. The explosion blew out 90% of the windows in the 44-year-old, four-story building, located just two blocks south of the blast site.

Brawner had just started a meeting with Director of Development Ernestine Clark when the bomb went off, catapulting the two across the room. Following the library's disaster-preparedness plan, staff evacuated the building in less than three minutes, according to Julia Fresonke, public information officer. Fresonke said staff had practiced the procedure frequently over the past year, "and everyone just fell right into line."

As staff gathered in a nearby parking lot, they were still uncertain about what had happened. Fresonke said they thought a gas line had exploded. Word of the bomb spread as victims who had been closer to the explosion began turning up in the parking lot.

After some 15 minutes, Brawner told the staff (other than maintenance workers needed to help secure the building) to go home, with instructions to gather the next morning at the Belle Isle branch. However, staffers were unable to reach their cars parked in a lot just east of the federal building, which was cordoned off. Access to the lot was prohibited for several days; some cars were towed by the police and others suffered major damage from the explosion.

Brawner and the maintenance crew stayed behind to secure the building but were forced to leave the site about an hour later due to a threat of a second bomb. They returned later that day to cover the windows, putting wood over the ground-floor windows and plastic on those on the higher floors. That night the FBI came by to obtain tapes from the library's surveillance cameras that pan the alley behind the building.

The following day when the downtown staff reported to Belle Isle, a psychologist was brought in to discuss the disaster and ways to handle reactions. Fresonke said that the psychologist told the staff, "You're going to have to cope with a loss of normalcy. The normal' that you had yesterday doesn't exist anymore. Part of the recovery process is finding a new `normal.'"

Book-by-book cleanup

Brawner told AL he expected that interior repairs--mainly replacing lighting fixtures and ceiling tiles--would be completed by mid-May. At that time, staff can return to the building to begin its cleanup. Although a commercial company has cleared out debris and cleaned carpets, furniture, and equipment, each book must be vacuumed to remove dirt and glass. Staff will have to wear protective materials and use hand-vacuums, wipes, and other equipment to clean each book in the 200,000-volume collection. Brawner said area libraries have offered to assist in the effort.

An engineering firm that inspected the building two days after the blast found no structural damage. "It didn't even throw the books off the shelves," marveled Fresonke. …

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