SLA's Response to Natural Disasters

By Robertson, Davenport Dav | Information Outlook, October 2005 | Go to article overview

SLA's Response to Natural Disasters


Robertson, Davenport Dav, Information Outlook


Tsunami, flood, hurricane, or earthquake--what role can SLA play in the aftermath of a natural disaster? How can information professionals be of assistance?

Following the tsunami of December 26, 2004, SLA set out to answer these questions. Then-President Ethel Salonen created the Task Force on Natural Disasters to investigate ways in which information professionals could apply the skills and knowledge expressed in the SLA Competencies to assist in relief, recovery, and reconstruction efforts. As a result, when Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast on August 29, SLA had a communications tool, IPANDAnet, in place to respond to the catastrophe. IPANDAnet (http://slablogger.typepad.com/ipandanet/) is an SLA Weblog that serves as a forum to exchange information between information professionals and those involved in relief and recovery efforts. Established by the task force after the tsunami, IPANDA (an acronym for Information Professionals Alliance on Natural Disasters and Accidents) is a network of volunteers who stand ready to provide information assistance to librarians and information professionals who work for relief agencies and to the relief workers themselves. The volunteers also assist special librarians and information professionals who have been seriously affected by a disaster. The IPANDA network includes volunteers with a wide range of subject skills and volunteers who have experience with library recovery efforts.

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The IPANDA response center was announced in "SLA Connections" on Earth Day, April 22. By May 1, the announcement resulted in 16 definite volunteers and expressions of qualified interest from dozens more. Several of the volunteers are in organizations like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, which are helping to fund reconstruction efforts in tsunami-stricken South Asia, and the Australian Red Cross. Some are in India and Indonesia. Some have Peace Corps connections.

Following Hurricane Katrina, SLA notified selected nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations, announcing the service. Librarians in these organizations are the targets, at first, and they can choose to distribute the announcement to their workers in the field or use the response center themselves. The idea is to start with limited exposure and build up experience. Later, the plan is to expand to all NGOs involved in disaster relief, recovery, and reconstruction.

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The Task Force

When the tsunami hit South Asia, people around the world felt the grief of one of the worst disasters in history. Immediately, people wanted to know how to donate money for the relief effort. Members of SLA were no different, and within days, the association set up a Web page and spreadsheet listing the charities and other relief agencies to which our members could make contributions. SLA's rapid response set an example for other associations to use.

In those days, as the number of casualties rose and the world grasped the extent of the devastation, some SLA members began discussing whether SLA could do more. Our members are caring, motivated, and knowledgeable people with great potential for being of service to others. Could there be a role for information professionals to play in responding to this and other natural disasters? Some SLA members thought there could, and President Salonen appointed a task force to look into it. She asked me to chair the task force and to take advantage of the upcoming SLA Leadership Summit in Tampa in January to generate interest and ideas. At the meeting, Salonen announced the initiative to the leadership and I convened a focus group that brainstormed and came up with suggestions. The momentum generated in Tampa led to the appointment on February 2 of the task force.

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There were four key points in the charge to the task force:

* Use the expertise of information professionals. …

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