Fires, Earthquakes and Floods: How to Prepare Your Library

By Kahn, Miriam | Online, May 1994 | Go to article overview

Fires, Earthquakes and Floods: How to Prepare Your Library


Kahn, Miriam, Online


Interruptions in routine happen every day. The boss needs something yesterday, the client is demanding or the printer breaks down. We modify our routines to deal with these disruptions. It's all part of a working day. But when the power goes out, or the phone lines are down or the building is inaccessible because of fire, or flood or worse--then we have a disaster on our hands. Adrenaline levels increase, chaos ensues and our ability to work is hampered by the external situation and administrative roadblocks. Planning ahead to prevent and respond to disasters is essential for swift resumption of services.

Events during the past two years have shown that no one can be too prepared for a disaster. No one should be naive enough to believe their information center or library is safe. The floods in Chicago's service tunnels (April 1992) dislocated workers for at least two days if not weeks. Hurricane Andrew (August 1992) wreaked havoc on companies and staff members, many of whom lost homes, compounding their inability to cope with problems at work.

The World Trade Center bombing (February 1993) forced hundreds of businesses to move and many information centers to relocate while still trying to offer full service. Cities along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers were flooded (June and July 1993), keeping workers at home until waters subsided and cities' infrastructures were restored. During work on this article, on January 17, the Los Angeles area was struck by an earthquake that damaged buildings and cut utility lines. Libraries and other cultural institutions of all sizes were affected. UCLA libraries had as many as one million books on the floor. Information centers in corporations were affected by loss of electricity and building inaccessibility.

Disasters can happen to any business, library, corporation or home. Despite such major interruptions, however, library services must continue or resume quickly. The alternative is to jeopardize hard-won success, and all the effort spent promoting, marketing and building an information center will be for naught.

Let's look at how some information centers and special libraries have dealt with their disasters. Then, at what you can do to minimize the crisis and disruption in routine should a disaster strike your library.

FIRE AT BANKERS TRUST

On January 31, 1993, Bankers Trust had a fire. The flames and smoke did minimal damage to the information center, but forced all the traders and the library to relocate until asbestos was removed and the damage repaired. The bank set up a command center in a branch location nearby. Carol Ginsburg, the librarian, sent a library staff member to her own home to work, and another staff member went home to work on her computer system. Both began providing reference and information services from these remote locations. Fortunately, they had suitable home computer equipment to provide limited service until Carol could find a better, more central location. Messages were sent via e-mail and voice mail to tell Bankers Trust employees how to contact the information center and the hours staff would be available.

A colleague offered a conference room with phone lines. Carol scrambled to arrange for computers, passwords, duplicate manuals and software to provide reference services from their temporary location. Online services were contacted to inform them of the new location and needs for duplicate documentation. Document delivery accounts were established to ensure easy, swift access to materials for the brokers. The conference room became a busy information hub--notes with phone numbers for online services, technical support and colleagues, and other vital information were taped to the walls. The library staff was rotated to increase productivity and relieve stress under the less-than-ideal conditions.

The Bankers Trust information center was fortunate. They returned to their offices in two weeks, and things returned to normal after another three weeks of cleaning, filing and catching up with regular and interrupted work. …

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