Writing the Disaster Response Plan: Going Beyond Shouting "Help! Help!"
Louisiana Tech University
Librarians don't like to think about disasters damaging books and
library materials. But a look at the library literature reveals a long
list of disasters affecting libraries. These disasters include fires,
floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and workplace violence. Any
of these disasters has the potential to harm the library's collections,
the building, the library employees, and the library users. In addition
to potential damage, the disaster may disrupt the services that the
library offers to its users. Having a disaster response plan in place
before a disaster strikes can help the library minimize the impact of a
disaster and restore collections and services in an optimum time.
A library disaster is a threat that might cause harm to the library
collection, building, staff, or users, or it is an unscheduled
disruption of normal library services.
Library disasters may be dramatic:
* Bomb threat
* Civil disturbance or riot
* Work-place violence
* Hostage situation
Any of these disasters has the potential for damage to the library
building and collections, or could result in a disruption of services.
Some disasters, while less dramatic than the previous list, are equally
threatening to the library collection, staff, and users:
* High temperatures
* High or low humidity
* Mold and mildew
These disasters, although subtle, still require valuable time and
attention of the library administrators and staff. In addition,
remedying these disasters can require considerable monetary resources
from the library.
The disaster response plan is a document that describes the steps a
library takes to prepare for and prevent a disaster and, should a
disaster occur, the procedures the library will follow to respond to the
disaster and recover from it.
In this paper, we will look at the following topics:
* Objectives and Purpose of the Disaster Response Plan
* Disaster Response Plan
* Disaster Response Team
* Emergency Instructions
* Priorities for Salvaging Materials
* Contents of the Disaster Response Closet
* Disaster Response Reports
* Special Problems during a Disaster
* Format of the Disaster Response Plan
On the 1999 Biennial Survey of Depository Libraries, we were asked to
respond to Question 11: Does the library have a disaster response plan
in which the Federal depository collection is included? Of responding
libraries, 57% answered Yes, 43% answered No.
Objectives and Purpose of the Disaster Response Plan
In writing a disaster response plan, it is important to keep in mind
several objectives for the finished plan:
* To anticipate possible disaster and introduce measures to reduce
the effects should a disaster occur
* To ensure that library staff are informed and trained in disaster
* To ensure that trained professionals frequently inspect the building
* To ensure that disaster response procedures are well planned
* To ensure that disaster supplies and equipment are on hand or
* To establish priorities to determine the order in which items are
rescued and recovered
* To establish contact with contractors and consultants who
specialize in disaster response
* To ensure that normal conditions and services are re-established
as soon as possible after a disaster
* To ensure that the library introduces feed-back mechanisms to
evaluate the effectiveness of the disaster response plan
A library disaster can occur at any time of day or night. Thus, it is
impossible to know in advance who will discover a disaster. It may be a
custodian, a security person, a stack page, or a librarian. You should
compile a disaster response plan that provides useful information to the
first person on the scene regardless of the person's expertise. The
disaster response plan should:
* Outline initial action to be taken in event of a disaster
* Outline long-term steps to complete a recovery effort
* Provide contacts with personnel essential to a successful recovery
During any emergency or disaster, the protection and safety of human
life must be the unquestioned first priority of all persons involved
with the salvage effort. Do not enter, or allow others to enter, a
damaged or flooded area until officials declare it safe. All library
staff and volunteers who assist in a salvage effort should understand
that they should never risk their own safety to protect or rescue
library materials. A human life, unlike books and materials, cannot be
Disaster Response Plan
The process of writing the disaster response plan consists of four steps:
* Survey the library building and grounds
* Outline the disaster response plan
* Write the plan
* Revise, revise, revise
Begin the writing process with a survey of the library building and
grounds. Monitor indoor air quality for temperature, humidity, mold, and
mildew. Monitor the collections and building for pests. Look for
potential hazards both inside and outside the building. Clean up
potential trouble spots such as obstructions near exits or old paint
cans stored in mechanical rooms. Outside the building, look for tree
limbs that overhang the building or clogged drains on the roof or in the
After a survey of the building and grounds, outline the disaster
response plan. Involve library administrators, librarians, and support
staff in the process because any disaster in the library will somehow
affect all these groups. Everyone working in the library needs to have
an investment in the disaster response plan. Identify the disaster
response team, and assign duties to the team members. Determine the
priorities for rescuing and salvaging library materials. Anticipate
disasters that affect either small or large areas of the library, or
that affect the community as a whole such as tornado, earthquake, or
hurricane. During a major disaster affecting the entire community, where
will the library turn for resources? Plan for damage to computers and
electrical equipment. Establish a communications policy that identifies
the library's official spokesperson as well as an official
communications outlet. Contact suppliers, contractors, and consultants
who specialize in disaster response to identify the services that meet
the library's needs and budget.
If you have done a good job in surveying the facilities and outlining
the disaster response plan, writing the plan will be easy. Compile a
phone tree of the disaster response team. Compile the list of priorities
for rescue and salvage. Compile a list of suppliers, contractors, and
consultants with which the library will do business. Finally, write down
all steps the library will take to recovery from a disaster.
Revising the disaster response plan is an ongoing, never-ending process.
To be effective, the disaster response plan must be current and
accurate. You should review the disaster response plan at least once
each year and revise as needed.
Disaster Response Team
An essential part of an effective response is a good disaster response
team. The disaster response team is an on-going group who work
constantly on identifying contractors and consultants, refining recovery
priorities, and developing recovery techniques. Because of the members'
work in advance of a disaster, the team is ready to swing into action
when a disaster occurs. Each team member has a specific role to play. A
disaster response team might include the following members:
* Team Leader
* Recovery Specialist
* Crew Manager
* Supplies and Transportation Manager
* Communications Manager
* Keeper of the Disaster Response Plan
* Others as needed
The Team Leader manages any recovery and salvage operation and
coordinates recovery activities. After consulting with other members of
the team, the Team Leader determines the level of response based on
established priorities and the scope of the disaster. The Team Leader
handles publicity and public relations such as requesting volunteers.
The Recovery Specialist stays current on recovery procedures by reading
the literature and attending conferences and meetings. With the
knowledge gained through these experiences, the Recovery Specialist
develops specific recovery procedures for the library. By training
library staff and volunteers, the Recovery Specialist ensures that
appropriate recovery and salvage procedures are followed.
The Crew Manager assembles and coordinates work crews of library staff
and volunteers. In addition, the Crew Manager controls the flow of
materials into and out of the recovery center. Because breaks, food, and
refreshments can help improve the morale of work crews, the Crew Manager
arranges for these amenities. After a disaster, the Crew Manager should
recognize volunteers who help in a recovery project.
The Supplies and Transportation Manager, working with the Recovery
Specialist, determines the supplies that the library needs to keep on
hand for immediate response in the event of a disaster. As the person in
charge of the disaster response closet, the Supplies and Transportation
Manager issues supplies to work crews. In addition, the Supplies and
Transportation Manager arranges transportation of library materials that
are sent to commercial salvage companies.
The Recorder maintains the list of priorities for recovery. This list is
also included in the copies of the disaster response plan. The Recorder
tracks damaged materials sent from the library building. In addition,
the Recorder corrects the library's holding records when material is
The Photographer helps document a disaster and subsequent recovery
effort by photographing or video-taping the damage to the building,
collections, and furniture. It is important that the Photographer keep a
careful record of the date and time of the photos or videos. When a
damaged area is declared safe to enter, the Photographer should
photograph or video an area before any clean up work is done as well as
after an area is cleaned.
The Communications Manager operates the library communications center
and handles incoming and outgoing calls.
The Keeper of the Disaster Response Plan, working with other members of
the disaster response team, coordinates all activities concerning the
disaster response plan. As the principal writer of the disaster response
plan, the Keeper revises pages or sections as needed. The master copy of
the disaster response plan is held by the Keeper. At least once each
year, the Keeper asks all members of the disaster response team to bring
in their copies of the plan for review and revision.
In the course of writing a disaster response plan, the library staff may
decide that they want or need other team members. Positions should be
created and duties assigned as needed.
All library personnel should have a copy of emergency instructions that
cover severe weather, earthquake, fire, flood, bomb threat, and
work-place violence. The emergency instructions should include
evacuation procedures. In the event of evacuation from the building, the
library should have a designated gathering point for all library
personnel. At the designated gathering point, officials can take a head
count to determine if all employees got out successfully. In addition to
evacuation from the building, the emergency instructions should include
information on evacuation to a designated emergency shelter.
Priorities for Salvaging Materials
It is essential that the library administrators and staff agree in
advance on the priorities for salvage. Because mold and mildew growth
may begin within 48 hours of materials getting wet, the library must
know in advance which materials will be salvaged and which will not. The
larger the scale of the disaster, the more important the priorities
become. In establishing priorities, the library administration and staff
must think of the library as a whole, not just in terms of a unit or a
department. The priorities are important in the aftermath of a disaster
to help everyone to work together on the recovery effort.
Several questions are important in determining priorities for salvage:
* Is the material critical for the ongoing operation of the library?
* Is the material available in another format or another nearby
* Would replacement cost more or less than restoration?
* Is the piece rare or important to the library's collection?
* Does the piece require immediate attention (clay-coated paper,
vellum, or water-soluble ink)?
When establishing priorities for salvage, there are some suggested
categories of material to consider:
* First priority. These are the materials judged essential to the
library operation. Examples could include
- Unique office files including personnel files, financial
records, and insurance policies. Before establishing this material as a
first priority, determine if some or all of the material is duplicated
in a central file for the city, county, or campus. You may find that
portions of these files are duplicated and thus could be easily
reconstructed. If so, that portion of the office file would be a lower
- Irreplaceable items such as unique books and manuscripts.
- Record copy of theses and dissertations. For decades, many
academic libraries have microfilmed theses and dissertations. Some
libraries are now digitizing them. Whether film or digital, it is a good
idea to store a copy outside the library building.
* Second priority
- Rare books - Microform master copies.
The library can establish as many levels of priority as are judged
necessary to the library's operation.
Contents of the Disaster Response Closet
To respond effectively to a disaster, the library should keep essential
supplies on hand. Although it is not necessary to keep these supplies in
a closet, some level of security is important to keep materials from
getting used in everyday operations. The Supplies and Transportation
Manager controls the disaster response closet and issues materials as
needed. Keys to the disaster response closet should be readily
accessible at all times, even when the library is closed. A list of
materials to have on hand in case of emergency includes:
* Wet-dry shop vac
* Electric fans
* Heavy-duty, grounded extension cords
* Plastic sheeting to drape book stacks and furniture to protect
them from a ceiling leak
* Unprinted newsprint to cover work tables to protect them from
* Freezer wrap for covering wet materials going to a commercial
* Waxed paper to interleave books with clay-coated pages
* Latex or rubber gloves
* Small plastic buckets
* Paper towels and sponges
* Masking tape and duct tape
* CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER tape and signs
* Monofilament line (fishing line) to hang signs
* Dust masks
* Rescubes® and plastic milk crates for moving wet materials
* Cleaning products and disinfectants
Disaster Response Reports
After each disaster, regardless of how minor, an appropriate individual,
usually the librarian responsible for the area where the disaster
occurred, should write a disaster response report summarizing the
incident. Because the disaster response report will create institutional
memory about the disaster, you should write the report for the
librarians who will work in the building five to ten years in the
future. To record the incident fully, the disaster response report
* The date and time of the disaster
* The area of the library affected by the disaster
* A description of the disaster
* An approximate number of pieces affected
* The immediate response taken
* The long-term actions taken
* The amount of time rescuers spent on the recovery operation
* The results or impact of the disaster
* A description and number of pieces discarded, if any
* The financial impact of the disaster including human resources,
supplies, replacement materials
* The photographs or videos made by the Photographer
The person writing the disaster response report should send copies of it
to each of the following files or individuals:
* Library department or unit files
* Appropriate library administrator
* Keeper of the Disaster Response Plan
The library administrators and the disaster response team should review
the disaster response reports annually to identify trends and to
determine the costs of disasters. By analyzing the disaster response
reports, the library administration can establish maintenance priorities
for the library building and grounds.
November 20, 2009 4:35 AM
Special Problems during a Disaster
There are special problems that need particular attention during the
response to a disaster:
* Mold and mildew. The spores of some molds and mildews are toxic to
humans, causing flu-like symptoms and even death. Anyone with asthma,
mold allergies, chronic respiratory disease, or a compromised immune
system should not enter an area until it is clean, dry, and tested for
molds and mildew.
* Asbestos in the building creates problems. While dry flakes of
asbestos can be cleaned from books, there is no recognized way to
salvage books and library materials that are wet with water contaminated
* Electric equipment and computers that have been wet should be
treated carefully. Because of potential shock hazards, a professional
electrician should check all circuits and equipment before the
electricity is turned on.
Format of the Disaster Response Plan
Consider creating two versions of the disaster response plan: a master
copy and working copies. The master copy, which should be held by the
Keeper of the Disaster Response Plan, includes features that are not in
the working copies. These additional features could include a purpose
statement, the disaster response reports, and the revision table. By
contrast, the working copies, which are distributed to the disaster
response team and to public service points in the library, are
stripped-down versions of the master copy and are utilitarian. They have
no material that does not directly address disaster response. The
working copies have no introduction, no purpose statement, and no
disaster response reports.
The format of the disaster response plan can help users understand
instructions and take proper action. Make the plan easy to use. If the
plan is hard to use, people won't use it. Don't make responders wade
through verbiage to find information. In formatting the plan, consider
how it will be used. The person using the disaster response plan is
facing a disaster and will probably be under some stress. The plan will
probably have few prose paragraphs. Instead it will consist primarily of
lists, tables, charts, and floor plans.
The writing style should be clear, concise, and consistent. Be certain
the reader can understand the instructions you have written. If
possible, test the instructions on library staff and others to see if
they can understand an instruction without additional information. If
the test subjects have questions or do not understand an instruction,
rewrite the instruction until the test subject understands it. Use the
active voice and the imperative mood. Use precise room numbers and other
locations. Avoid acronyms; the person using the response plan may not be
familiar with library acronyms. Do not write an instruction that states
"Go in the ILS office, and turn off the main switch." The responder may
not know what ILS means or where that office is located. Instead write
an instruction with a precise room number: "Go in room 105, and turn off
the main switch."
In addition to being clear, the disaster response plan should be
concise. Don't use unnecessary words. There will be few adjectives in
the disaster response plan. Be sure to include all relevant information
without floundering in unnecessary details.
The final key is to be consistent both in word usage and page layout. By
presenting the material in a consistent manner, you help the reader
understand the instructions. Be consistent in the use of terms and
titles. If you refer to the Government Documents Department in one
sentence and in the next, refer to the Government Documents Unit, the
reader may question if you are referring to the same entity. Eliminate
potential confusion by consistent use of terms.
In addition to consistent use of terms, help the reader understand the
instructions by using a consistent page design and layout. A consistent
page layout gives the reader visual clues that help in understanding the
information. Consider using a bold sans serif face (such as Arial Bold)
for headers and a serif face (such as Times New Roman) for text. In
addition to being consistent in the use of typefaces, be consistent in
the layout of the page. Put the title and other information in the same
place on each page. The reader can then anticipate where and how the
instructions are presented. Use white space to guide the reader's
attention to important information.
Make the plan easy to revise. If the plan is hard to revise, you won't
revise it. Because the plan has to be current to be useful, the
information in it should be revised as often as needed. In the next part
of this paper is a list of sections that may be included in the disaster
response plan. The plan will be easier to revise if each of these
sections starts on a new page.
To make the plan both easy to use and revise, put the pages in plastic
page protectors in a 3-ring binder. Use clear index tabs to indicate
sections. Date and initial every revision, no matter how minor.
Suggested Outline for the Disaster Response Plan
At a minimum, a good disaster response plan will include the following
* Emergency telephone numbers
* Disaster response team members and duties
* Emergency instructions
* Priorities for salvaging materials
* Recovery techniques and procedures for salvaging damaged books
* Inventory of the disaster response closet , location of keys to
the disaster response closet
* Disaster response reports (master copy only)
* List of contractors and service providers who specialize in
* Resources such as large freezers
* Distribution of copies of the disaster response plan
* Revision table (master copy only).
Distribution of Copies
Distribute copies of the disaster response plan to appropriate people
* Provide members of the disaster response team with two copies: one
to keep at work, the other to keep at home.
* Provide library administrators with two copies: one to keep at
work, the other to keep at home.
* Provide all public service points in the library with one copy
* Provide library security with one copy
* Provide city or campus safety office with one copy
* Provide other concerned offices with one copy.
My daddy always said, "Hope for the best, but plan for the worse." If
you are lucky, your library will never need to use the disaster response
plan. If, on the other hand, your library does suffer a disaster, you
will be ready with information that should help achieve the best
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