Blogger Heather Acerro

Update Your Disaster Plan!

Do you know what to do if your auditorium space turns into a lake? It is much better to plan now than to figure out what to do with water puddling at your feet!

Overnight, on September 22nd, 3,500 gallons of water poured from the mechanical room on the third floor of the Rochester Public Library (MN). Staff opening the building on Sunday found several inches of standing water in the central core of all three floors of the building. The library’s physical materials collection was largely unaffected, but staff areas and meeting rooms were severely damaged. Rochester Public Library is a two story main library with Youth Services and fiction, movies, and music for adults on the first floor and Reference Services, non-fiction materials, and adult public internet stations on the second floor. Without branch libraries in the community, Rochester and Olmsted County residents rely on the main building and a bookmobile for library services.

We are still in the midst of clean up and repair so we aren’t finished learning our lessons, but we do have a few pointers to share based on our experiences so far:

        1. Keep important information (such as phone numbers for staff, disaster plan, contacts for recovery work, etc) printed and available both at the library and at home. We have “Disaster Plan” binders that include: staff contact information, emergency contacts (locksmith, gas company, electric company, emergency management, recovery services, etc), library closure procedures, and plans for specific emergencies.
        2. It is going to take longer than you think to get back to normal, plan long term from the start of the disaster.
        3. Establish a Command Center to help answer community questions, direct staff and volunteers, and serve as a headquarters for leaders to make informed and unified decisions.
        4. Create a timeline document to keep track of what happened, future appointments, staff schedules, to-do lists, and more.
        5. Communicate, communicate, communicate with the public. Plan to get out regular press releases to the community. We had daily press releases for the first week, and approximately weekly thereafter.
        6. Communicate, communicate, communicate with your team. We started a quick meeting with all available staff every morning. Not only did we have the opportunity to let the team know what was happening, but everyone was able to ask questions.  Honestly, some of our best creative thinking came out of these 10-15 minute meetings.
        7. Have a portable white board in the building! Ours has been extremely useful for communicating with staff, tracking agendas, and more. There is so much happening at the same time that you can’t keep it all in your head.  The board allowed us to keep track of discussions we needed to have and information we needed quickly.
        8. Outline a formal documentation plan to help capture damage through photographs and text for future replacement activities and insurance paperwork. We created a spreadsheet to link photos and information about damaged areas.
        9. It is going to take more of your time than you think. During the first 7 days, I was at the library for 77.5 hours and I wasn’t alone! Even one month later, members of the leadership team are still dedicating much of their time each day to recovery projects or staffing our Command Center.
        10. Some customer service is better than no customer service. Even without your physical space at 100%, are there things you can do to continue to serve the community? We had to close for three days for water extraction, but were able to offer Bookmobile service just outside of the library for one of those days. When we were able to open the first floor, we offered public internet access for adults and reference services at temporary tables. Not ideal, but it was appreciated by the community.
        11. That said, consider the things that you need to put on hold so that you have time to work on recovery and provide basic customer service.
        12. I want to reiterate that it is going to take longer than you think to get back to normal. One month after the water leak, we were finally able to open part of our 2nd floor, but we still do not have access to the bulk of our programming spaces.
        13. You are going to find out what your team is made of through this disaster. It turns out, ours is made up of resourceful, strong, creative, positive, and dedicated individuals. We are also lucky enough to have the support of our other city departments, as well as community partners.

      We still have a long way to go until we are back to normal and plenty of things to learn. Stay tuned for more information!

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