Administrative and Management Skills

Update Your Disaster Plan! Part 2

Auditorium space with construction equipment


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. In October I shared 13 lessons from the disaster, here are 11 more:

  1. It is going to take longer than you think to get back to normal. Two months after the water leak we have the 2nd floor partiHallway with drywall cut awayally open, and no access to our Auditorium space. After initial estimates for repairs were made, we exceeded the state expenditure threshold, and we needed a formal bid process. This process will add months to our recovery.
  2. Be creative! Is there a way to get part of the building back up and running while you wait for full recovery? We were fortunately able to expedite Auditorium repairs and we should have it open within the next two weeks.
  3. Say thank you a lot. We are grateful to staff who jumped in to help with whatever was needed and to the community for their continued support. We tell them thank you as often as we can.
  4. Take care of each other. Disasters are stressful times. Be sure to check in with yourself and your teammates. Is everyone getting enough water, food, and rest? Make announcements to remind people to take a break, the work will still be there. Consider having someone from your Employee Assistance Program out to talk with staff about the stress.
  5. Be ready to do anything. Here is a short list of some of the tasks we needed to get done: photographing and documenting damage; fire walking (while the sprinkler system was disabled we had someone walk all three floors of the building watching for fire); moving wet items; discarding wet items; drying wet items (we had to dry thousands of library cards); and solving problems (where can we store things; who knows someone with a forklift; how can we provide customer service; etc.).Cords and debris
  6. Be forgiving. In a stressful situation, we don’t always behave the best, recognize this and give your teammates a pass. Forgive yourself if you can’t get something done. My email inbox and calendar were overflowing with work for September 23rd, but I didn’t get to touch any of it for several weeks. Forgive yourself tomorrow for the decisions you make today. You can only use the information you have available at a particular point in time.
  7. Have some fun! Youth Services staff has really enjoyed offering programs in our public spaces. We have gotten better attendance at teen afterschool programs by having them right in our teen space. Storytimes attract older kids and families who aren’t familiar with the programs by being right at our entrance. We even catch some adults listening in.
  8. Consider a yearly cleaning day. We do have a yearly cleaning day where we focus on cleaning our offices and shared workspaces when we are not providing public service. Even with these annual events, we realized we maybe save a little more than we need to. There is nothing like a wet, soggy mess to make you realize that maybe you didn’t need those obsolete erasable typewriter ribbons or that big box of old catalog cards.
  9. Be flexible. Even with a disaster plan, you may not know exactly what to do or you may decide to do something differently. Trust yourself and trust your team to make the best decisions based on current available information.
  10. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. A disaster will bring to light the strengths and weaknesses in your team and that is just fine! Shift work and duties around so that everyone can shine. There is no need to force someone who is terrible at math to try to figure out how many pallets you need to store 500 linear feet of magazines, let your math wiz do that work!
  11. Be ready to disagree. With so many decisions being made rapidly, you are going to disagree with your team. Embrace it and don’t take it personally! Discussions with a lot of varying ideas are how we get to our best decisions.

As I said over a month ago, we still have a long way to go until we are back to normal. We are existing now in a “new normal” and we are doing well. As we continue to learn, we will keep sharing lessons.

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