When Disaster Strikes

posted Nov 27, 2011, 7:12 PM by jj pionke
Recently, I had the distinct privilege to attend a one day Disaster Planning Workshop given by the fabulous Julie Page from WESTPAS.  Julie is one of the best disaster planners in the country.  Before you get all up in arms about planning a disaster, the workshop is about prevention and what to do when disaster strikes.  

I've always enjoyed a good disaster.  I know.  That's horrible to say, but I do have a penchant for apocalyptic Hollywood films where the world ends in some spectacular fashion.  That said, Julie's workshop was fascinating.  Did you know that everyday, there is one library in America that is subjected to arson?  You would think that things like fire and flood wouldn't happen in this day and age but they do, frequently.  A library will have an event on average about every five years or so.  Sometimes these events are small, sometimes they are on the order of the LA Library Fire in 1986.  The workshop was great because Julie is a dynamic speaker and the first half of the day was dedicated to lecture/show and tell.  The second half of the day focused more hands on - we were divided up into groups and put into a pressure/dynamic situation that changed every few minutes which really highlighted what we learned and what we would do.  After that, we had hands on exercise where we got to pick up and spread out books that had been sitting in water for hours, digital media that had been immersed, and a mass of photographs and pamphlets that had also been immersed in water.  The hands on part was awesome in part because seeing how heavy a wet book really is was invaluable.

How often do we really think about disaster?  How often do we think about being ready for it?  Do you have your emergency backpack?  One of the appalling things that I learned in this workshop is that most of the institutions in America don't have any kind of disaster plan other than the standard, here is a fire escape route.  There is very little or no planning about what to do if fire or flood hits the collection or what staff can do to minimize the damage if it happens.  I hope that wherever I land up, if they have no disaster plan, I can advocate for one, and if they do have a plan that I can advocate for a review to make it better.  From what I saw in the workshop, an ounce of prevention is mostly certainly worth a pound of cure.