DATE: November 07, 2008
Libraries to Serve as Disaster Recovery Centers
Libraries are often thought of as a good place to find a comfy chair and read a book, or go online for free, or as a place to bring kids for storytime. But public libraries in Southeastern Massachusetts are taking on a new role as Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC).
A pilot project between the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Library System (SEMLS) is placing libraries in the center of disaster recovery efforts. Southeastern Massachusetts was chosen for the launch of the project because of its vulnerability to hurricanes and northeasters.
In the event of a disaster, FEMA needs to set up emergency centers where people can get help with filing for federal aid and receive other recovery information. Traditionally setting up one of these centers can take three or four days. Under the pilot project, FEMA is pre-screening libraries in SEMLS to ensure that all the necessary components of are in place. Meaning FEMA can immediately begin to help residents with the recovery process.
“It’s a natural connection,” says Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, MBLC Preservation Specialist who is working on the project. “We’re using the infrastructure that libraries already provide. Libraries have computers so that the public can register online with FEMA. There are meeting rooms for recovery staff, and providing information to the public is what librarians are trained to do—and libraries are solidly built.” He adds, “Libraries have another advantage. Most people in a town know where the library is.”
The project has had added benefits. Local emergency management departments and librarians are talking more about how to protect cultural resources in the event of a disaster. The Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness (COSTEP) framework is a planning tool designed to bring together cultural institutions and emergency management agencies. The MBLC and Massachusetts Archives are currently working with eight other organizations across the state to test the COSTEP framework in Massachusetts as well as coordinating with MEMA to incorporate COSTEP into the state’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and the State Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Robert C. Maier, Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners sees the libraries’ new role as Disaster Recovery Centers as a logical step, “It’s the latest way that our libraries continue to evolve to meet the needs of the residents in their communities. People have always relied on libraries; we need to be there for them in the event of an emergency.”
The pilot project held its first training session for librarians in September and plans to hold two more this fall. Over 75 libraries Southeastern Massachusetts in are currently involved in the project with libraries in the northeast and metrowest to be included as the project expands to the rest of the state.
The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners recently received the 2008 Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections. This annual award is selected by a panel of distinguished conservation experts from across the nation and is presented jointly by Heritage Preservation and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
The COSTEP Project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The COSTEP Framework was developed by the NEDCC in cooperation with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Massachusetts Archives, The Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, The Society of American Archivists, Heritage Preservation and the Southeast Library Network
The Board of Library Commissioners (mass.gov/mblc) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.