DATE: February 20, 2009
Libraries as DRCs Sparks National Interest
What began as a pilot project between Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) may soon become a national model of disaster recovery. The project assigns Massachusetts libraries the central role of acting as Emergency Management Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). DRCs provide information and resources to help people in the disaster recovery process. They are spaces where FEMA, MEMA, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other recovery agencies provide face-to-face assistance to individuals following a gubernatorial or presidential disaster declaration.
“Libraries as DRCs is a natural fit…and Massachusetts has an incredible network of libraries,” says Fred Vanderschmidt, Deputy Director for FEMA’s Disaster Systems Division in Region 1. “Librarians are trained to help people access information, everyone knows where they are, they have Internet, they’re safe and secure and they are ADA compliant."
In June 2009 Mr. Vanderschmidt will present the pilot project to the National Mass Care Conference in Albuquerque New Mexico. But other states, including several in New England, have already shown interest in adapting the Massachusetts model to their own communities. “We’re looking forward to expanding this and offering other states the tools, products, and technical assistance we developed in Massachusetts,” Vanderschmidt says.
The pilot project focused on a corridor of communities along the Massachusetts coast from the New Hampshire border to the Cape & Islands out to 495. Over two hundred libraries in these areas were surveyed to evaluate their capacity to be used as DRCs. In libraries not selected to serve as DRCs, MEMA trained library staff to provide other types of recovery assistance.
FEMA also created a GIS database of the libraries so officials can quickly open the library/DRC that is best able to meet the needs of the surrounding community. “It essentially streamlines the process of setting up a DRC,” says Gregor Trinkaus Randall, MBLC Preservation Specialist who coordinated on the project with MEMA and FEMA. “Prior to the project when a disaster struck it often took many days to locate a building that could be used as a DRC. Now we know the buildings and we know the resources we have to work with. Librarians have been trained and the work of recovery can begin as soon as possible.”
Massachusetts is currently working to expand the project into the Western part of the state where ice storms earlier this year caused significant damage.