DATE: September 13, 2011
Libraries help residents recover after Tropical Storm Irene
In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, many communities were without power for days. In Stoughton, where nearly half the community was without power, the public library offered residents charging stations for laptops and cell phones.
For the second time this summer, Federal and state officials have opened a public library as a disaster recovery center (DRC). In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, Pittsfield’s Public Library, the Berkshire Athenaeum, opened as one of two area DRCs in western Massachusetts. The other is located in a financial building in Williamstown.
DRCs are locations where the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Massachusetts Emergency Management (MEMA), the Small Business Administration and other recovery agencies meet residents and provide face-to-face assistance with insurance, health care, unemployment and crisis counseling. The centers also offer information on historic preservation for cultural institutions.
In areas affected by widespread, ongoing power outages, libraries offered residents a place to charge cell phones and other electronic devices. In Bellingham residents flocked to the library not only to charge their phones and Ipads, but to use the library’s Internet as well. “When we learned that 90% of the town was without power, we got the word out that we could help with communication needs. The average usage on a Monday of the library public computers during August is from 56-74 sessions. The Monday after Irene, we had 154 sessions on our public computers. This does not count the number of people who were here with laptops using our wireless network,” said Bellingham Public Library Director Bernadette Rivard.
Stoughton Public Library also set up charging stations for residents. In the first three days after the storm, patron visits nearly doubled from an average of 500 to 600 people per day to nearly 1,000. “Almost half our town was without power. Residents really appreciated having a place to come for Internet access and for charging their phones,” said Stoughton Public Library Director Patricia Basler.
Tropical Storm Irene recovery marks the third time since 2010 that libraries have served residents as DRCs. Federal and state officials opened the Jacob Edwards Library in Southbridge as a DRC after tornadoes devastated communities in western Massachusetts on June 1, 2011. In 2010, libraries helped residents recover after record flooding inundated the state. Lakeville Public Library, Billerica Public Library, Flint Public Library in Middleton, Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster and Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy opened as Emergency Management DRCs.
The libraries are part of an ongoing project between the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), FEMA, and MEMA. Through the project, over 200 libraries have been surveyed as Disaster Recovery Centers. Several states have shown interest in adapting the Massachusetts model to their own communities.