Florida State aiding public libraries in hurricane preparedness and response

Charles McClure

With the arrival of hurricane season on June 1, Florida’s public libraries have a vital role to play in helping their communities prepare for and recover from hurricanes and other severe storms. The Florida State University’s Information Use Management & Policy Institute at the College of Information has unveiled a new Web site that will help libraries meet the challenge.

The institute is coordinating a project that brings together emergency response agencies, the State Library and Archives of Florida, the Lyrasis library network and Florida’s libraries to share resources and hard-won wisdom. The project’s Web site, www.ii.fsu.edu/hurricanes, identifies key service roles, best practices, tools and resources that enable better use of the public library in community hurricane preparation and recovery. It includes checklists of steps librarians can take to provide better service to their communities.

"This project offers a great opportunity for Florida public libraries to better demonstrate the range of services and responses they can provide during such disasters," said Francis Eppes Professor Charles R. McClure, director of the Use Management & Policy Institute and the project’s primary investigator.

Public libraries currently provide a range of useful hurricane and disaster preparation and recovery services to their communities, but their individual efforts are often isolated and the knowledge gained unavailable to the rest of the library community. There has been no systematic effort to identify the roles, best practices, activities, tools and resources developed by local public libraries for their communities and to make them available to the larger library profession.

Funded by a $311,440 grant from the Florida Catastrophic Storm Risk Management Center at FSU’s College of Business, the project is intended to help library staffs in two ways: first, to prepare them for their many roles during a natural disaster; and second, to help them let their communities know about all the services available at libraries. For example:

  • Safe Haven: The public library is the community’s living room before and after a storm, with safe, secure buildings, relaxing space, light, air conditioning, bathrooms and comfortable chairs.
  • Normal Service: The community counts on normal library service before and after a storm, be it book, DVD, Internet use, reference or family programming. Normal library service provides hope, re-establishes a local government presence, reduces stress, returns normalcy and offers recreation and distraction.
  • Disaster Recovery Center: The public library offers the community a disaster recovery center (DRC), whether it’s a FEMA designated DRC; a place to prepare residents for a DRC visit; a point of distribution (POD) or a local neighborhood place to make sense of the disaster that has just occurred.
  • Information Hub: The community counts on the library, before and after a storm, to be a communication hub (offering copiers, phones, fax, computers, WiFi, Internet access rechargers), as well as to offer hurricane preparation and recovery information and assistance.
  • Cultural Organizations Liaison: The public library may serve as a liaison between emergency management and the community’s tourist attractions and cultural institutions.
  • Evacuee Resource: Evacuees turn to the nearest public library for safe haven, normal service, emergency information hub services and as a disaster recovery center.
  • Improvisation: The community counts on the public library during a disaster to improvise and do whatever is needed as directed by emergency management and local government.

The institute will continue to provide training, as well as refine and expand the project Web site, throughout the next few months.