Getting Started

A disaster response plan should address three general areas: risk identification through a facilities and risks audit, preventive action and readiness to lessen the impact of disasters, disaster and salvage response to speedily rescue and recover damaged library and archive material. All three areas should be approached systematically and cooperatively, with the full support and force of the library or archive administration. For libraries and archives in larger entities, such as government and academic institutions, the disaster response plan should be put in the larger context of the parent institution, incorporating the broader planning mechanisms that might already be in place to respond to major emergencies. Experience shows that it is often libraries and archives that initiate disaster response planning, however, so librarians and archivists should not be constrained from acting in the absence of more general plans.

Selecting task force members

Research shows that small, dedicated task forces, though often perceived as unwieldy and slow moving, produce higher-quality disaster response plans than individuals acting alone. Thus a planning task force needs to be formed, with a clear mandate from the library's central authority, usually the library director. The mandate should set forth the objectives of the task force, assign authority to the chair, and establish a deadline for presenting the final plan. It is reasonable for the work to require three to four months. The library director should appoint as chair of the task force a knowledgeable and experienced librarian capable of moving work along at a steady pace. A planning task force typically includes all or some of the following members: Access or public services supervisor, preservation officer or conservator, representative of rare books and manuscripts, cataloger or computer or systems specialist, representatives of any branch libraries in the system.

In addition, experts might be invited to offer their experience and expertise. For example, an insurance or risk assessor and the head of the local fire department could advise the task force about relevant aspects of the plan.

The chair of the task force should work with the preservation or conservation professional to assemble a few examples of disaster response plans from other libraries as well as a few related readings to acquaint task force members with some general principles before the first meeting. Even if the library does not have a preservation or conservation professional, it is important to include a staff member with some preservation and conservation responsibilities on the task force, because much of the salvage and recovery may depend in part on some basic conservation skills.

Setting agendas

The examples of disaster response plans will show that developing a plan involves many tasks, including identifying spaces for drying books and paper, local freezer and freeze-dry facilities, local sources of equipment and supplies, emergency contacts, and salvage priorities. The chair must assign specific tasks to each task force member so that the information can be brought together and discussed at the second meeting, contributing to the final plan document.

Appointing a disaster action team

The disaster action team should be made up of at least six staff members who have had some training in disaster recovery techniques and are willing to be brought in to help during emergencies. Training is usually accomplished by organizing a response and recovery workshop or by volunteering in an emergency at another institution. Each team member should be listed in the disaster telephone tree, to be contacted by the emergency coordinator whenever the situation requires it. The disaster action team should be able to cope with most emergencies and to help train and supervise other staff or volunteers.

The following list summarizes the administrative functions that may be needed in coordinating and carrying out a recovery operation for library materials. In smaller incidents one person may reasonably fill two or more roles. But the larger the disaster, the more important it becomes that one person not take on more than one role.

View the list of team member job descriptions.

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Developing a disaster telephone tree

The first coordinated responsibility of the task force is to develop a disaster telephone tree. This is the crucial contact list of key staff and service personnel who should be immediately contacted when an emergency situation threatens the library facilities and the collection. The tree should list each individual along with his or her office and home telephone numbers and email address. The library director, facilities manager, and emergency coordinator typically head the list. These three officers (or their deputies) should be contacted so that appropriate action can be taken, and all three should immediately go to the library once notified of an emergency.

Library director
The library director is responsible for making decisions involving expenditures, the services to be engaged, and salvage priorities, based on the disaster response plan and the advice of the facilities manager and the emergency coordinator.

Facilities manager
The facilities manager must quickly survey the building and take appropriate steps to lessen damage to the collection, as well as call for any technical assistance needed, such as from plumbers or electricians. The facilities manager is often not a library staff member, so it is imperative that the manager be well acquainted with the plan and willing to abide by the library director's decisions.

Emergency coordinator
The emergency coordinator is the person with the technical expertise and experience to take charge of the salvage and recovery of the collections. The coordinator is usually the head of preservation and one of the original task force members. He or she must make decisions on the disposition of the recovery staff and volunteers and ensure that the recovery efforts are carried out smoothly and in accordance with the plan. More than any other officer, the emergency coordinator must develop recovery skills and experience, using them to direct the recovery efforts.

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