2017-11-24 / In the Know

Library plays a pivotal role during emergencies

By Celeste Shinay Special to the Leadfer

There’s a synergy that takes place in our town during times of emergency, and it doesn’t happen by chance. It’s the result of thoughtful preparation between town departments, and it was tested during the recent power outage.

Emergency preparedness may not come to mind when thinking of library services, but it’s a growing role for our profession – and one we take seriously. In 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognized libraries as essential organizations during times of disaster. There are endless examples of libraries across the country mobilizing to support their communities – from serving as command posts for firefighters in California, to bunkering in place to provide public information updates in Florida.

The outage was an opportunity for us to put our preparedness skills to work in support of our community. We were fortunate to have power, which quickly positioned us as a location for shelter and connectivity.

On Day 1, every seat, study carrel and public computer station in the library was occupied. Extra power strips were purchased for (almost) every outlet and were quickly filled with all manner of charging cords. Our meeting and conference rooms became charging and work stations with Wi-Fi instructions and ethernet cables in place. To preserve bandwidth, staff disconnected all personal devices requiring

Wi-Fi, and information systems were monitored for capacity.

As a member of the town’s emergency response team, Nancy Crowell, library director, stayed in communication with public safety departments to let them know we were up and running – literally. Messages with updates on resources and recovery progress were posted and shared between the Facebook pages of the library, fire, police, public works and school departments.

Resources posted on 2-1-1 Maine and Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency pages were also shared.

Days 2 and 3 brought equal activity at the library – and stories. An educator conducted online classes in her car by connecting to our campus-wide Wi-Fi from the parking lot. A secure public computer in a discreet area was offered to a health care worker with a month’s worth of casework to submit. Opening early and closing late offered extended work days for people setting up remote offices in the building.

There was also another kind of synergy taking place over the week – the result of human connectivity. Learning about our volume of visitors, a local business arrived with cases of water and boxes of powerbars. People entering the library as strangers were seen exchanging words of encouragement as they shared the challenges of their common experience. And as power returned, there were words of thanks to our staff for providing a place to gather during a time of need.

Our community was very fortunate considering the devastation recent natural disasters have created in other parts of our world, but it reinforced the importance of collaboration, preparedness and personal resilience.

With that in mind, here is a closing reference recommendation from your library: We encourage readers to visit the Town of Scarborough Preparedness Project website hosted on our library server at www.scarboroughlibrary.org/resiliancy.

It provides important resources on personal preparedness and coping strategies during times of emergency. You’ll also find helpful information on how to prepare a family emergency plan (FEP), an emergency go kit and much more.

Celeste Shinay is program and development manager for Scarborough Public Library.

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