Sunday, 5 August 2012

APML: Disaster management

Before I started working in library world I had no idea how many related organisations there are out there. Of course, I'd heard of CILIP (in those days the Library Association) and I'd vaguely heard of the Cathedral Libraries & Archives Association (CLAA) through volunteering at a cathedral library, but I hadn't heard of any others. In those days I'd only just acquired my first email address and email bulletins were unheard of so it was quite hard to find out about organisations, especially as the smaller ones didn't seem to have websites. Of course, we're in a whole new world now, it is so much easier to find out about relevant organisations, and there are so many of them out there, often providing ways of networking with librarians working in a similar field, or inexpensive training opportunities. One of those groups is the Association of Pall Mall Libraries (APML). I went to a talk they organised before one of their meetings, on the subject of disaster management.

The speaker was Sarah Hamlyn, Lead Preventive Conservator at the British Library, who gave us an overview of disaster management issues and ideas of what to do in our own libraries both before a disaster and in the aftermath. I'll just pull out her main points to write about here.

She emphasised the importance of planning in advance what to do if an emergency occurs and practising. With the growth in social networking and the ease of taking photographs any incident is likely to be in public view very rapidly and you need to know how to deal with it. If you have one, use your press or PR department's expertise to prepare a statement.

Potential risks

The part to send shivers down any librarian's spine is the list of potential risks. These include both problems that would affect just one library or institution, or much wider emergencies that affect an entire city or area. These include: theft, violent incidents, power failure, pandemics, transport infrastructure failure, extreme weather, loss of IT systems, fire, flood, environmental problems, mould outbreaks, pest infestations, physical damage (e.g. buildings being brought down by the force of flood water). Obviously these affect collection items, but it's important not to forget about your staff. What are you going to do if your staff can't get to work, or get home again at the end of the day?

Sources of information

Relevant standards to follow are ISO 31000 2009, Risk management: Principles and guidelines, available here as a free download and ISO 22301, Business continuity management.

Many disaster plans and templates are available online, but make sure you update them to reflect your library's individual circumstances.

The British Library Preservation Advisory Service (BLPAC) has an e-resource about disaster and emergency planning. This has much more detail about what to do and links to other sources of information.

Sarah emphasised the points to consider:

Prevention and preparedness

  • Try and avoid a disaster happening in the first place by eliminating as many risks as possible and identifying key staff and functions.

Emergency plan

  • Keep your emergency plan updated, including emergency contact numbers for staff and a priority list of items. For instance, you need to be very specific about groups of items to help the fire brigade know what to rescue in an emergency - you may not be allowed in the building yourself. Be aware that both personal phone numbers and the location of valuable items are sensitive data and treat them accordingly.
  • Test the plan. This is the only way you'll find out what doesn't work, before you have to "test" it in a genuine emergency. Practising also helps your staff in a real emergency as they already know what to do.
  • Be clear about who has what role in an incident, including substitutes in case of illness or holiday. 
  • If the site is compromised you need to know whether you can work normally and who makes the decision to close. You also need to know the minimum number of staff you need to be able to open. Be aware that in a big incident, you will also need to update your library users about the emergency situation, as well as staff.
  • The plan should be easy to carry around and use. Many institutions use a small checklist that can be carried in a wallet or handbag. Check that staff know what they need with them if they're called to an out of hours emergency - things like money and keys. Large institutions, such as the British Library, have pre-loaded mobile phones with relevant numbers in and a paid staff out-of-hours rota for the staff who carry these.
  •  Make salvage and the disaster plan part of induction training, and revisit the training frequently.

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