If Disaster Strikes Have You Considered…

Recently Carolyn Robertson, Christchurch City Libraries Manager wrote a brief post on the LIANZA website about her attendance at the LIANZA Waikato/Bay of Plenty Weekend School.

I also attended the weekend school and the stories Carolyn shared about the impact of the February earthquake on Christchurch City Libraries were compelling and heart-wrenching. Carolyn’s stories also made me realise that there are some practical questions your library should consider, that may not be covered in a civil emergency plan.

1. Do you have all your work contacts, up-to-date and on your mobile phone?
After the September 2010 earthquake, Christchurch City Libraries made it a priority to maintain an up-to-date list of mobile phone numbers for all key staff. Rather than this list residing on an intranet, it was added to the mobile phones of all key staff, just in case. And the value of this simple action became immediately apparent a few months later – libraries were one of the few services that were able to reach, reassure and regroup their staff quickly.

2. How would you communicate with your community if your library building was taken out by a disaster?
I follow Christchurch City Libraries on Twitter (@ChristchurchLib) and I learnt more about what was going on at their libraries and throughout Christchurch than from ANY other source. It seemed as if they were tweeting within hours of the earthquake, and kept up a steady stream of information from then on. They also communicated all official Council information through their Twitter stream, and updated library borrowers on what was happening. No doubt numerous communication channels were used, but for me it definitely reinforced the importance and value of social media as a means of communicating with our borrowers and community.

3. How quickly could you begin operating again if your server was affected by a disaster?
Our reliance on technology and being connected has never been greater – some of us are at a complete loss as to what to do when the internet misbehaves and we can’t access information when we want to. Imagine what would happen to your library’s operations if your hard drive or server  was affected by a disaster. Most libraries will have their server located off-site with maybe even a backup in another city. And with cloud computing gaining prominence it may also be wise to explore this option more seriously. I know of one global consultancy that was fully operational within an hour (delay due to updating others in the business) of the Christchurch earthquake thanks to the cloud.

Two others who have bravely shared their earthquake experiences online are:

  • Sarah Gallagher, Information Manager at Boffa Miskell, who has become a librarian without a library and
  • The Aotearoa People’s Network who entered their offices at the National Library of New Zealand’s Christchurch building for the first time on 18 May 2011.

Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. How are you spending your time?

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 31 May 2011.