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Lessons from Superstorm Sandy: New Jersey Librarians Share Tips on Coping after Disaster

2017 August 29
by Katherine Adelberg

Information First Responder logoThe following is a brief summary of a call that took place yesterday between New Jersey’s Ocean County Library, the New Jersey State Library, TLA, and TSLAC. Susan Quinn and her staff in Ocean County shared tips and lessons learned from their experience in Hurricane Sandy. This post summarizes their recommendations on working with community members. Other topics may be addressed in future posts.

In times of disaster, the community will turn to a trusted resource: the public library.

Public libraries are among the most-trusted institutions in any community, and the community will turn to the library for sanctuary. Here are a few tips from Michele Stricker, Deputy Director of Lifelong Learning at the New Jersey State Library:

  • Assuming the library is able to open, put out as many surge protectors as possible to help people charge their devices.
  • Reconfigure space to accommodate community needs. For example, shelves and furniture might be moved to create more meeting spaces, or shelves pushed aside temporarily to accommodate a large public meeting.
  • Say yes to everything.

First response is local response

Librarians play a vital role in supporting first responders. Local librarians know the fire chief, law enforcement, and elected officials.  The Ocean County librarians provided these tips:

  • Be proactive about connecting with local officials and telling them what the library can do.
  • Each staff person will be dealing with their own challenges, and everyone responds to disaster differently. Work with your employee assistance program or local NAMI affiliate to provide staff with the support they need. In Ocean County, the counseling program continued a year after the storm hit.
  • The library will remain in the community after all relief workers have gone home.

Information first responders

Getting accurate information out to the public is one of the greatest challenges after a disaster. Librarians can serve as information first responders, fulfilling their natural role as sources of vetted, accurate information. The Ocean County librarians provided these tips:

  • Reach out to local officials and emergency responders, and offer to assume the role of passing along information to the community. This frees them to do the jobs they need to do while the library communicates updates online and through social media.
  • Develop a plan to ensure that the library website and social media networks are updated regularly.
  • Approach FEMA or other outside organizations are in your area. Invite them to the library and help them get oriented to the area. After Sandy libraries did not serve as official FEMA disaster response sites, but supported official sites by providing storytimes and crafts for children, and laptops and hotspots for adults.
  • Print resources, including newspapers, become even more critical when community members without power. Ocean County librarians created and printed community resource guides that were also posted on the library’s website.
  • In the weeks after the disaster, Ocean County partnered with their county health department and hosted the Beyond Sandy Resource Expo. The Expo featured local vetted professionals who presented on topics that included remediation, working with contractors, avoiding scams, and the impact of the storm on children.

Additional links:

Ports in a Storm resources – New Jersey State Library’s presentations summarizing their experiences with Sandy

TLA’s Disaster Relief CommitteeApply for funds or donate

TSLAC/TLA Joint Statement on Hurricane Harvey

Texas Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD)

Contact Michele Stricker or Susan Quinn



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