Back to Top

Symposium on Emergency Planning in Libraries and Archives, July 10, 2020

registration Link

Organizers: Heather Kushnerick, Michele Pope, Christine George


11:30-12:00 (ET) // Keynote Address

  • Emilie G. Leumas, PhD, CA, CRM, Archdiocesan Archivist and Historian, Office of Archives and Records, Archdiocese of New Orleans

12:05-12:45 // 1: Presentation on Communications 

  • Bonfire of the Vanities: the Failure of Disaster Management within a Capital Campaign
    • Beth Lander, MLS, College Librarian, The Robert Austrian Chair and Director, F.C. Wood Institute, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
    • ABSTRACT: For its first 230 years, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, home of the Mütter Museum and the Historical Medical Library, had no thought of a disaster management plan. Enter a paranoid librarian who, upon seeing early 20th century shelving that is little more than a chimney, hundreds of human remains preserved in alcohol, and a building with only two points of egress, went a little bonkers. See the paranoia made worse by a proposed expansion of the Mütter Museum, a process in which no collections staff were consulted in the initial 2.5 years of planning.

      This session will review current disaster management plans and also will review plans for the expansion of the museum into part of the library stack space, a step that will require the temporary off-site storage of over 50,000 linear feet of books and manuscripts. Participants will be brought into the current state of planning, in which staff are confronting administration with the following considerations:

      • How to protect hundreds of irreplaceable pathological and osteological collections during expansion.

      • How to plan for a massive loss of storage space for all collections.

      • How to manage building security during construction, a time that poses the most threat to a cultural heritage organization.

      The goal of this session is to instill paranoia in participants, with the hope that they will leave with this question in mind:  Why isn’t disaster management a critical part of a capital campaign?

  • Devil in the details: Reframing Policy for Emergency Preparedness
    • Beaudry Allen, Preservation and Digital Archivist, Falvey Memorial Library, Villanova University
    • ABSTRACT: When we talk about issues in emergency preparedness for collections, we often think of the constraints of space, time, budget, or other priorities. But one of the biggest issues to surface during an emergency is communication among staff, recovery services, and stakeholders.  This presentation will examine the importance of policy creation in helping create the framework of communication to support an effective emergency response. I will discuss how a risk assessment for Villanova University identified how a lack of communication exacerbated emergency responses, and the need to re-frame disaster planning to focus on documenting policies to have an effective response.

12:50-1:50 // 2: Panel on Water

  • Flood Warning: Resources and Reflections
    • Nicole Norelli, MLIS, Project Coordinator, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
    • ABSTRACT:  When the water is rising, do you know where to look first? Flood warning technology has made leaps and bounds of progress as the intensity of storms and resulting flooding has grown in recent years. However, the highly technical nature of many of these resources and a lack of public outreach has hindered both progress in the stormwater management industry and the creation of flood response protocols in local organizations. This talk offers an interdisciplinary perspective on where information professionals can find the resources to help create effective internal policies and help inform their community on personal emergency preparedness. Gain insight into the benefits and weaknesses of these systems and learn how to access and support flood warning infrastructure in your city so that it may better support you.

  • When a Hurricane Strikes: Lessons Learned at the University of Miami Law Library​​​
    • Bill Latham, Circulation Librarian & Professor, University of Miami Law Library
    • ABSTRACT: Over the years, Dorian, Irma, Wilma, Katrina, and Andrew have made a lot of trouble for us here at the University of Miami Law Library. Are these rogue circulation desk assistants? Disgruntled copy catalogers? No, they’re major Atlantic hurricanes! In this talk about how the Law Library implements the University of Miami’s Disaster Preparation and Recovery Plan, Circulation Librarian Bill Latham will discuss the lessons he has learned over three decades of leading disaster planning efforts at the southernmost academic law library in the continental United States. In this session, you will learn tips about helping your staff prepare both in the workplace and at home, the importance of personalizing cross-departmental relations, staying out of harm’s way, keeping supplies in stock and ready for use, securing your library, disseminating information effectively, and replacing damaged items and equipment. As the climate warms and hurricanes grow in size, discussions on this subject are more important than ever.

  • Managing the Commonplace: Small water Emergencies in Libraries
    • Gerald Chaudron, Head of Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries
    • ABSTRACT: Libraries face many kinds of emergency but planning for every contingency is a huge challenge. Overwhelmed with books and articles that focus mainly on the catastrophic events, librarians tend to place more emphasis on managing the risk of hurricanes and floods leaving them underprepared for the more mundane and common emergencies like burst pipes and leaky roofs. This presentation uses two case studies of small water emergencies to examine how each library managed those emergencies and what lessons were learned. They show that while both incidents were water-related, they were very different in terms of source, size, impact, recovery time, and frequency. Libraries should be planning for small disasters first, and then scaling up preparation to account for the larger events, rather than the reverse, since the smaller events are much more common and often as challenging to the maintenance of services.

1:55-2:55 // 3: First Panel on Updating 

  • Updating Your Emergency Plans: From Pandemics to Acts of Violence to Extreme Weather

    • Shira Megerman (Moderator), Senior Legal Information Librarian, Boston University School of Law, Fineman & Pappas Law Libraries
    • Heather Kushnerick, MA, MLS, CA, Special Collections Librarian & College Archivist, Fred Parks Law Library, South Texas College of Law Houston
    • Anna Russell, Anchorage Branch Librarian, US Court for the Ninth Circuit.
    • Lacy Rakestraw, Director, Law Library, St. Louis County Circuit Court, 21st Judicial Circuit of Missouri
    • ABSTRACT: Nowadays, law libraries must anticipate and be prepared for a new set or the recrudescence of extreme emergency situations. Pandemics such as COVID-19, active shooters, acts of terrorism, violent protests, and extreme weather are among some of the most impactful emergency situations that have forced institutions to update and rethink their preparedness plans and policies at a rapid pace, taking into consideration multiple stakeholders. In this session, participants will hear from several law librarians who have pursued these plan updates and some who have had to endure these emergencies in real life. They will share their emergency plan experiences and lessons learned before, during, and/or after these situations.

2:55-3:25 // Break

3:25-4:25 // 4: Second Panel on Updating 

  • Looks Good on Paper: Turning Action into (Better) Planning
    • Becky Geller, CA, Preservation Specialist, Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)
    • ABSTRACT: If you had 24 hours to prepare your institution for a coming disaster, what could you do to give your collections the best chance of surviving? Of course, not all disasters come with advance warning, but when they do, disaster planning for cultural heritage institutions goes a long way towards weathering the storm.

      A Boston-area museum partnered with NEDCC to practice moving priority collections to safer ground to test their disaster plan. The move did not go off without a hitch, but important lessons were learned and improvements were made to the original disaster plan. This talk will provide an overview of the issues identified in this preemptive collections move, as well as tips and tools for effective, practical disaster planning.

  • When Dinosaurs Attack: Bring Your Disaster Plan Up to Date
    • Travis Spence, Head, Library Technical Services, James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona
    • ABSTRACT: Does your library’s current disaster plan rely on making phone calls from landlines? Is it printed and stored in a binder on a shelf? Was it written before phishing scams and data breaches were common concerns? That describes the disaster plan I inherited in my current position with the Cracchiolo Library at the James E. Rogers College of Law. In this session, I will discuss the process I went through to update and modernize a disaster preparedness manual that was originally written in 1988 and had seen only minor revisions in the following decades. In the time since the original manual had been written, new types of disasters emerged. The institutional culture and language for dealing with disasters had evolved. The technology for disseminating information during disasters and sharing preparedness plans had fundamentally changed. Attendees of this presentation will learn pitfalls to watch out for when updating a dated disaster plan and hear tips for modernizing disaster plans.

4:30-5:00 // 5: Presentation on Continuity

  • Before the disaster: Library Consortium level pandemic preparedness
    • Deborah Smith, Executive Director, Essex Library Association
    • ABSTRACT: Most public libraries have a disaster and emergency response plan for events that affect library services and resources. These plans tend to emphasize how the library will react to adverse impacts from isolated events such as fires, floods, and the loss of utility services from climate events such as storms. In addition to a disaster plan, libraries increasingly need to have a Continuity of Operations Plan, which guides administrators on the decisions needed to continue the safe delivery of services and operations during events such as an outbreak of community illness or a wider pandemic event. This talk will outline how Essex Library Association created its own continuity of operations matrix in February 2020 to complement an existing disaster preparedness plan, prior to moving to remote delivery of all services in mid-March. Since then the library has extended its work on the recovery aspect of COOP planning with 37 other public libraries in Connecticut via the Libraries Online (LION) consortium. Essex Library Association ( is a public library in the town of Essex on Connecticut's shoreline. The library serves a semi-rural population of 6,500 residents from a 9,500 square foot facility with more than 35,000 physical items. The library is a member of the LION consortium (

5:05-6:05 // 6: Hands on Activity

  • Creating Your Own Disaster/Emergency Response Plan (Starter Kit PDF / Word)
    • Robin Schard, Associate Director, University of Miami Law Library
    • ABSTRACT: Stop talking about creating a disaster/emergency response plan, and actually start creating one.  This session will help participants to develop or improve their own plans. Every plan should reflect the individual needs of the library or archives.  However, after many, many years of revising, refining, and implementing a library disaster response plan, it is clear that all plans have the same basic building blocks. Essential plan topics that will be covered are: outlining disasters and emergencies covered by the plan, building a communication plan and emergency contact list, identifying appropriate supplies, working with the parent organization and adjacencies, planning for continuity of operations, setting priorities, recovering from the disaster, and debriefing after the emergency.  Having even a rudimentary plan makes a response to an emergency easier and less stressful.  This is the perfect time to get your plan in order.