Recipient: Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS)
Grant: IMLS Grants to States Program (ongoing) and Connecting to Collections Statewide Planning and Implementation Grants (2008 and 2010)
“The priceless works held in libraries, archives and special collections represent the cultural heritage roots of our communities. They help us remember the past and look to the future. It is so important that these materials are kept safe, no matter what situations may arise.”
-- Donna Longo DiMichele, Program Manager/LSTA Coordinator
Recently, Rhode Island Historical Society’s Library experienced damage when water from the HVAC system backed up in the pipes. The executive director contacted the Office of Library and Information Services, and with its dPlan-RI the library was able to start recovery of materials within just twenty minutes, thanks to effective disaster planning and training, which is prioritized at the state level.
Using funds from two IMLS funding sources, Grants to States funding and Connecting to Collections planning and implementation grants, Rhode Island’s Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS) has offered disaster preparedness and cultural preservation support to a range of institutions, including libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies .
By law, Rhode Island public libraries must submit and update disaster plans annually. As an early part of its grant-funded work, OLIS adapted for the state the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)’s dPLAN, an online disaster-planning tool. Disasters and emergencies such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, leaks, and fires pose an enormous risk to precious public and community records, irreplaceable documents, and historical artifacts. dPlan provides a comprehensive template for institutions to create customized disaster plans that can be easily updated.
This Rhode Island version of dPLAN provides collections-holding institutions access to local information during disasters, including the closest emergency responders and indexes of places in the community with disaster supplies. It also serves as a framework to help institutions prevent or mitigate disasters, prepare for the most likely emergencies, respond quickly to minimize damage if disaster strikes, and recover effectively from disasters while continuing to provide services to the community.
To lay the groundwork for organizations to adopt the new dPLAN-RI permanently and to ensure that they have the resources needed to prepare for and respond to disasters, OLIS implemented a training, evaluation, and disaster planning and mitigation program.
Planning for Disasters
With its Connecting to Collections implementation grant, OLIS and state-level partners, including the Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission, the Archives and Records Administration, the RI Historical Society, Preserve Rhode Island, and Risk Management, brought staff members and volunteers at libraries, museums, and other collections-holding institutions together with emergency managers and fire personnel to talk about risks and reactions in a series of workshops. OLIS also planned symposia on regional disaster planning, conference exhibits, and other activities.
To help emergency responders manage disasters at cultural institutions, one session introduced them to an institution’s special collections room—an area with irreplaceable documents and many of the community’s original cultural heritage materials. They were taught to secure the room and throw fire-retardant blankets over the cases in the instance of a fire rather than using a damaging fire hose. The trainings illustrated the need for emergency personnel to become familiar with individual institutions and develop these types of relevant protocols prior to a disaster.
Recovery workshops emphasized the importance of disaster plans, helped institutions build response strategies, and provided insights into the high-risk materials found in libraries and museums. Participants learned that an antique gun hanging near a fireplace may have gunpowder on it, and that highly toxic chemicals are often used in taxidermy. First responders need to be alert to these and other dangers in the case of a disaster. In the second level workshops, trainers staged disasters and created real situations to which participants had to respond in real time. In simulated water disasters, participants formed teams, strategized how to salvage and rescue materials, packed books and documents, and dried photographs.
As a result of this program, staff and volunteers who work in the state’s libraries and other collections-holding institutions were prepared to respond to disasters that affect their organizations. One participant in the Disaster Planning Preparedness and Response workshop said, “This program opened my eyes to many different types of disasters I hadn’t previously considered and has already spurred me to discuss prevention and response planning for fires and plumbing-related flooding with my Director of Properties.”
Through OLIS’work with state-level partners, public libraries have also been tapped as community relief locations such as FEMA disaster recovery centers, public cooling stations, and emergency gathering places. OLIS and Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) established an effective collaboration that continues to grow, resulting in increasing opportunities to provide community resources for disaster preparedness and mitigation. Before this partnership, collections-holding organizations were classified with ‘Agriculture and Other’organization types. The importance of including collections-holding organizations in state and local level disaster preparedness and response became so clear following the collaboration that collections-holding organizations were given their own emergency support function within the agency’s operation center.
OLIS has heard from staff members at other New England disaster and preservation programs that Rhode Island’s program, and in particular its state-wide planning and training strategy, is recognized as a model.