karenthepasolibrarian

Small town public library life and library school topics of interest

LIBR: Week 12 Emergency Plan

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I thought it would be of interest to discuss the Paso Robles City Disaster Plan and how it came into play during the San Simeon earthquake in 2003. If you are unaware of the damage to our city, this link provides a review of what occurred: http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/West/12/22/ca.earthquake/ (Links to an external site.)

The most dramatic damage occurred in our historic downtown; the library is located just across the city park from the building that collapsed, killing two women; library patrons and staff had a full view of that occurrence from the wall of picture windows facing the park. The quake happened on a Monday morning during story time, our busiest shift of the week. Everyone was remarkably calm during the quake; some patrons using the Internet computers even stayed in their seats, although most people crawled under the tables throughout the library. Most of the materials in the library were displaced from the shelves, but fortunately no one was injured from falling books. Parents attending story time did a great job protecting and comforting their children. Once the shaking stopped, and staff accounted for the immediate safety of everyone, we contacted Emergency Services to see if we should evacuate the building. We did not immediately evacuate because it is often dangerous to leave a building immediately after an earthquake; in fact, evacuating the clock tower building is how the two women were killed during the quake. Once staff received the go-ahead from Emergency Services, we evacuated to the park across the street from the library. Many patrons had left their belongings in the library, and staff retrieved these items for them upon request. Once all persons were removed from the building, the Emergency Response Plan took effect.

In our city, all paid staff are considered to be emergency services workers in case of a disaster such as an earthquake. When a disaster occurs, staff are asked to take care of themselves and their families first, then report to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for further instructions. In the EOC, Fire Department personnel were taking the lead, forming teams of staff to achieve various goals.

First on the agenda was the basic infrastructure of the city – utilities, water, sewage, bridge and road safety – and the dismantling of the fallen clock tower building. Our town was originally established as a hot springs resort, and an old hot spring that had stopped flowing years before started up again, creating a sink hole in the library parking lot that took up about one-third of the lot. Throughout the city, buildings had been damaged as there were large number of historic buildings with unreinforced masonry walls. The Carnegie Library’s walls had separated from the foundation, and would remain braced for many months afterwards. Library staff acted as logistics staff during this time, keeping track of where personnel were dispatched, making sure paperwork was properly filled out and filed, and keeping track of various staff needs (food, additional equipment and supplies, etc.) needed by the work crews.

Once the infrastructure concerns were addressed, and accounting of various city facilities began. The library was one of the first buildings cleared for the public as it can act as temporary housing for displaced citizens (this did not need to occur during this quake however). Because the building had been cleared for occupancy, the next day, staff and volunteers were able to begin putting the collection back on the shelves. This took about one day, and the library was open again for business.

The repairs to the city took years; it took nearly 10 years to repair the parking lot and Carnegie Library building. There is even an ongoing dispute with FEMA regarding funds they claim were overpaid to the city to this day. The city’s Emergency Response Plan served us well in getting the city operational again. Since that time, the Emergency Services Department has held “mock disaster” trainings for managers and other critical staff such as Public Works employees to review how each employee should function during an actual disaster. This type of training is useful so each employee knows his role should an actual disaster occur.

 Unfortunately our Emergency Plan is not available as a link. Below please see the Basic plan and Earthquake Plan. The city elected to use hard copies of the response plan as they act as working documents during actual emergencies. We do have hard copies available throughout city facilities, including the library.

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