When Libraries Flood: Acting in Times of Crisis

Evan Almighty (Widescreen Edition)My library flooded yesterday. All us librarian folks were in a staff meeting when some students reported water in the basement. Students report things a lot of the time, though. Maybe someone had spilled their soda. Or maybe it was tracked in snow that had melted.

Or maybe a water main had burst in the locked janitor’s closet, with water streaming out underneath the door faster than Niagara Falls.

Just as no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects a burst water main. I haven’t been in too many situations where immediate action is required. Sure, there are car accidents–or near accidents–but those are over and done so fast, you’re not quite sure what happened. With this, who knew what was going to happen. How long would the water keep flowing? How high would it get? What was the best way to get the books to safety? You don’t have time to sit around debating what to do and what the best approach is, and chances are, what you do won’t be ideal. But you have to do something.

What did we do? Someone called facilities, someone called the fire department (they have a lot of experience with water and buildings, after all), someone managed to get the closet open and hold back some of the water, others started moving books onto library carts to get them higher. Others moved books onto higher shelves.

I’m happy to say that all that action resulted in a lot of good and no real bad. The water main was shut off, the books were moved out of the way of damage, and the fire department and facilities did a wonderful job getting the water down into the elevator shaft, where a sump pump whisked it off to who knows where. So all’s well that ends well. For now at least, until we find out if there’s a mildew problem, or if the carpets need to be replaced, or if the books absorbed any of the evaporating water.

In any case, it just got me thinking about emergency response. I hadn’t taken a single moment to think about what I would do if there were ever a flood in the library, so when the time came, I wasn’t sure what to do. Yes, I helped out, and yes, it all ended well, but the disaster could have been worse–and maybe if I’d thought about what to do ahead of time, the actions I chose to take would have been more appropriate in that situation. (Again, I’m not meaning to say that I screwed anything up–I think we did a great job of keeping damage to a minimum. What I’m saying is that forethought and planning can make a big difference in times of crises.)

This is why we as a family periodically go over what to do in the case of a fire. This is why school’s have fire drills. Why firefighters in the area regularly burn down old buildings so that they can get practice fighting fires. Because if you wait until the emergency’s right on top of you, then you have no idea if what you do is going to be a Good Plan or not. Of course, it might turn out that what you planned ahead for isn’t relevant in the heat of the moment, but at least you’ll have thought some things out, and you increase the odds that you’re making an informed decision instead of just going on a hunch.

What are your thoughts? What emergencies have you had to deal with, and how happy have you been with how you dealt with them? Do you have a plan ahead of time, or did you wish you had? Do share.

3 Comments

  • By dr-s-grapefruit, January 27, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

    When I was meetinghouse librarian in the SLC Avenues area the library was in the basement. One weekend there was a big cloudburst and water got in the basement. Maybe a foot or so. Didn’t damage anything and I figured it was a one time thing.

    A couple of weeks later there was a huge storm in the middle of the night. I knew what was going to happen and headed right down to the ward. Water was waist high when I got there. I did my best to move things out but by the time it was done, water was up nearly to the ceiling. Somehow I didn’t get electrocuted.

    Next day was Sunday and we had filled parking lot with drying books and pictures. The members helped us and we dried out what we could but had to throw away a ton of books.

    One of the books had been given to the ward by Heber J. Grant and had a paper glued inside with his signature. The book was ruined and wasn’t anything particularly worth making an effort to restore but I removed that paper and still have it.

    We moved the library to a classroom upstairs while changes were made to fill in the window wells and channel any potential water elsewhere. It’s kind of a fun memory now.

  • By Hilary, January 28, 2011 @ 4:14 am

    Well, we TRY to plan for every emergency where I work. And most things that ARE an emergency really aren’t, but then you get weird random things… where your blood still gets pumping.
    It’s actually a lot of what I like about my job. šŸ™‚

  • By Bryce's Ramblings, January 28, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    Grapefruit–Yikes! I’m glad our flood didn’t turn out that bad. Librarians shouldn’t have to risk electrocution at work.

    Hilary–Yeah, I thought about you medical types after the flood was contained. NOT having to deal with those situations on a regular basis is one of the reasons I like my job so much. šŸ™‚

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