By Jody McPhillips
Rhode Island Library Report
PROVIDENCE – (Oct. 10, 2012) – In June of 2008, the Iowa River overflowed its banks and damaged a number of buildings on the University of Iowa campus, including the school’s Museum of Art.
Since rivers usually rise slowly, Iowans had some time to act. Working feverishly for a week, they managed to move 124,000 items out of harm’s way—including a massive Jackson Pollock mural valued at $140 million.
In April of 2010, the Essex Public Library in Tiverton wasn’t so lucky. When weeks of wet weather culminated in three days of historic downpours, the library was flooded and more than 4,000 books were destroyed.
Joe Arsenault, president of the Rhode Island Association of Emergency Managers, said successful emergency management boils down to planning. “You have to ask yourself: what if you only had a couple days? What would you save?”
He was speaking to more than 40 librarians, curators, archivists, and historic preservationists about how to develop a good emergency plan for their collections.
The audience at the Johnson & Wales Culinary Museum in Providence also included fire and security officials and maintenance personnel. The event was organized by the state Office of Library and Information Services.
Arsenault said close communication between the two groups is essential.
He said the culinary museum is a case in point: its extensive collection is housed in a World War II-era building on low-lying land very close to Narragansett Bay and well outside the Providence hurricane barrier.
If another 1938 hurricane comes roaring up the bay, he said, Johnson & Wales had better have a good emergency plan.
“How vulnerable are you? Where can you take your stuff? Can you reduce your vulnerability?” he said. “You need to know what hazards threaten your community.”
Arsenault suggested that librarians and other keepers of cultural heritage should:
She offered a number of online tools to help organizations design good plans, including:
“Try to line one up early,” she said.