Libraries Essential for Disaster Response

Since our run-in with Hurricane Irene in August, the New Jersey State Library is pursuing FEMA certification for our branch libraries to serve as community Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). We are currently exploring a partnership with the Atlantic County Library System to create New Jersey's first library DRC as a model that can be replicated in libraries statewide.

DRCs serve as readily-accessible, pre-certified facilities or mobile offices where applicants may go for information about FEMA or other disaster assistance programs and for guidance regarding disaster recovery, including Small Business Administration loan programs; information on rebuilding and repairing property; other Federal, State and local government programs (i.e. tax assistance, unemployment information and social services benefits); and legal or financial counseling, when warranted. Traditionally, setting up a DRC takes FEMA three or four days, but by pre-screening libraries to ensure that all necessary components are in place, FEMA can begin to help residents immediately with the recovery process. Furthermore, librarians receive special training to assist FEMA after a disaster.

Libraries have proven essential in emergency situations and are assets in disaster response. Found in every community throughout the state, libraries are invaluable and trusted by all residents--even those who are non-library users. Library facilities are well-equipped with open areas and meeting spaces--ideal configurations for post-disaster services. With central meeting rooms, reading rooms with comfortable furniture, children's services and separate areas, tables for filling out government forms and desks where information can be gathered by emergency workers, libraries are ideal community-based DRCs.

After a disaster, a library may be one of the few places in a community with electrical power. All libraries have technology centers or labs with computers and laptops with Internet access and Wi-Fi for guests to check their email, reconnect with family members to let them know they are safe after the emergency and submit government (FEMA) forms. With backup generators, libraries offer a place for individuals without power at home to recharge their cell phone or laptop batteries and rest in air conditioning or heat.

Read more about the New Jersey State Library's response to Hurricane Irene in a September blog post on the library's website.