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Disaster and Emergency Preparedness for Libraries: Preparation

Preparing for a Disaster or Emergency

Preparation is the first step in making sure you, your staff, and your patrons are ready for a disaster and/or emergency situation.  Below you can learn about the different types of potential disasters and emergency situations as well as how to make an emergency plan.

Medical Emergencies

Bleeding - Bleeding is the loss of blood. It can be external, or outside the body, like when you get a cut or wound. It can also be internal, or inside the body, like when you have an injury to an internal organ. Normally, when you are injured and start bleeding, a blood clot forms to stop the bleeding quickly. Afterwards, the clot dissolves naturally.

Nose Bleeds - Nosebleeds are common. They may be scary, but they rarely indicate a serious medical problem. The nose contains many blood vessels, which are located close to the surface in the front and back of the nose. They’re very fragile and bleed easily. Nosebleeds are common in adults and children between the ages of 3 and 10.

There are two kinds of nosebleeds. An anterior nosebleed occurs when the blood vessels in the front of the nose break and bleed.

A posterior nosebleed occurs in the back or the deepest part of the nose. In this case, blood flows down the back of the throat. 

Burns are tissue damage that results from heat, overexposure to the sun or other radiation, or chemical or electrical contact. Burns can be minor medical problems or life-threatening emergencies. The treatment of burns depends on the location and severity of the damage. Sunburns and small scalds can usually be treated at home. Deep or widespread burns need immediate medical attention. 

Cuts and abrasions are minor or major wounds that consist of an injury that breaks or removes the skin. Most small cuts and abrasions can be treated successfully at home. The treatment here is to clean and protect the wound, promote healing and minimize the risk of infection.

You can't always tell when an eye is injured or that the injury is serious. Some problems, like a detached retina, can only be seen during a doctor's examination. And some injuries can raise eye pressure or cause slow bleeding—problems that are only obvious when they get really serious.

Eye injuries can cause vision loss or blindness. It's important to be able to recognize some of the most common symptoms of eye injuries.

Common causes of eye injuries include:

  • Punches
  • Blows from hands, balls or other sports equipment
  • Flying pieces of material from explosions or industrial work
  • Flying objects like bullets, darts, fireworks, bungee cords, and BBs
  • Chemical splashes

When an eye injury does occur, have an ophthalmologist or other medical doctor examine the eye as soon as possible, even if the injury seems minor at first. DO NOT attempt to treat a serious eye injury yourself.

Many falls do not cause injuries. But one out of five falls does cause a serious injury such as a broken bone or a head injury. These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities, or live on their own.

  • Falls can cause broken bones, like wrist, arm, ankle, and hip fractures.
  • Falls can cause head injuries. These can be very serious, especially if the person is taking certain medicines (like blood thinners). An older person who falls and hits their head should see their doctor right away to make sure they don’t have a brain injury.
  • Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling.

A pandemic is the global outbreak of a disease. They are usually classified as epidemics first, which is the rapid spread of a disease across a particular area or region. Epidemics do not always become pandemics and it is not always a fast or clear transition.  

Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body is not getting enough blood flow. Lack of blood flow means the cells and organs do not get enough oxygen and nutrients to function properly. Many organs can be damaged as a result. Shock requires immediate treatment and can get worse very rapidly.

The main types of shock include:

  • Cardiogenic Shock (due to heart problems)
  • Hypovolemic Shock (caused by too little blood volume)
  • Anaphylactic Shock (caused by allergic reaction)
  • Septic Shock (due to infections)
  • Neurogenic shock (caused by damage to the nervous system)

Symptoms to look for include:

  • Anxiety or agitation/restlessness
  • Bluish lips and fingernails
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness
  • Pale, cool, clammy skin
  • Profuse sweating, moist skin
  • Rapid but weak pulse
  • Shallow breathing
  • Being unconscious (unresponsive)

Natural Hazards

An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the ground caused by the shifting of rocks deep underneath the earth's surface  Earthquakes can happen without warning and can result in injuries and damage to property and roads. Earthquakes can cause fires, tsunamis, landslides or avalanches. Several areas of South Carolina regularly experience earthquakes and have experienced strong earthquakes in the past. Approximately 70% of all earthquakes in the state occur in the Coastal Plain with most clustered around three areas of the State: Ravenel-Adams Run-Hollywood, Middleton-Place-Summerville, and Bowman.

How to Prepare for an Earthquake: Prepare for an earthquake with this in-depth document from America's PrepareAthon! and Ready.gov.

Prepare Your Organization for an Earthquake Playbook: Prepare your organization for an earthquake with this in-depth document from America's PrepareAthon! and Ready.gov.

Extreme heat is a period of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees for at least two to three days. In extreme heat your body works extra hard to maintain a normal temperature, which can lead to death. In fact, extreme heat is responsible for the highest number of annual deaths among all weather-related hazards.

Heat Wave - Prolonged period of excessive heat often combined with excessive humidity.

Heat Index - A number in degrees Fahrenheit (F) that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.

Heat Exhaustion - A condition that is generally caused by overexertion in hot temperatures, with symptoms that include heavy sweating, pale clammy skin, dilated pupils, a slightly elevated body temperature, cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, mental confusion and sometimes unconsciousness.

Building Fires - Building fires can be and are often man-made but they can also occur as a result of natural hazards such as thunderstorms and lightning. NOTE: Extinguish small, self-contained fires with a fire extinguisher.  Otherwise, do not attempt to control a fire.

Wildfires - A wildfire is any unplanned fire that burns in a natural area such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. According to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, South Carolina typically has roughly 5,000 wildfires per year, which burns nearly 30,000 acres. South Carolina's wildfire season usually occurs between late winter and early spring.

Prepare for a Building/Wild Fire with the U.S. Fire Administration: Learn how you can be a partner in your community and help prevent and prepare for both building fires and wildfires.

Teach Children about Fires at Sparky.org: Play games, watch videos, and complete activities to learn about fires and how to prevent them. (Children's Resource)

Flooding - Flooding may occur as an overflow of water from water bodies, such as a rivers, lakes, or ocean, in which the water overtops or breaks levees, resulting in some of that water escaping its usual boundaries, or it may occur due to an accumulation of rainwater on saturated ground in an areal flood. While the size of a lake or other body of water will vary with seasonal changes in precipitation and snow melt, these changes in size are unlikely to be considered significant unless they flood property or cause serious damage. Floods can also occur in rivers when the flow rate exceeds the capacity of the river channel, particularly at bends in the waterway. Floods often cause damage to homes and businesses if they are in the natural flood plains of rivers. 

Flash Flooding - A flash flood is a rapid flooding of low-lying areas: washes, rivers, dry lakes, and depressions. It may be caused by heavy rain associated with a severe thunderstorm, hurricane, tropical storm, or meltwater from ice or snow flowing over ice sheets or snowfields. Flash floods may also occur after the collapse of a natural ice or debris dam, or a human structure such as a man-made dam. Flash floods are distinguished from regular floods by having a timescale of fewer than six hours between rainfall and the onset of flooding.

Prepare for Flooding with FloodSmart: Take the steps to prepare for flooding not just to protect yourself but your home and valuables as well.

Inland Flooding Toolkit for Businesses: Use this Ready.gov toolkit to prepare your organization for inland flooding.

Hurricanes are powerful tropical storms in which winds rotate around a closed circulation of low-pressure in a counter-clockwise direction. Conditions that lead to the formation of a hurricane includes warm waters, rotation of the earth, and the absence of vertical wind shear.

All hurricanes start as a tropical disturbance. These tropical disturbances that affect North America typically originate off the west coast of Africa. If the tropical disturbance lowers in pressure and starts to rotate around a low pressure center, the tropical disturbance can turn into a tropical depression. As the tropical depression continues to develop in intensity the winds will increase and when the winds reach a sustained wind speed of 39 miles per hour the system is then a tropical storm and is given a name by the National Hurricane Center. When winds reach a sustained speed of 74 miles per hour it becomes a hurricane. Hurricanes are a much larger and more powerful storm with an average diameter of 350 miles.

On average, about ten tropical storms are named and about six of them become hurricane strength in the southeast region of the United States.

The Atlantic hurricane season stretches from June 1st to November 30th with the peak of hurricane season being in August and September in the Northern Hemisphere. This is because the water temperature and evaporation rates are at their height.

Associated with these storms are strong damaging winds, heavy precipitation, and tornadoes. Coastal areas are also vulnerable to storm surges, wind-driven waves, and tidal flooding.

Hurricanes are classified by their intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which categorizes hurricanes based on their maximum sustained wind speeds on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most intense. Hurricanes categorized as 3, 4. or 5 are classified as major hurricanes and although this range only accounts for 20 percent of hurricanes that reach landfall they are responsible for more than 70 percent of hurricane damage in the United States.

How to Prepare for a Hurricane: Prepare for a hurricane with this in-depth document from FEMA.

Prepare Your Organization for a Hurricane Playbook: Prepare your organization for a hurricane with this in-depth document from America's PrepareAthon! and Ready.gov

Mold is found both indoors and outdoors. Mold can enter your home through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold in the air outside can also attach itself to clothing, shoes, and pets and can be carried indoors. When mold spores drop on places where there is excessive moisture, such as where leakage may have occurred in roofs, pipes, walls, plant pots, or where there has been flooding, they will grow. Many building materials provide suitable nutrients that encourage mold to grow. Wet cellulose materials, including paper and paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, and wood products, are particularly conducive to the growth of some molds. Other materials such as dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery, commonly support mold growth.

A sinkhole is a hole in the ground caused by the erosion of the earth below its surface. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces, then a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur.

Sinkholes can vary from a few feet to hundreds of acres and from less than 1 foot to several thousand feet deep. The initial hole that forms may continue to grow over a period of minutes to hours to day(s) depending upon the size and scale of the sinkhole. Slumping of the sediments along the sides of the sinkhole may take approximately a day's time to stop. Erosion of the edge of the sinkhole may continue for several days, and heavy rainfall can prolong the stabilization.

Small sinkholes often require only filling with clean sand and soil. If you have a sinkhole on a large property, and it is not actively developing or impacting some activity on the property, it can be left alone. If there is a danger of people or animals falling into the depression, it can be filled with clayey sand, preferred, to slow water movement. Water flowing into a sinkhole can cause it to expand and become more active. Never throw anything into a sinkhole that could possibly contaminate groundwater. Do not fill it with organic materials or something that could potentially decompose or release potential toxins into the underlying groundwater.

Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. They can occur any time of the year in any part of the country. They look like funnels and bring intense winds of over 200 miles per hour.

Tornado Watch vs Tornado Warning:

Tornado Watch - Tornadoes are likely to occur in the watch area. Be ready to act quickly and take shelter, and check supply kits. Monitor radio television and television stations for more information.

Tornado Warning - Imminent Threat - A tornado has been sighted in the area or has been indicated by radar. Take shelter immediately.

Taking Shelter from the Storm: Learn about tornadoes and how to build a safe room in your home or business with this factsheet from FEMA.

Winter storms create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion. Winter storms including blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice and high winds.

A winter storm can:

  • Last a few hours or several days.
  • Cut off heat, power and communication services.
  • Put older adults, children and sick individuals at greater risk.

Ice Storms - Ice storms occur usually in the months of December through February in the United States. They can come in many forms, but they can all be dangerous to your library. Ice accumulation can damage power lines, trees, and utility poles as it can weigh as much as 30 times more once it freezes. Communication and power can be lost for extended periods while repairs are being made and even small accumulations of ice can be dangerous for pedestrians and motorists.

Frost - Similar to dew that forms on the grass and surfaces, frost is its frozen counterpart. Frost can make surfaces such as parking lots, sidewalks, and rams especially slippery, but will quickly dissipate once the temperature is above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Freezing Rain - This occurs when cold rain comes in contact with a surface that is already below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice forms on surfaces quickly and can cause slip hazards, power and communication outages, and risky travel conditions.

Black Ice - This type can be dangerous while driving and is most prevalent in the early morning. Black ice occurs most often after snow has melted on roadways and has a chance to refreeze over night when temperatures drop below freezing and blends in with the road top which makes it difficult to see.

Sheltering-in-Place

Some emergencies may require long term sheltering in place, this is usually issued as a stay-at-home order. During this time citizens are asked to remain indoors as much as possible and try to only leave their homes when necessary, while also limiting visitors. The use of outdoor spaces such as patios, porches and yards are still allowed as well as outdoor activities such as walking, jogging and exercise as long as social distancing (maintaining six feet away from the next person) is practiced. During this time some services may be closed but essential services such as grocery stores, the gas station, pharmacies and the Post Office should still be available.  Recommendations during a stay-at-home order can change rapidly making it necessary to keep up with what local and state officials are advising through the news, television, and radio.

There may be times when a disaster requires that everyone remain in the building. For instance, in an emergency where hazardous materials (chemical, biological or other contaminants) may have been released into the atmosphere, State Government and local authorities may instruct you to shelter-in-place. This is a precaution aimed to keep you safe while remaining indoors. (This is not the same thing as going to a shelter in case of an emergency.) Shelter-in-place does not mean sealing off an entire office building. Short-term sheltering in place is used for emergencies such as during a tornado warning that is in effect or while a chemical cloud passes.

Sheltering-in-place in your vehicle should only be done if you are unable to get to a home or building quickly and safely. Be sure to stop your vehicle in the safest place possible. If it is sunny outside, it is preferable to stop under a bridge or in a shady spot, to avoid being overheated. Listen to the radio regularly for updated advice and instructions. Stay where you are until you are told it is safe to get back on the road. Be aware that some roads may be closed or traffic detoured. 

Terrorism and Related Threats

An active shooter is an individual engaged in attempting to kill people in a confined space or populated area. Active shooters typically use firearms and have no pattern to their selection of victims. If you are involved in an active shooter incident remember to RUN, HIDE, or FIGHT.  

RUN - Getting away from the shooter or shooters is the top priority. Leave your things behind and run away. If safe to do so, warn others nearby. Call 911 when you are safe. Describe each shooter, their locations, and weapons.

HIDE - If you cannot get away safely, find a place to hide. Get out of the shooter’s view and stay very quiet. Silence your electronic devices and make sure they won’t vibrate. Lock and block doors, close blinds, and turn off the lights. Do not hide in groups—spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter. Try to communicate with police silently— such as through text messages or by putting a sign in an exterior window. Stay in place until law enforcement gives you notice that all immediate danger is clear.

FIGHT - Your last resort when you are in immediate danger is to defend yourself. Commit to your actions and act aggressively to stop the shooter. Ambushing the shooter together with makeshift weapons such as chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, and books can distract and disarm the shooter.

Prepare for an Active Shooter Situation at CISA.gov: Learn how to prepare for an active shooter situation through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Bomb threats are most commonly received via phone, but are also made in person, via email, written note, or other means. A bomb threat or bomb scare is a threat, usually verbal or written, to detonate an explosive or incendiary device to cause property damage, death, injuries, and/or incite fear, whether or not such a device actually exists. Every bomb threat is unique and should be handled in the context of the facility or environment in which it occurs. 

Prepare for a Bomb Threat Situation at CISA.gov: Learn how to prepare for a bomb threat situation through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Chemical agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids and solids that have toxic effects on people, animals or plants. Chemical agents can cause death but are difficult to deliver in deadly amounts because they dissipate quickly outdoors and are hard to produce. A chemical attack could come without warning. Signs of a chemical release include difficulty breathing, eye irritation, loss of coordination, nausea or burning in the nose, throat and lungs. The presence of many dead insects or birds may indicate a chemical agent release.

Civil disturbances are incidents which disrupt a community and require intervention to maintain public safety. Examples are demonstrations, riots, strikes, public nuisances, and criminal activities.

If you observe such disturbances:

  • Call the police. 
  • Provide the address, location, and any details available to the dispatcher.
  • Do not provoke or become part of the disturbance.
  • Secure your work area, log off computers and secure sensitive files, if safe to do so.
  • Remain inside and away from doors and windows if the disturbance is outside.

If you are confronted by angry, belligerent, or violent individuals, use the following steps when communicating with them.

  • Remain calm.
  • Be courteous and confident.
  • Allow the opportunity for the person to express their feelings and concerns.
  • Listen respectfully and objectively.
  • Alert the police immediately if a threat exists.

Do Not:

  • Corner or crowd the hostile individual.
  • Attempt to touch the individual.
  • Blame anyone.
  • "Blow off" the hostile individual.

Hazardous materials can include explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons and radioactive materials. Emergencies can happen during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal. You are at risk when chemicals are used unsafely or released in harmful amounts where you live, work or play.

If you are asked to evacuate:

  • Do so immediately.
  • Stay tuned to the radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters and procedures.
  • If you have time, minimize contamination in the house by closing all windows, shutting all vents and turning off attic fans.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance — infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs.

If you are caught outside:

  • Stay upstream, uphill and upwind. In general, try to go at least a half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area.
  • Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists or condensed solid chemical deposits. Try not to inhale gases, fumes and smoke. If possible, cover mouth with a cloth or mask while leaving the area.
  • Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified.

If you are in a car:

  • Stop and seek shelter in a permanent building.
  • If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.

If you are asked to stay indoors:

  • Bring pets inside.
  • Close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers and as many interior doors as possible.
  • Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems, or set ventilation systems to 100 percent recirculation so that no outside air is drawn into the building.
  • If gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or a towel.
  • Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.
  • Seal gaps under and around the following areas with wet towels, plastic sheeting, duct tape, wax paper or aluminum foil:
    • Doorways and windows
    • Air conditioning units
    • Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans
    • Stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting

Dangerous mail includes mail bombs, hoax devices, suspicious substances, or any matter that may cause harm. The likelihood of anyone receiving a harmful biological or chemical agent is extremely remote. Postal Inspectors within the Dangerous Mail Investigations Program are specially trained to recognize the common characteristics of suspicious mail and use an array of specialized screening equipment to identify and mitigate threats to postal infrastructure, its employees, and the general public.

Look Closely: Suspicious mail often has no return address, excessive tape and postage, and/or misspelled or badly written words.

Be Careful: If you suspect you have received a suspicious package, isolate the item, maintain a safe distance from the item, wash your hands, and immediately call Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455 and state “emergency.” If medical attention is warranted, contact local authorities immediately.

Making a Plan

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