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SEA Currents August 6th, 2020
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Disaster Resource Planning for Public Libraries: Mobile Computer Lab to Augment Capabilities

Posted by on March 18th, 2020 Posted in: All Posts, Public Libraries

Guest Post By: Catherine Graham, Humanity Road

During a training at the Virginia Halifax County-South Boston Public Library Crystal Chavis demonstrates the Chromebooks being offered under the mobile augmentation laboratory to librarians from surrounding counties. (Photo Credit: Humanity Road)

The Mobile Communications and Computer Augmentation Laboratory supports local libraries with training and enhanced communications and technology. The project was designed by Humanity Road to improve community access to information. It enables communities to make informed decisions about their health preparedness and recovery planning. The training and equipment being provided under this program augments rural community capabilities.

Just in Time Information

Humanity Road conducted the training and provided the technology under the National Library of Medicine Technology grant program. “We view the libraries as serving in a unique and qualified role in preparing for and responding to disaster with just in time information” says Cat Graham, Chief Operations Officer for Humanity Road. “The rural communities of Virginia do not always have access to computers or Wi-Fi. The program enables Humanity Road to partner with communities to augment their current technology and assist them in improving their personal readiness plans.”

Using the mobile laboratory tools, Crystal Chavis conducts the tabletop exercise for the South Boston, VA library. Humanity Road also leveraged a special deck of cards for role playing during the simulated disaster. (Photo credit: Humanity Road)

In January and February, Humanity Road delivered the disaster resource training to library staff from eight Virginia counties including Halifax, Pittsylvania, Nottaway, Prince Edward, Franklin, Henry, Martinsville and Meherrin.

“When disasters strike, the community often turns to libraries for access to information” says Becky Walker from Meherrin Library. “The training was excellent and timely, especially in light of Coronavirus. It’s reassuring that we can serve as a resource to the public, ensuring they have the right information needed in the face of disaster.” Ms. Walker serves as Director for the Meherrin Regional Library System in Lawrenceville, VA.

Crystal Chavis, Chief Data Analyst and Business Continuity Lead for Humanity Road conducted the business continuity training for the class and spoke with the students about the 2018 National Level Exercise (NLE). In the NLE for 2018, Humanity Road conducted a business continuity field exercise and simulated launching a community emergency response center at the local Mecklenburg library in Boydton, VA. Libraries have an opportunity to help ensure essential services continue when disaster strikes their community.

It wasn’t long before the training was being leveraged. Chris Baker, the Library Branch Manager in South Boston, VA attended the training in January. “A few days after the training, an earthquake struck Jamaica. A local citizen here in South Boston, VA came in and said ‘I’ve been able to get a hold of some family but not all of them’. Our library team went into action”. Said Chris, “We started to confirm ways to reach out and connect them. We were using social media and the Jamaica XM radio DJ and it worked. It was really cool because since then we’ve been able to keep up with his family. It was very rewarding to reconnect them.”

Lessons Learned

The project team walked away with several lessons learned. The original mobile lab kit included ten laptops but after performing a pilot test on one laptop and one Chromebook we changed the kit to chrome books. The chrome books were less expensive, easier to maintain, lighter, and with fewer programs to power, they had a longer battery life. It dramatically reduced the equipment expense for our project which enabled us to fill more training seats.

Another critical discovery was that more librarians wanted access to the training. In many cases, they were interested in attending the class but did not have the ability to attend in person due to schedule conflicts. We also received some really great feedback from the students. While asking for feedback and recommendations, some library staff asked if we could conduct the training for county administrators who are responsible for setting the disaster response policies for their libraries.

“We consider the program a great success” shares Chris Thompson, President of Humanity Road. “If we can shorten the recovery period for the local communities by providing a resource center sooner, then we have accomplished a great thing.” Libraries in Virginia interested in the training or booking the computer lab can contact Humanity Road via email team@humanityroad.org

About Humanity Road

Humanity Road, located in Boydton, VA is an award winning top rated 501c3 nonprofit. They were recognized at the White House by the Department of Homeland Security for its contribution to disaster response and by the United Nations as one of the top 100 innovative humanitarian aid organizations in the world. Volunteers interested in supporting their work can learn more at https://www.humanityroad.org/get-involved.

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Funded under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012340 with the University of Maryland, Health Sciences and Human Services Library, and awarded by the DHHS, NIH, National Library of Medicine.

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