Features – Introduction to Disaster Plans: Yes It Can Happen to You

Daniel R. Campbell

Daniel R. Campbell i s Head of User Services, Rutgers Law Library, Newark, NJ


In light of recent events, many of us have begun to, or have been forced to, think about how vulnerable we may be in the workplace. Although such vulnerabilities usually impact our personal well-being, there are usually certain mechanisms in place to help protect us and we are generally comfortable with these mechanisms. Unfortunately, we generally do not think about how unexpected events can affect the workplace and how we would approach an emergent situation that has damaged or destroyed the workplace. A well-thought-out disaster plan can help during these times.


Generally, regardless of your geographical location, your workplace is susceptible to events that may cause physical damage to your facility and/or your library collection – floods and fires being the typical culprits. For most of us, simply calling in an outside vendor to clean things up may be neither an option nor a desire. Quite frequently, it may not be an option for purely financial reasons. Using outside vendors may not be desired since reaction time is usually paramount in these scenarios and you will want to act quickly in order to save the collection and equipment. Similarly, outside vendors may not be fully attentive to the library’s sensitivities with regard to the collection’s value and importance. Because of these considerations, many times the arduous task of coordinating the collection rescue efforts is best left with the library staff. This coordination must begin with a well-conceived (and well-rehearsed) disaster plan.

Disaster Plans

Generally, a disaster plan describes activities for preventative, responsive and recovery initiatives. Typically, a disaster plan consists of the following sections:

  • Emergency information sheet (one page plan summary)

  • Introduction to the plan (purpose, author, organization, update information)

  • Communication plan (or “telephone tree” to enable quick response)

  • Collection priorities (what to save first)

  • Prevention/protection strategy (to maximize effectiveness of response)

  • Checklist of pre-disaster actions (in the event advance notice is provided)

  • Instructions for response and recovery (what to do once the disaster occurs)

  • Listing of Disaster Recovery Services and Supplies (list of vendors)

  • The preventative initiatives of the plan clearly takes place prior to an event and addresses issues such as:

  • Risk assessment (how vulnerable are we?)

  • Disaster preparedness and planning (the reason you are reading this)

  • Ensuring financial allocations for disaster recovery resources (important!)

  • Securing recovery resources (flashlights, batteries, radios, etc.)

  • Rehearsing responses and recovery activities (what to do if disaster strikes)

Responsive initiatives address activities required during or shortly after an event, and provide guidance on what actions that must be taken during or shortly after a disaster occurs. Issues addressed in this section include:

  • Facility evacuation

  • Summoning emergency personnel

  • Safeguarding personnel and property

Recovery initiatives take place after the event and address activities that will attempt to return your facility and collection back to an operational state. Items in this portion may include:

  • Dealing with the media

  • Processing insurance claims

  • Directing recovery teams

  • Contacting freezing facilities

  • Collecting recovery materials

  • Contacting specialist conservators

  • Reporting damage to appropriate authorities


The disaster plan is the most important disaster-planning document you can have on hand. If your library does not have one, steps should be taken to create one.


American Library Association (ALA)

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)

Southeaster Library Network (Solinet)

Conservation Online (Cool)

Posted in: Disaster Planning, Features, Law Library Management