Massachusetts Libraries to Serve as Disaster Recovery Centers

Public libraries in southeastern Massachusetts will be used as disaster recovery centers because of a pilot project among FEMA, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), and the Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Library System. They chose that part of the state because of its vulnerability to hurricanes and major storms called northeasters, according to a news release from the governor's office.

More than 75 libraries are participating. Eventually, the program will expand statewide.

During a disaster, it can take three to four days for FEMA to set up emergency centers, where people can get help with filing for federal aid and get other recovery information. The pilot project has FEMA pre-screening libraries to ensure all necessary components are in place so area residents can be helped immediately.

"It's a natural connection," said Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, a board preservation specialist who is working on the project. "We're using the infrastructure that libraries already provide. Libraries have computers so that the public can register online with FEMA. There are meeting rooms for recovery staff, and providing information to the public is what librarians are trained to do. And libraries are solidly built. Libraries have another advantage: Most people in a town know where the library is."

The board and Massachusetts Archives are working with eight other organizations in Massachusetts to test the Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness (COSTEP) framework, which is a planning tool to unite cultural institutions and emergency management agencies. With MEMA's help, COSTEP is being incorporated into the state's Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and State Hazard Mitigation Plan.

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