DEVELOPING STATEWIDE EMERGENCY AND DISASTER PREPAREDNESS EXPERTISE
STEPHANIE WATKINS, & Chinese proverb
4 4. IMPLEMENTING A PREPAREDNESS PLAN IN MISSOURI
The Missouri Office of Secretary of State Rebecca McDowell Cook has positions for four book and paper conservators at the Missouri State Information Center in the capital of Jefferson City. Conservators are responsible for the care of governmental records in the state archives and 114 counties as part of the secretary's Local Records Preservation Program (LRPP). LRPP's responsibilities include providing disaster preparedness and recovery information. Another aspect of LRPP is the regional employment of 11 local citizens as archivists to work on the local governmental level in the offices of clerks, recorders, coroner's districts, and so on. The LRPP archivists organize and sort important records from legally nonpermanent records, implement retention schedules, create finding aids, and improve records storage.
Like conservators, archivists have a professional interest in preserving the historical record. As employees and local citizens, the LRPP archivists are ideal candidates to help local government offices establish preparedness measures or to consult with these officials in the event of an emergency or disaster situation. Citizens, especially in rural areas, tend to contact local people they know instead of “trusting” state or federal representatives. Along with local trust, the archivists, as state representatives, carry some authority to follow through with projects. These employees are also invited to speak to private clubs and organizations, thereby disseminating relevant information to the private sector.
Disseminating preparedness information can be more cost-effective and can better utilize available resources than a cleanup and recovery program. Preemergency and disaster awareness and training help safeguard and protect important documents for the future by identifying correctable but potentially damaging situations and providing the knowledge for safe recovery of materials. The Missouri preparedness program goals were to provide expertise on a local level; to provide a proactive rather than reactive program; to reduce potential damage to vital and historical records from emergency and disaster situations; and to complement existing state services, namely the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).
Adapting the FEMA model into training for preparedness and recovery of archives, libraries, and governmental records was very easy. In January 1997, two conservation staff members completed FEMA training courses in orientation-to-community exercises and design and evaluation of exercises offered by Missouri's SEMA. In addition, the senior conservator participated in some of the planning stages for a local community functional exercise and observed the action. Then the conservation staff developed drill exercises focusing on the recovery methods for waterlogged paper, books, photographs, and electronic media, as water is likely in almost all scenarios. The conservation staff instructed the LRPP archivists in recovery procedures during the drill exercise and provided a three-ring binder containing relevant articles and reference materials. The binder format was chosen so the participants could easily transport the information and update it as necessary.
By June 1998, the LRPP archivists had participated in an orientation and an in-depth drill, and the senior conservator and LRPP's assistant archivist had drafted the tabletop exercise and outlined future exercises. The exercises are designed to prepare the archivists for consultation. The exercises were scheduled to occur over the following three years, to be held as part of routine meetings at the central office. Once the pilot project is complete, the program is intended to be repeated for the Missouri State Archives (MSA) staff.
The training exercises built self-confidence in the participants by letting them become familiar and comfortable with aspects of an emergency situation. As training and experience have progressed, participants have become increasingly comfortable with ensuring the safety of materials. Many have developed their own preparedness procedures. The 11 archivists in LRPP are finding numerous opportunities for dissemination of information. Their assistance is also welcomed by conservation personnel who no longer need to respond to and manage every emergency situation regardless of size.
Training of personnel can be the largest expense in any training program, but in Missouri it is considered an investment toward saving materials from potential peril. The Missouri training program does not provide a cleanup, recovery service, or task force. Preemergency planning is stressed. The preparedness program is offered as a free service to the Missouri local officials and is well received.
During development of the LRPP training program, Missouri's SEMA area coordinators, counterparts to the local field archivists, were identified. In the process, the LRPP staff got to know the emergency and disaster recovery personnel throughout the state before an event occurred. In addition, Missouri's SEMA personnel began requesting collections preparedness information for statewide distribution and presentations on preparedness measures at their regional meetings. The conservation staff began to understand the needs, concerns, and jargon of the FEMA and SEMA professionals, and the staff's involvement also gave conservators an understanding of the limitations within federal, state, and local systems. In the event of an emergency or disaster, conservators are generally not allowed into a site until it has been stabilized. There are physical limitations to salvage, such as time, personnel, and resources. Saving everything is seldom possible. However, it is possible to prioritize materials by need and importance before an emergency.