The purpose of this project is to provide improved access to disaster and emergency information for residents of Douglas County, Kansas, with a particular emphasis on assuring that vulnerable populations are served and to improve their access to critical information to help them prepare for, endure, and recover from disasters that may occur in this community in the future. Project objectives will be accomplished by enhancing the role of the Lawrence Public Library as an information center for the public during an emergency and an outreach center for information related to disasters preceding them. To do this, the Lawrence Public Library will partner with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Douglas County Emergency Management, the University of Kansas Research and Training Center on Independent Living, and the community working group Together Prepared.
The objectives of this project are to improve access to disaster information to residents of Douglas County, Kansas by:
1) Enhancing access to public health and preparedness resources through printed materials, staff assistance, Internet and a call center to community members before, during and after a disaster;
2) Developing a website, Together Prepared, that offers advice, information, resources, community linkages, health and safety information that can be used by the general population, but with an emphasis on services to vulnerable populations within the county;
3) Piloting a library outreach program using the library’s mobile van that informs agencies, organizations and residences serving vulnerable populations about what to do before, during and following a disaster in Douglas County.
Residents of Northeast Kansas receive frequent reminders of the need to address disaster management as a part of their daily lives. For every season in this part of the country, through winter ice storms, oppressive heat waves in the summer, tornados in the spring or flooding in the fall, residents face the threat of natural disasters that threaten their health and welfare. Compound this with the ongoing threats raised by possible pandemics, environmental contamination from any of the train or truck cargo passing through the area or potential bioterrorism, and the need to maintain vigilant systems to prepare the public becomes clear. Effective communication and information systems that enhance individual and system preparedness frequently remain absent, almost an afterthought left to beleaguered community health and other public officials long after the shards left from the tornados have been cleared.
This project, building on an existing community partnership, Together Prepared , is an effort to put into practice recommendations for vulnerable populations in Douglas County, Kansas, with applications that extend to all residents. Much of the proposed work builds upon the logic of extending knowledge management into the community through the most available, accessible, and trusted resource capable of best utilizing this information in the county, the Lawrence Public Library. Figuring out how to take all the information that is available to people and condense it so it is practical and easy to understand is critical to improving emergency preparedness outcomes. Simply put, we need to figure out how to communicate to vulnerable populations the information they need in a timely and appropriate manner before, during and after the incident.
Together Prepared held a forum for community-based organizations to discuss concerns and challenges they encounter in preparing for an emergency. Participants reported that their consumers lacked education and resources or that their personal preparedness levels were quite low. Evaluations from the forum indicated that 100% of attendees found the forum helpful and 98% wished to continue preparedness efforts. Efforts to extend outreach through greater web-presence and on-line communications are a cost-effective extension to what has been learned from the discussions.
The Lawrence Public Library will develop the capability to post information online, host a call center, serve as a central meeting location for people to access information and provide mobile preparedness training activities to vulnerable populations before a disaster strikes. The library created a preparedness booklet that is posted on the project’s website: http://www.togetherprepared.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/HOWtoBePreparedinDouglasCountyKansas.pdf
The Lawrence Public Library also has existing relationships with many of the 112 community-based organizations that serve vulnerable populations (as identified by Together Prepared). The library’s involvement with the Douglas County Senior Services, membership in Lawrence Partners in Aging, the Douglas County Coalition on Aging, AARP and Cottonwood, Inc (a local agency serving individuals with developmental disabilities) give the library direct access to current services and activities plus updated information on health issues and services. Through collaboration with Together Prepared, the Lawrence Public Library has also formed partnerships with the thirteen social services, non-profit and governmental agencies that make up the working group and increase the library’s ability to reach vulnerable populations with important health and emergency preparedness information.
These existing programs and partnerships will improve the ability to extend new services and information to vulnerable populations. Furthermore, the library’s Book Van Program, which operates three days a week, year round, provides direct service to residents of senior living centers in the community. The remaining days of the week, the van will to transport trainers and materials to current and potential partner sites to provide personal preparedness training classes for community-based organization’s staff and consumers.
On July 26, 2004, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13347, ‘‘Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness.’’ This Order establishes a policy that the Federal government appropriately supports the safety and security of individuals with disabilities in situations involving both natural and man-made disasters.
According to a 2005 Harris Poll:
• 56% of people with disabilities do not know whom to contact about emergency plans in their community.
• 61% of persons with disabilities have not made plans to quickly and safely evacuate their homes.
• Among those people with disabilities employed full or part time, 32% say no plans have been made to safely evacuate their workplace.
By using the more than 100 community-based organizations identified in Douglas County as the vehicles to enhance outreach of training and education, efforts are extended to the consumers of those agencies. In October 2008, Together Prepared distributed a survey to 112 community-based organizations in Douglas County asking about the populations they serve and their emergency plans. Of the 33 agencies that responded, they serve a median and mode of 200 people per month and mean of 464 people per month. Using the mean to extrapolate to all of the 112 service agencies in Douglas County, our target population will extend to over 50,000 people, nearly all of the vulnerable populations within Douglas County.
The Lawrence Public Library recorded 473,446 user visits in 2008, indicating that the library is one of the most frequently-used public buildings in our community. On average, more than 9,000 individuals come to the library each week. The library is well-known in the community as a neutral and respected information resource, and the library received over 92,940 reference inquiries in 2008. The library website received 184,852 user visits in 2008. This represents a high-use resource that we aim to utilize further through this project.
There exists a need to channel information into the hands of citizens and the agencies that serve them that both help increase their awareness of disaster preparedness and tell them very specifically what to do in crisis situations.
Many of the 20 external partners greeted the news of the Douglas County Public Information Hotline with enthusiasm and noted there is a need for such services during a disaster event in our community. The ultimate compliment was being selected to be highlighted on the KU website as a “best of best” practice.
Since the project has not been officially deemed ready to take calls until the volunteers are fully trained, which is expected in the spring of 2011, no press releases have been issued about the opening of the center. Thus, we have not really had an opportunity to gather comments from the public, but we expect it to be very much the same level of response as the external partners– very supportive! We also learned that any full scale exercise to test a call center operations plan might best be done in the second or third phase of the project rather than this initial. The reason for this is that recruiting volunteers and then training them takes time and you have to have this done to pull off the stimulation. Plus, a true simulation takes commitment and person power to plan and carry out. Our open house and demonstration of the call center was a successful training/demonstration endeavor; however, it fell short of the original intention to test the operations of the call center with a stimulation/demonstration.
Douglas County Emergency Management (EM), Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department (LDCHD) and Lawrence Public Library (LPL) agree to work together to maintain and update the Together Prepared website, , which is designed to serve the efforts of the Together Prepared coalition, and to provide timely and useful information in support of Douglas County Public Information Center (DCPIC) hotline operations during a disaster or emergency.
An overall evaluation to determine the level to which the three objectives of this project were met was conducted at the last Team Member’s meeting on November 1, 2010. The objectives were successfully met with an overall rating of “very good to excellent.” Specific areas that received excellent ratings were the team members’ efforts for promotion, publicity and training activities, the development of external partners, recruitment of volunteers, the training provided to the three sites to address their specific needs, and the purchasing of necessary equipment and bandwidth to have the call center functional.
Ongoing evaluation of project effectiveness will take place at six-month intervals. The six-month evaluations will be both quantitative and qualitative and be closely tied to the most appropriate methods of measuring each project objective. All evaluation results will be shared with members of Together Prepared for feedback, so that any problems can be identified, understood and remediated in a timely manner that is inclusive and transparent to all participants.
Catherine “Cat” Rooney Howland