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Vol. LXIII, No. 14
July 08, 2011

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NLM Holds First Disaster Information Symposium

Dr. Nicole Lurie

Dr. Nicole Lurie

Photo: Michael Spencer

More than 200 people from 29 states recently attended a first-of-its kind event at the National Library of Medicine—a Disaster Information Outreach Symposium. It highlighted the fast-changing role of librarians and information professionals in providing guidance and resources in emergency and disaster management situations, a role that increasingly is being shaped by rapid advances in mobile technology.

More than 20 speakers from federal and state government, the military, academia, hospital and university libraries and volunteer organizations discussed their experiences and presented research on a variety of topics ranging from the role of social media in disaster response, the information needs of emergency responders in disasters and public health emergencies, using library facilities and resources and the role of librarians in disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

The symposium was organized by NLM’s Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC), established in 2008 to provide critical information resources and tools for disaster preparedness, response and recovery. “The symposium gave information professionals active in disaster information a unique opportunity to present their research, projects and expectations for next steps to their peers,” said symposium chair Cindy Love, a medical librarian with DIMRC.

HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response Dr. Nicole Lurie gave the keynote address. She expressed appreciation for the “time, energy and focus” NLM gives to disaster preparedness and response, and stressed the need for quality information. “In public health decision-making, what we do has to be grounded in the best available science and best available evidence,” she said. “The more information that can be in front of me and at my disposal when I make decisions, the better I think we do in preparedness and response.”

Attendees said they appreciated the diverse agenda and the opportunity to learn from people who’ve been on the front lines during disasters. For example, Laura Howe of the American Red Cross talked about the use of social media during disasters. Dr. David Yates, an assistant professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland and a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, talked about his experience handling information and communications in an operations center at the Pentagon after the Haiti earthquake. Diane Brown, deputy state librarian at the State Library of Louisiana, who lived through both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005 and was deeply involved in the recovery efforts afterward, discussed using library facilities and resources for response and recovery.

Dolores Judkins, who heads instruction, research and outreach at Oregon Health & Science University Library, said her take-away message from the symposium was to connect with emergency responder groups in the community to let them know libraries are a resource and aren’t just about books.

“We can’t just sit in a library and expect people to come to us,” she said. “We have to go out and let people know what we can do for them.”—Thomas Conuel, Shana Potash NIHRecord Icon

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