Develop a disaster response plan

Updated: Sep 10

While disaster plans should be based on a library’s unique needs, all plans should address the following core topics.

Immediate emergency response

Consider what should happen in the seconds and minutes after a disaster strikes. How should staff members and volunteers respond? Start by planning for the hazards you identified as being most likely to occur – in Northern California, these may include fires, earthquakes and floods. Work with your team to:

  • Create accessible library-wide and branch specific emergency action plans (EAPs)

  • Coordinate with city and county emergency plans

  • Identify and train those who will lead emergency response efforts and identify staff roles and responsibilities for different scenarios (e.g., evacuation, shelter-in-place or lockdown)

  • Consider how the library’s utility, maintenance and facility needs will be impacted by a disaster

Continuity of library operations during a disaster

Plan for how library administration, services and programming will be affected by a disaster. Who will make decisions regarding staffing and opening library facilities? How will guidance from your city or county impact library operations?

  • Identify roles and responsibilities for staff and volunteers, including how decisions will be made if library leaders are unavailable

  • Determine how services and programming will be adjusted, given possible disaster scenarios

  • Coordinate with city or county emergency officials to clarify what is expected of library staff during a disaster (i.e. working at an emergency operations center or with another department)


Consider how the library will share important messages with patrons, staff and volunteers. What can the library communicate on its own? What will need to be approved by city or county leadership?

  • Develop a communications plan with input from city or county public information officers (PIOs)

  • Determine how the library will communicate with key audiences (see list to the right)

  • Plan for how critical information will be shared accurately and consistently across channels

Dissemination and training

Share the library’s disaster response plan in both full and summarized, pocket-size formats. Ensure that staff and volunteers have ample opportunities to review and discuss the plan. Don’t let the plan become a binder that sits on a shelf.

  • Regularly engage staff and volunteers on the topic of disaster preparedness through trainings and preparedness drills, including practice evacuations

  • Engage the entire library community in preparedness planning; invite additional feedback

  • Encourage members of the disaster response team to share their findings with staff and volunteers directly – messages are more likely to be heard when they come from trusted peers

Tools & Resources

  • Disaster planning resources page

  • Pocket Response Plan Template for NLS Libraries

  • Simple disaster plan template from the Amigos Library Services

  • New Jersey State Library: Librarian’s Disaster Planning and Community Resiliency Guidebook, Workbook (PDFs) and Community Resiliency Webinar

  • FEMA: Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning Guide for Local Governments (PDF): One of the most comprehensive guides to disaster preparedness and recovery. Includes detailed lists of planning best practices and suggestions for how to jumpstart recovery efforts immediately following a disaster.

  • National Heritage Responders: Risk Evaluation and Planning Program: A wide range of planning resources, including: questionnaires, walk-through checklists and risk-prioritization tools. Adapted versions of these materials could be useful for libraries in the planning phase, particularly if they were completed in a more community-wide fashion with the help of partners and patrons.

  • US Fire Administration: Wildland Urban Interface Toolkit: Planning resources to help communities collaborate, plan together and take action before a wildfire. Included are links to other resources and organizations.

  • American Library Association (ALA): Pandemic Preparedness Resources for Libraries: How libraries are responding to COVID-19, the development of library policies, professional development opportunities and resources for libraries at the federal, state and local levels.

Additional Reading

  • Library as Safe Haven: Disaster Planning, Response, and Recovery; A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians by Deborah Halsted, Shari Clifton and Daniel Wilson