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PLS Virtual Response: May 2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes

Pioneer Library System, OK
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Innovation Summary

May 2013, tornadoes impacted the Oklahoma counties of Cleveland, McClain, and Pottawatomie. Pioneer Library System services, such as electricity and internet, were impacted for days. The PLS Virtual Library's immediate response, steps taken in aftermath, and processes implemented to address future severe weather are models for other libraries facing disaster.

Problem Statement

May 19, 20, and 31 tornadoes tore through the 3 county service area of the Pioneer Library System. May 19, the tornado passed between library communities in McLoud and Shawnee. This storm caused damage to staff property and temporarily impacted library operations. May 20, NWS in Norman issues warning of tornados near afternoon rush hour. Tornadoes develop early in the day and go through library communities in Southwestern Oklahoma City and Moore. This storm passed within a couple of blocks of the Moore Library, and left a 14 mile long by 1.1 mile wide path of destruction. May 31, the widest tornado in recorded history forms outside of El Reno and moves awkwardly towards southwest portions of Oklahoma City. This storm eventually ended outside the PLS service area but brought debris and torrential rain to an already exhausted infrastructure.


In a disaster situation spanning several days, the PLS Virtual Library (VL) instituted on the fly changes to facilitate communication and information dissemination to staff and local citizens. In immediate response to the May 19 & 20 tornados the VL moved official communication to social media. Specifically, the VL monitored #okwx, on Twitter, to help those looking for information regarding Moore. In the days preceding the May 31 tornado the VL developed a Tornado Relief website so those in need could locate everything from shelter, to clothing to clean restroom facilities. The content from the PLS Tornado Relief site was also used by the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management to create the statewide Oklahoma Strong site. As news and information came out PLS VL tweeted, shared and reposted valuable information. When the names of the deceased were released staff went and removed library materials from their accounts so they would not go to ‘collections’. In the months that followed the VL focused on finding new methods of providing traditional online services so less downtime with no communication would occur during crisis situations.


The Pioneer Library System has implemented many new disaster preparedness strategies since the May 2013 Tornadoes. The following online services are now remotely hosted: • Website | Rackspace • EZ Proxy | OCLC • ILS | SirsiDynix • Calendar | Evanced • SMS Service | Mosio • Email | Microsoft 365 We have the following resources now: • AT&T WiFi hotspots backup • High end laptops • Redirect from FB Check-in Pages Emergency communication methods with staff have been solidified. We will be using Mosio Text Alerts to send out announcements to staff, as well as, utilizing our social media and Emergency Notification eNewsletter, through LibraryAware, to let staff know how to proceed in emergency situations.