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Table Top Disaster Planning

Orange County Library System

Problem Statement

As a public entity serving 11,300 patrons daily, the Orange County Library System (OCLS) has a responsibility to do all it can to provide a safe library experience. Reading the latest headlines demonstrates that this is a new world that offers changing hazards and threatening situations. There is very little time to act when a disaster strikes. Working through potential scenarios allows participants to fall back on their preparation information if such an emergency were to occur. The creation of an emergency manual provides participants with a visual resource to use if the need arises.


The Orange County Library System completed a Tabletop Disaster Plan exercise. The goal of this exercise was to create a practical check list of procedures to follow during a disaster. To understand how the System will react to a crisis, the Executive Edge Leadership Team was challenged with the task of developing an artificial emergency scenario. As the first exercise, the team decided to focus on an angry patron with a gun to represent violence in the library. Using a filmed enactment scripted by the team, this scenario was presented during a system-wide manager meeting.

Understanding how each department in the organization will need to react was achieved through pre-selected group discussions. The groups identified their potential needs during the situation and how to meet those needs. The exercise ended with each group sharing their discussions with the group at large. The Executive Edge Team compiled feedback from each group, creating an emergency manual for such an event and laying the groundwork for development of future disaster plans.

Traditionally library systems are managed by local government and follow their emergency procedures. OCLS is a unique library system as it is a separate entity not operated directly by the county. As such, the matter of emergency situations and how they are handled is wholly determined by the organization. It is not typical of library systems to develop this type of contingency, making OCLS distinct in its profession and approach to function from a business perspective.


As a result of this effort, OCLS has developed a formal plan to execute in a crisis situation specific to meet the needs of its library system and customer base. This plan serves as the foundation for other disaster planning topics suggested in the survey such as natural disasters, pandemics, building failures (fire, roof collapse, etc.), terrorism and more. These future table top planning sessions will allow the System to continue to instill confidence in its staff to help them remain calm and prepared to handle any disaster. This is illustrated in a survey conducted after the initial exercise. OCLS found that 88% of participating managers responded that they felt better prepared to react in a crisis situation after completing the exercise.