After the shooting at my library in 2009, it was clear that I needed to do a better job of keeping my employees and patrons as safe as possible in emergencies.
We have since updated our emergency procedures and the physical building. Luckily, our township has a top-notch Public Safety department to advise us, which includes police, fire, and emergency planning services. I am also lucky in that my managers and staff are really good at planning, documenting, implementation, and training.
One of our employees is the designated Emergency Manual person. She makes sure our emergency procedures are up-to-date and disseminated to staff, schedules and implements drills and training, keeps our emergency supplies current, and makes suggestions for policy changes and other improvements.
The Emergency Manual covers just about everything: building evacuation, severe weather, power outages, plumbing problems, roof leaks, bomb threats, and (now) active shooter incidents. At our Staff Inservice Day this year, she organized our first active shooter drill, with two police officers playing the roles of shooters who were trying to get into various areas of the library to find victims. I am pleased to say that we passed with flying colors–given the terrific response from my staff back in 2009, this didn’t surprise me.
Our IT and Security staff upgraded our camera system from analog to digital, adding dozens of cameras to the public areas and the building exterior. A township police sergeant walked the building with us to determine priorities and placement. More than 50 cameras are now viewable from any staff computer, in single views or multiple configurations. We have worked on this project in phases over the last four years using the priorities we established. The camera upgrades came in handy as we lost staff through attrition–usage went up at the same time, which meant it was difficult for our reduced staff to physically patrol all of the nooks, crannies, and blindspots in our building.
We also upgraded our door access system. Previously, only a few employees had keys to the staff entrance, and most everyone else had to push a buzzer and wait to be let in to the building. With the buzzer going off all the time, we got into a pattern of just buzzing people in automatically, without always checking who they were. We worked with our alarm company to upgrade the door system. Now, all regular employees use their ID badges to enter the building themselves (temps and volunteers still get buzzed in). If an employee loses her badge, we can immediately deactivate the old badge and issue a new one with a new security code. Badge access can be restricted to certain times of day depending on the employee, and arm/disarm ability can be assigned permanently or on an as-needed basis, like for specific Pages coming in on a holiday to empty the return bins. The managers and I still have physical keys to the building for when the power goes out.
We also secured staff spaces. Doors from the public areas to the staff areas were previously unlocked and unsecured; it wasn’t uncommon for a preschooler to wander into the children’s staff workroom. At the Checkout Desk, a waist-high swinging gate was all that kept people from entering the staff area. We replaced the swinging gate with an actual door, and all doors leading to staff areas now require badge access. At the moment, it is possible for a determined interloper to hoist him/herself over the Checkout Desk counter and get into the staff area; in 2014 this will no longer be possible thanks to a small renovation project that will make our staff areas totally secure.
Due to the door access upgrade, everyone now wears ID badges. Before, nametags were worn…sometimes…by most people. When you have more than 100 employees and about as many volunteers and Friends of the Library, it can be difficult to tell who is wandering and who really is official–you may know the people you work with all the time, but it is nearly impossible for everyone to know everyone else on sight. The ID badges have helped with this.
Wearing an ID badge may have been the most difficult transition for my employees to make. I’ve worked in retail and in corporate settings, where ID badges are a “so what?” issue, but there is something about libraries where we are resistant to ID badges. (I understand people’s concerns, but I disagree that the concerns are so compelling that they outweigh the benefits of our ID badges.) We facilitated adoption by tying the badges to building access–you can’t get in the building or into staff areas if you don’t have your badge to open the doors (well, okay, you can, but it means you have to wait for someone to stop being busy so that they can let you in, so there’s a barrier). Some people expected all kinds of ID badge horrors, but our biggest problem was that the first-generation badges broke easily, so we bought new badges last year that are more heavy duty and less brittle.
We have panic buttons at some service desks, and when they are pushed, it opens a line to our alarm company, who alerts police/fire. We actually had these panic buttons already; I mention them because it is part of our overall safety plan. The button is mounted to the underside of the desk, similar to what you’d see in a bank.
Ongoing communication is key to making sure we’re up to date and prepared for emergencies. We encourage employees to submit Incident Reports for anything that causes concern, and to call the police if they decide it’s necessary. I have told them that they’ll never get in trouble for submitting too many incident reports; they actually help me and the managers to see patterns of behavior and connect the dots if there is one patron who is giving everyone a hard time.
We stay in touch with our Sergeant, who comes over every year or so to do a walk-around. Public Safety has also made it clear that they will support us whenever we call them, and now we are less hesitant about calling them if needed. In most cases, when a troublesome person hears one of my staff say that she will call for a patrol car, the confidence in her voice is enough to get the patron to comply. In the cases where we do call for an officer, the police take us seriously and respond quickly.
I know that I can’t make my library 100% secure all of the time. Since the shooting four years ago, though, we’ve made some really great improvements that bring me peace of mind. If an emergency occurs at the library, I am confident that my employees have the tools, skills, and training to address it.