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Chapter News: Hurricane Harvey: Voices from the Storm

Editor’s note: The following article was submitted, at our request, by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) South Central Region (SCR) office. Because the SCR coincides directly with the South Central Chapter (SCC) of MLA demographic area, they are well poised to provide this update. Although the article is much longer than usual for the MLA News, we feel it is important to hear not only the voices from the professional perspective, but also a few of the personal stories from your MLA colleagues, or, as suggested below, “frolleagues.”*

Hurricane Harvey

(National Weather Service)

One of the hardest things in any emergency or disaster is feeling helpless to help those in need, especially family, friends, and colleagues. As the SCR Regional Medical Library, we are responsible for supporting our region’s health information needs. As the storm approached the coast the week of August 21, we began to send out alerts and a few preparedness resources via social media.

However, as soon as we returned to the office after the storm hit, we found ourselves scrambling to contact those in the region who might have been impacted. We went into the member directory and started to call as many people as possible, bringing up county maps and weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Hurricane Center.

An early update came from Marilynn Goff, AHIP, Academic Resource Center, Texas Woman’s University–Houston, who allowed me to share the following email she sent to us:

“[Our] house is snug. Rain has not stopped for long. I lived here through hurricane Carla cat 4 here in 1961 & this is much worse. Streets are flooded in my neighborhood 11 miles south of the Texas medical center down highway 288. Roads here are, carrying rainwater away. The need continues; people are desperate for help. Dams are topping near Bear Creek & Army is releasing water around Eldridge. Have seen Coast Guard helicopters fly over a half dozen times. Houston police are rescuing many. Thank goodness some shelters are allowing pets in. Local TV stations are rescuing folks because the city, state, county and federal are not making it into most neighborhoods. Many have neck deep water in their apartments but ‘Cajun’ navy, TV personnel, private citizens, gang members and more are pulling together to help all.”

We also spoke to Louise McLaughlin, Health Sciences Library, Woman’s Hospital Health Science Library, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who had suffered flooding last year and could speak to some of the challenges that those affected by Harvey might face, especially as many libraries and librarians have expressed the desire to help:

“The 2016 Baton Rouge flood was the most benign for the library and the most traumatic for the hospital staff. Over half the staff lost some or all of their homes or cars. Those not affected rolled up their sleeves and did all they could at work and after hours. Louisiana cooks are crowd-savvy, and we took to feeding folks for weeks on end. In the Library, the most useful thing I did was listen to the stories people poured out. There was so much loss, so much pain! The computers, copier, fax, and scanner were also popular, with many in the Library for the first time to use one of these resources.

“The hospital was saved by the National Guard and an Aquadam—a relatively new invention that sucked up the water intruding on the hospital and filled the tube-like dam to prevent more water from getting in. Our CEO worked through the Governor to get this in place, and it was phenomenal! This is one tip I would like everyone to have.

“In all of the water crises we encountered, I always turned to the National Library of Medicine Disaster Information Management Research Center. Their website is quite robust and should be in everyone’s tool kit.”

The Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC) was indeed pushing out a lot of resources (and continues to do so), which we in turn redistributed to our region. It was a stone our office did not leave unturned either: as we were brainstorming possible solutions or anticipating needs, we wanted to find literature and evidence that could inform future decisions.

chapter2.jpgAdditionally, we had daily huddles at the SCR offices to discuss our plan of action for each day: whom we would try to contact and in what ways we could help at that moment, as well as after the fact. One service we were glad to be able to offer the region was hosting a WebEx conference call for the Texas Medical Center (TMC) Library.

On Friday, September 1, NOAA issued their final advisory warning regarding Hurricane Harvey as the storm was downgraded and moving out of Louisiana.

We contacted surrounding regions in Baton Rouge or as far west as Austin, Texas. Even if the storm had not hit them, they had inadvertently had some connection to flooded areas. We heard a few stories of those who had been stranded but fortunately not hurt.

To write this article, we also solicited our contacts in Houston for their perspectives. In the midst of recovery, three librarians came together to tell us what had happened from their point of view. Their accounts follow.

Stephanie Fulton, AHIP, Executive Director, Research Medical Library, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center–Houston

Recovery from Harvey in the TMC and Houston is underway. Experiences range from boat evacuations and flooded homes, car loss, workplace destruction, and survivor’s guilt. The support and acts of kindness are as overwhelming as the devastation caused by the storm.

View from our front lawn. These canoers ferried many people out of their flooded houses (Photo credit: Elizabeth Brackeen)

My wife and I recently moved into a new home closer to the medical center. In making the decision to move, we asked friends on the street what happened during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Did they flood? The answer from everyone was just some water in the street, maybe over the curb, but it receded quickly. Well, this is not what happened with Harvey. We measured more than twenty-seven inches in our backyard rain gauge (an underestimation since it overflowed a few times), and areas in Houston received over fifty inches. Water pooled on our street and yard for about thirty-six hours, until it magically receded when floodgates were opened. We were lucky on our block, but others on our street and neighborhood were not. Many homes took in many inches of water, which is all it takes to necessitate complete removal of carpet, furniture, and anything that is wet.

On Sunday evening, August 27, we had two friends join us for the night as they had lost electricity and the water was approaching their front doors. One was a soccer teammate Angie and her energetic dog Peaches. Our second house guest was Liliana Varman, the daughter of TMC Library colleague Beatriz Varman, AHIP. Beatriz and her husband were traveling and could not return to Houston until Thursday, August 31, 2107.

Monday morning, my friend and her dog headed home and reported back that she had been very lucky with no water in the house. Two doors down, the Varmans were not as fortunate and experienced flooding. We offered to start the process of removing carpet and all things wet in hopes of mitigating further damage. Our team of three removed the carpet, and the next day, we had reinforcements, including TMC Library archivist Phil Montgomery, who removed baseboards in the house. Wes Browning, Research Medical Library information technology manager, arrived as our floor expert, as he had spent the previous day at the home of Research Medical Library manager, Clara Fowler, who experienced multiple feet of water in her house. Deborah Sibley’s husband Gary also showed up with some impressive tools and experience removing hardwoods. At this point, Deborah was on day three as the new executive director of the TMC Library, and managing that library’s street-level and garage flooding and other water issues.

During the lead-up to the storm and the days of rain, our library’s emergency plan and communication worked well. Texting using our call tree and communication using personal emails made it possible to keep in contact and have updates from everyone in the Research Medical Library. Deborah had been added to the TMC Library’s call tree prior to their early closure on Friday and was, therefore, able to easily integrate into their communication plan on her first day of work, Monday, August 28, 2017.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center provided in-patient care throughout the event but suspended outpatient services from August 28 through the Labor Day weekend. The Research Medical Library had minimal issues with some wet ceiling tiles due to pooling water on our roof. Other areas of the hospital did sustain water damage, including our School of Health Professions where faculty offices and student space took in sewage water, and they will be displaced for months. However, throughout the hurricane, the focus was on patient care and teamwork, which can be seen in this MD Anderson Facebook video.

Looking west on Murworth Drive, Houston, TX (Photo credit: Elizabeth Brackeen)

On Tuesday, September 5, when we returned to work and I had the opportunity to meet with my team at MD Anderson, I was touched by their generosity to and support of others. Those who could had helped clean out houses of friends and strangers; donated food, clothing, and supplies; rescued dogs; and created artwork and donated proceeds to Harvey relief efforts.

We are working to get back into routines—for some, this means adjusting to new heavy traffic patterns. Others have moved into temporary housing, and some in Houston have yet to return to their homes as they are still underwater. I received so much support from friends and colleagues, dare I say “frolleagues,” from across the country in the form of emails, texts, and Facebook posts. Upon returning to work on Tuesday, I had an email waiting for me from former Louisiana medical librarian and SCC member, Ethel Madden, who had firsthand hurricane experience with Katrina. Her email gave me the push I needed to refocus myself for my team, and it was a nice reminder to take the time to reach out; it matters.

Deborah Sibley, Executive Director, TMC Library, Texas Medical Center–Houston

There are many things I learned from the Hurricane Harvey experience:

  1. It is a really good thing to show up early for the [human resources] HR orientation. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had the keys and the ID that made it possible to enter the building during my first week on the job.
  2. It is possible to get a lot of work done using email, the phone, texting, and online programs like WebEx.
  3. The TMC Library staff is a great group of people who are very dedicated to their jobs.
  4. The [University of Texas] UT Facilities group is professional and helpful, even in very dark times and even with a stranger. They also learned from the students pounding on the library doors to be let in that the library is a valued part of the campus and the learning community.
  5. The NNLM Regional Medical Library Fort Worth group helped so much with their offers of technical expertise. Being able to have those two staff meetings/updates provided a much needed way for the TMC Library group to touch base and share information.
  6. Stephanie Fulton is a goldmine of important information. The best thing was that she was willing to share that information.
  7. It is hard to track a storm when you don’t know the area you live in. It is helpful to keep a map open so that you can find out if YOUR area is in the tornado warning area.
  8. Friends and colleagues are your friends and colleagues no matter where you live. So many people sent texts and emails, and called to check on Gary and me throughout the Harvey experience. The Louisiana State University Health–New Orleans group in particular were texting, calling, and inviting us to come back to New Orleans throughout the Harvey experience. We never felt alone.
  9. Gary and I were very lucky to select a place to live that didn’t flood and never lost power. (Our second choice on the list was in a neighborhood that did flood.)

I’m very happy to be at the TMC Library. The librarians and associates were responsive and ready to return to work after our unexpected break. And the students and faculty seem pretty happy too.

chapter5.jpg chapter6.jpg
 Office on main floor of The TMC Library
(Photo credit: Deborah Sibley)
  Another first floor office damaged by water
(Photo credit: Deborah Sibley)


Beatriz Varman, AHIP, Head of Client Relationship Management, TMC Library, Texas Medical Center–Houston

View of Latma Street from our house (Photo credit: Liliana Varman)

I was out of town when Harvey hit Houston, but my daughter Liliana was at home. I was very concerned she was home alone facing the storm and not sure what to expect (nobody really knew!). I was in constant communication with her when I suddenly got the news that our street was flooded, water came into the house, and there was no power. I started panicking at that time thinking what my daughter will do.

Stephanie Fulton and Elizabeth Brackeen, Learning Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center–Houston, had recently moved to our neighborhood and kindly invited Liliana to stay over at their house. Our neighbor Angie came over to check on her. I am forever grateful to all of them for offering shelter to Liliana.

Once the storm was over, the three of them started the arduous work of removing the wet carpet and sheetrock. My husband and I couldn’t get back to Houston for a few days, so they diligently worked on our house and saved it! When we arrived in Houston, a lot of the hard work was already done by Stephanie, Liz, Angie, Liliana, and Phil. Then it was the additional arduous job of removing the wood floors. Wes came over and offered to help. Deborah’s husband Gary provided the right tools and helped to remove all of the wet floor. I am very fortunate that I had a wonderful group of angels who came to our rescue when we most needed it, and I can only be forever grateful to them.


Special thanks to Stephanie Fulton, Deborah Sibley, and Beatriz Varman for sharing their stories.

The SCR Regional Medical Library is exploring ways to further support the region during the aftermath of this crisis. Moving forward, we hope to offer programming around disaster resources and drawing from the expertise of our Disaster Preparedness and Response Advisory Committee to help us inform future efforts.

We are also examining funding mechanisms and planning to volunteer to help with relief efforts. The Texas Library Association has set up a relief fund to provide recovery grants to libraries here. They also have compiled recovery resources.

Areas continue to be flooded in the region. For additional updates on Harvey damage, you can visit the Central Texas Library System site. The SCR office continues to update our website as well as our disaster information page.

* Note the term “frolleague” from the 2016 Janet Doe lecture “We Can Be Heroes: MLA’s Leadership Journey(s)” by M.J. Tooey, AHIP, FMLA.

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