Dan Wilson, Associate Director for Collections & Library Services, has served as the liaison to the UVA Health System Emergency Management team for several years. Below, Dan recounts his experiences working in the Family Assistance Center, which was located in the Health Sciences Library, on August 12, 2017.
Kimberley: How are you doing?
Dan: I’m okay. Friends and family are safe, but I’m still thinking about those who were injured and killed during this past weekend’s violence. It’s hard to believe all of this took place right here in Charlottesville.
Kimberley: Tell me about Saturday, August 12.
Dan: I was at the library working with a team from the Health System charged with managing the Family Assistance Center. A Family Assistance Center (FAC) is an important part of disaster planning, as it functions to support and comfort the family members of those being treated at the hospital following an incident that involves several injuries. Our FAC response effort included chaplains, social workers, Volunteer Services, Patient Services, and Telemedicine, who facilitated communication between the FAC and the Emergency Department (ED). Several volunteers, including two volunteers from the American Red Cross, were also on hand to escort family members to and from the FAC and offer other support.
Kimberley: How did you come to work with disaster planning teams in the Health System?
Dan: Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) on helping libraries better prepare for disasters and become partners with the emergency planning community on using space and expertise to improve community resilience. The best way to make that happen is to reach out to emergency planners and listen for ways the library can help in their planning effort. I did that here with the UVA Health System Emergency Management team a few years ago, which led to the library being selected as the site for the Family Assistance Center.
Kimberley: Has the FAC been activated before?
Dan: No. In fact, we were hoping that it would never need to be activated. Again, activation only occurs when multiple injuries (in our planning more than ten) occur. Smaller incidents are handled through normal procedures, which do not include activation of the FAC.
Kimberley: When did you sense that the FAC was going to be activated?
Dan: Based on briefings by UVA Health System Emergency Management, I knew that there was a good chance of violence well before the weekend. When opposing sides began clashing mid-morning on Saturday we decided to put the FAC into action, and I asked some patrons to relocate to another area of the library. We were ready by the time the horrible news came to us of the car that slammed into several protesters.
Kimberley: What was your role during the activation?
Dan: I posted myself near the door in our library that leads to the space where the FAC was set up. This gave me the opportunity to explain to our patrons what was going on and I was able to monitor access in order to make certain that only family members and UVA personnel entered the space. I also responded to some facility requests from the FAC team and was available to make adjustments if we needed to scale up the FAC to include a larger portion of the library.
Kimberley: So the library was open during the entire time?
Dan: Yes. A new class of medical students had arrived the previous week and several of them were studying in the library. I was privy to news about what was happening and, if necessary, would have locked down the library to ensure their safety.
Kimberley: What do remember most from the activation?
Dan: I remember seeing our wonderful chaplains, social workers, and Patient Services Representatives comforting family members of the victims. I remember the Health System’s EVP, Richard Shannon, coming by to talk to family members.
Kimberley: Are there any lessons learned that you’d like to share?
Dan: I learned that we can no longer hope that the FAC will never be activated. I think this is good, as it makes us more diligent with planning and exercising drills. I also learned about the need for emotional aid. I was at the library for 11 hours and then went home and watched the news reports of the violence. I thought I was doing fine until I started crying uncontrollably in the shower the next morning. And my experience was minor compared to first responders, chaplains, social workers, and our healthcare team in the ED.
Kimberley: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Dan: It was an honor to be part of the FAC team. The Health System put in a lot of planning for the possibility of mass casualties as a result of the rally, and it certainly showed from my viewpoint. I am proud to work for the University of Virginia and I look forward to continue to seek ways that the library can support the needs of the UVA Health System Emergency Management.