New publication highlights the critical role of libraries and telecenters in emergency management

Two years ago — on February 27, 2010 — a massive earthquake struck Chile, followed by a tsunami that devastated several coastal communities. Libraries and telecenters played an important and unexpected role in responding to the crisis, helping to restore communication and promote recovery.

Mobile telecentre; photo courtesy of CDI Chile

Yesterday, on the two year anniversary, a webinar was held (download presentation) with over 60 participants, led by María Angélica Celedón, Executive Director of the Assocacion de Telecentros Activos de Chile (ATACH). The webinar shared the main findings of the Global Impact Study’s related research project conducted by the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) and ATACH on the role of libraries and telecenters in the aftermath of the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile. The research underscores the importance of access to information during emergency situations, when its access can determine the ability and capacity of individuals and organizations to react.

Publications from the study were also released yesterday, including a full report in Spanisha two-page brief in Spanish, and a two-page brief in English. Produced in partnership with ATACH, TASCHA’s latest series of publications — Disaster response in Chile: The critical role of libraries and telecenters — examines post-disaster information and communication needs, services provided by libraries and telecenters, response times, and factors contributing to successes and shortfalls. It also provides recommendations to improve emergency planning efforts.

Snapshots of findings:

  • The post-emergency response of library & telecenter staff was based on improvisation and local initiative
  • The ability of the libraries and telecenters to mount an effective post-disaster response depended on infrastructure, individual initiative, and community relationships
  • Libraries and telecenters provided communication and information access that fulfilled crucial emergency functions
  • In addition to providing communications access, many libraries and telecenters served as relief stations, offering space for people needing refuge and providing other emergency assistance
  • Emergency communications were established even in some locations where library and telecenter infrastructure was damage
  • Social media — Facebook and Twitter — were essential communication tools for staff
  • The services provided by libraries and telecenters in the aftermath of the 2010 Chilean earthquake shifted people’s perceptions of these venues from “places where kids go to do homework” to “invaluable community assets”

Snapshot of recommendations:

  • Governments at all levels should incorporate libraries and telecenters into emergency planning and response efforts
  • Create tools and provide training to make it easier to organize and communicate in emergency situations
  • Library and telecenter networks should coordinate response plans, as well as advocate to be included in government planning processes


This work was conducted under the Libraries, Telecenters, and the 2010 Chile Earthquake project, part of TASCHA’s Crisis Informatics research area.

This research was made possible by Microsoft and the Global Impact Study, a project co-funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.