Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dressing For A Disaster (Drill)

It was not my intention to make a "fashion statement" in the Science and Business Reading Room of the Adams Building at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. today. It just kind of worked out that way.

In light of the horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon two weeks ago, holding a disaster drill at America’s largest library, where I conduct research full time on behalf of my employer, seemed appropriate.  It’s a practice the library has undertaken annually for the past four years, according to Ron Bluestone, chief of the Science, Technology and Business Division of the Library of Congress, who oversaw the action as the exercise unfolded.

I left my home in northwestern Baltimore County this morning intent only on dressing for a routine day and a dreary, drizzly, chilly commute to our nation’s capitol. I donned dark-washed, boot-cut Levi’s 512 Perfectly Slimming jeans from Macy’s, which I bought on sale last year for $13, and a chocolate-hued top by Tribal with hints of sapphire and beige in a subtle floral pattern which was in a box of hand-me-downs sent to me last spring by my best friend’s mother, Joyce, of Spokane, Washington. I pulled on sturdy, waterproof platform Cami booties from Spiegel.com, a pair of faceted coffee-colored glass earrings from Fire & Ice Jewelers of Baltimore (www.fireandice.com), and a brown newsboy cap by Liz Claiborne to help keep passing showers from frizzing my locks while awaiting a train at the subway station. I’ve owned the leather cap for decades.

Pretty ordinary attire for a rainy day, I‘d say. But I don’t particularly care for "ordinary". So just for fun I upped the "wow" factor by adding a gorgeous (and toasty) neck-wrap created by Barbara Bass of Creations by B (www.barbarabass.com) who was staffing a booth full of her sumptuous designs as I perused the Sugarloaf Craft Festival at the Maryland State fairgrounds last weekend. This incredible piece of wearable art, with its cocoa-colored ostrich feathers and coppery threads woven into the hand-knit wool, has a hidden button to help keep the wrap in place on my shoulders. The boa can be worn several ways, as Barbara pointed out to me on Saturday, and when I complained that I was having trouble keeping the scarf in position, Barbara sewed another hidden button into place on the opposite side, right there on the spot. A gray, dismal day like today was perfect to rock my shimmery new handmade stole.

I was deeply engrossed in my research when an announcement came over the Library’s loudspeakers at 12:45 p.m., inviting visitors and researchers to leave immediately or be locked inside the building for the next hour as the "Shelter-In-Place" drill took place. I chose to stay, not wishing to miss an opportunity to see how our government has prepared to respond to the threats of this modern world.

My favorite librarian,
Peggy Clifton, "demon-
strates" the porta-potty
while reviewing a book
on disaster preparedness
As librarians from all over the division filed into the Science and Business Reading Room and took places at the 1930s-era wooden tables where I sat with my documents spread out before me, Mr. Bluestone donned his reflective "Floor Warden" vest and, walkie-talkie in hand, directed staffers to disgorge the contents of a 50-gallon plastic storage container, one of four identical bins stowed behind the reference desk for today’s training. As librarians set up a "privacy tent" and assembled a self-contained porta-potty inside, I took stock of the items that would inevitably aid our comfort (and perhaps our survival) should a real disaster necessitate the use of the bin’s inventory. Paper face masks, a bag of cloth rags, flashlights with batteries and a hand-crankable radio, duct tape and garbage bags, an inflatable air bed, latex gloves, toilet paper and a first aid kit were among the contents on display. There was also a cardboard box containing twenty packets of food and forty containers of drinking water. We didn’t get to see or taste the food, but I was told it resembles the military’s Meals Ready To Eat.

From left: Stephanie Marcus, Ron Bluestone,
Peggy Clifton and Mary Jane Cavallo made
sure library visitors would be well cared for
in the event of an emergency
At the conclusion of the drill, the tent was folded up and put away, the porta-potty disassembled, and the contents of the storage bin put back into place. With his official duties behind him, Mr. Bluestone suddenly commented that he loved my scarf, causing several of the other librarians standing nearby to echo the sentiment. Someone else mentioned that they thought I was a staffer, poised as I was with pad and pen, taking notes as if I was running the show. We all had a laugh over that, feeling inwardly grateful, I believe, that this exercise in the mitigation of a terrible emergency was only a drill.

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