Update from the Strathcona County Library (Alberta) Following November 6 Incident
November 16, 2018
On the evening of Tuesday November 6, an explosion was reported in the parkade underneath the Strathcona County Community Centre (located in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton, AB). This building houses Strathcona County Library and the explosion forced an emergency evacuation of all patrons and staff.
In the hours that followed, it would become clear just how serious this situation was. Tragically, the blast had been deliberately set by a young man who would then take his own life. It created a fire and touched off a second explosion (which turned out to be a vehicle’s gas tank). While RCMP ensured that there was no threat of further explosions, this fire burned for several hours, filling the Community Centre and both floors of the Library with smoke.
In the days that followed, RCMP continued an active investigation and examined the entire Community Centre space. Early exploration of the Library space by County staff (in hazmat suits and respirators) revealed no structural damage and very limited physical damage. However, it also revealed a thin layer of soot over literally every physical surface: shelves, desks, books, DVDs … everything. Environmental testing began, to screen the debris for toxicity and to determine air quality.
Meanwhile, Library staff had been offered space for a temporary pop-up library, in the pro shop at a local golf course. In a mere three days, they managed to put together a small collection, and opened the doors at 1 pm on Saturday, November 10.
Safety Update First
First, all staff and visitors to the Community Centre, including the Library, are safe. Thank you for your outpouring of best wishes and support – it means a lot! Bless our super-sensitive alarm system that caused us to practice evacuations so often in the past.
I’ve included an official update below. I’ll just note that once the second event happened, control of the scene passed from the County level to specialized teams, and all communication had to be through the RCMP. Everyone assumed the worst, but the second event was just a consequence of a vehicle’s gas tank being too hot from the first event.
Bless the 2008 global recession – the finest concrete pourers were available to work on the Community Centre – only minor, local repairs are needed, but the structure is sound. Sprinklers only went off in the two levels of the parkade. We all feel so awful for staff and patrons whose cars and in the parkade, and whose belongings remain the Community Centre.
For safety of first responders, the original area burned for quite a while. It wasn’t just a scene of a fire – it was feared to be much more. Smoke circulated everywhere in the Community Centre.
A few authorized facility staff in respirators have walked through and taken pictures. The good news is everything looks like it always has. However, when they swiped a gloved finger along any surface, there was gritty film. It is on everything. Tomorrow the results will come back so we know what is in the soot and how it can be cleaned. In the meantime, nothing is coming out of the building, including personal effects, until they can be cleaned to the highest standards of safety.
Now to the library-specific stuff.
We didn’t know all the above information at once, so we planned for the short-term, yet had to also have a contingency plan. Our municipal partners stepped up with space to plan and space for a pop-up library almost immediately – sort of short-cutting the larger municipal effort to house the 600 staff that work in both our County Hall and Community Centre. We have our needs in the hopper, but we had to find a space to meeting the public:
- Our community needed to take back “normal.” In the absence of details due to RCMP investigation limited communication in the first few days, speculation was rampant.
- As well, our staff needed normal. Our municipal HR department organized critical event support session, and we brought together as many of our staff as we could to do the emotional work of dealing with this trauma. There was lots of grief and anger to work through. But a number of staff said they couldn’t sit home any more listening to the news – one staff member said she just needed to be near books again.
- Also, we needed a fixed point in the swirl of events.
If you had said “go set up a library branch in three days” I would have said it was impossible, but that would have been discounting my amazing staff and the help of our sharing, caring library community. Fort Saskatchewan (with whom we share a catalogue and IT staff) and Edmonton Public Libraries have been phenomenal. They are the closest in driving distance, so we accepted their help first. Don’t worry – we will happily reach out to more of you and take you up on all your offers when we know how long we will be out of the library.
Strathcona County Pop-Up Library opened its doors to the public Saturday, November 10 from 1 to 5 pm. out of the Broadmoor Golf Course Pro Shop. Our regular phone number is forwarded there (780-410-8600), we are picking up our mail daily. Our collection is made up entirely of patron favorites, lovingly protected in their homes until they could be gratefully returned to us. Fortunately we have three satellite return bin locations. If you want more details, check FAQs at www.sclibrary.ca
Fortunately, our Bookmobile was out on its public visits the evening of November 6, so it is carrying on providing Library service – more people are coming out to our rural stops. The Bookmobile was, however, free to make a visit to the pop-up location on Saturday. Thank you to FSPL who is serving even more County patrons than usual.
Pictures are worth thousands of words: if you go picture-by-picture, you will see the captions we added.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you have done and will be doing to help!
The grateful staff of Strathcona County Library
Director, Strathcona County Library
(Via Strathcona County Library)