or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

It’s Official: I’m Not A Terrorist

   October 9th, 2008 Brian Herzog

FOIA LetterLast year, I read a blog post giving instructions on how American citizens could request a check into your personal flight history, to find out if your name appears on the "no-fly" list. So I did.

The website seems to be gone now, but it was a simple form that submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Homeland Security. I'd never requested anything under FOIA before, and my personal history seemed like a place to start. I thought it was a good exercise, both as an information professional and as a private citizen.

So I was happy when, earlier this week (almost exactly one year later), I received a letter from the US Customs and Border Protection saying,

A search was conducted of the [Automated Targeting System] database, and we were unable to locate or identify any responsive records.

Which means I am flying under their radar (until this request, probably).

Not that I thought there would be anything untoward in my flying patterns, but these days, you never know. Now all I need to do is take my official "he's no terrorist" letter to the nearest TSA worker for a smiley face.

[To request your own, try starting at CBP's FOIA webpage]

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Reference Question of the Week – 2/4

   February 10th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Department of Chelmsford Security logoThis is interesting. In these times of elevated threat levels, a patron asked me if the library had a copy of Chelmsford's Town Emergency Management Plan.

We do not, so I tried to track it down.

After a series of phone calls, I finally talked to someone called Walter in the Town's Emergency Management office. Walter told me that, yes, such a plan does exist in print. It's about 200 pages long, and there are only five copies of it - only the heads of the emergency responder departments in town have copies.

Even though it is a Town document, and therefore available to the public, the library will not be getting one. Walter feels that there is too much confidential information contained in it (by which, I thought he meant procedures and practices that we wouldn't want terrorists to see, but he was actually more concerned with protecting the home and cell phone numbers of the Town's emergency responders).

However, if anyone does want to see the plan, they can call the Emergency Management office (978-250-5280) and leave a message for Walter (he's a volunteer, and so doesn't keep a regular schedule) to make an appointment to go down to the office and see the plan.

To answer this question, I used the phone book to find local phone numbers. After the fact, though, I wondered how far I could get only searching the internet. The answer is, not very far - I could find the town website, but it was a struggle to actually find the (not at all helpful) Emergency Management Agency page within the town website. I had to use Massachusetts' official website to find Walter's contact information. Here are a few other resources I found that might help if you're looking for similar information:

From the state-level websites, you should be able to drill down to find your local information.  But, as I found, a call to your town/city hall or police department might be the best place to start.  Being prepared does not require living in fear.

department of homeland security, dhs, homeland security, disaster plan, emergency management, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question

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