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How ready is the Village of Forest Park to respond to a disaster like the one in New Orleans? Since 2002, the Village has had a plan totaling 172 pages, which it plans to update in the coming months. Here’s what it looks like.

A hurricane, of course, is not going to happen on the shores of Lake Michigan, but the Planning Guidance for Local Government EmergencyOperation Plan for Forest Park acknowledges, “The Village of Forest Park is vulnerable to many types of. . .hazards capable of creating a major emergency or disaster situation.” The plan recognizes three categories of hazards.

 Natural, which includes tornadoes, violent thunder storms, floods, extreme heat or cold, earthquakes.

 Industrial, including industrial accidents, hazardous material situations, structural collapse, utility failure, fire, and explosion.

 Civil/political, which includes terrorism, riots, sabotage, civil disturbance, strikes, extortion, and hostage situations.

Commissioner Tim Gillian noted that because we live in a large metropolitan area, a disaster that happens somewhere else in Chicago can impact Forest Park. For example, on 9/11 the El stations at the end of the blue and green lines were overwhelmed with panicking people fleeing the potential of a terrorist hit on the Sears Tower in the Loop.

Luckily, said Gillian, the Forest Park Police anticipated the need and responded well.

And earlier this month, a suspicious package found aboard a CTA rail car led to the station being temporarily shut down as the Cook County Bomb Squad and the FBI responded.

The Federal Task Force on Terrorism is still investigating the remnants of the package, which was blown up by the Cook County Bomb Squad.

Again, the response went smoothly and the package was destroyed before it could cause any harm, but it is still unknown whether it was merely a false alarm or if the village in fact narrowly escaped disaster.

How the plan would work

In the case of the disaster in New Orleans, there has been much finger pointing by officials at all levels of government regarding who was responsible. Forest Park’s plan leaves no doubt.

On page 70 the, plan clearly states, “The mayor is held ultimately responsible.” On receiving a recommendation from the police that the village is facing an emergency of disastrous proportions, the plan calls for the mayor to set up a command center”the Emergency Operations Center”in the basement of Village Hall.

In the plan, the police are the first of the first responders.

According to their Priority Action Checklist, their first responsibilities include:

 Accessing the area and assessing the situation.

 Establishing an initial security perimeter.

 Evaluating the need for outside help (The FPPD belongs to the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, a coalition of police departments for the purpose of mutual aid. The fire department participates in the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System”MABAS” which includes River Forest, Oak Park, North Riverside, Berwyn, Stickney and Cicero).

 Recalling off duty personnel.

 Recommending that the mayor activate the village emergency operations center.

Although the chief of police and the fire chief have the authority to call for a limited action”say of a city block”it is the mayor who has the authority to implement a general evacuation of the whole town.

The mayor would assemble his emergency response team at the Emergency Operations Center. The team includes the Village Administrator and Clerk; the Emergency Services Disaster Agency Coordinator”Craig Lundt; the Directors of Public Works, Public Property, Health and Safety and the Park District; the Superintendent of District 91; the village Finance Director; the chiefs of police and fire and the Director of the Community Center.

The police would be responsible for communications during the crisis using their dispatching resources and the reverse 911 capabilities of the Village. The Village Administrator would take care of updating the media, and the Village Clerk would handle resource management.

The fire department would be responsible for rescuing the sick and injured and getting them to medical care. The hospitals to which the fire department has access include Loyola, West Suburban, Oak Park, McNeil, Westlake and Gottlieb.

Decisions would have to be made by the mayor and his team regarding what the plan refers to as “mass care,” i.e. emergency housing, food and water. The Red Cross and Salvation Army would be available to assist in this effort. The plan even has provisions for a mortician and a coroner in case deaths occur during the disaster, and for animal care for pets.

Current inadequacies

Forest Park’s plan follows an outline provided by Sheriff Michael Sheahan in 2002. Clearly the Village has come a long way since 9/11 in upgrading its preparedness for a disaster. However, cracks do remain, through which things could fall if our community should face a major emergency.

The plan provided by Sheriff Sheahan, for example, calls for every department in the village to have completed a detailed Priority Action Checklist. The plan on file at Village Hall reveals that to date no checklists have been completed for Mass Care, Resource Management, Financial Management, Fire and Rescue, Public Works or Volunteer Management.

Another example of the needed for an update is that provision is made for the care of animals, but responsibility for that care is given to the ARK, which no longer exists.

Village Administrator Michael Sturino stated at the September 12 Village Council meeting that he had given the Village’s department heads a 60 day deadline to come up with revisions to the plan.

He said the revisions are still a work in progress at the current time.

“I will suggest that in the new plan in the works that we include a better description of how the mutual aid and MABAS concept work. The information provided in the document would be the way that we organize the financial end of a crisis,” said Gillian.

Still, Gillian said that a plan without any gaps whatsoever might be outside the range of possibility. “Our Fire Chief cannot lay out a plan for each disaster scenario as each one will have different response needs. If we had a large building collapse, it would be a response from a confined space rescue team thru MABAS, a mass casualty would need a different response, large fire, etc. Too many scenarios for a cookie cutter plan.”