Though population mandates don’t apply to Forest Park, officials here are pushing to finalize an emergency preparedness plan that could increase the likelihood of receiving federal aid, and ultimately save lives in the event of a large-scale disaster.
For more than a year, department heads, administrators and staff have wrestled with a template provided by the Cook County Emergency Management Agency that is literally hundreds of pages long. Within those pages, municipal leaders are asked to designate who will top the chain of command, where communications will be centered and what routes will be taken if an evacuation is necessary.
According to Craig Lundt, director of the Forest Park Emergency Management Agency, there still is no timeline for finishing this project.
The Illinois Emergency Management Act mandates that municipalities with at least 500,000 residents create such a plan. In compliance with that state legislation, the Cook County Emergency Management Agency provided Forest Park and every other community with a model plan.
Though the village isn’t required to complete this task, Lundt said it’s likely that having a plan will improve the village’s chances should it need to apply for federal relief through the National Incident Management System. Federal agencies haven’t yet decided whether emergency plans will be a caveat to NIMS assistance, Lundt said, but it doesn’t hurt to be ready.
A year ago the document was only about half finished. As of December, the 255 page plan was almost in its final form. Mayor Anthony Calderone went through the document with a yellow marker noting ambiguities in preparation of various department heads signing off on the contents. When the village does get an approval from the Cook County Office of Emergency Management, the plan will come back to Forest Park to be adopted as a local ordinance, Lundt said.
“This adds more of a structured approach,” Lundt said. “More of a cadre.”
Fire Chief Steve Glinke questioned the impact this plan could have, and said it simply creates a lot of paper work describing what is already in place. For example, the Forest Park Fire Department already has a working coalition with departments in nearby suburbs. The Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) is the name of the intergovernmental agreement.
Glinke said that if someone in Forest Park calls 911 and reports smoke in a building the following resources would automatically be dispatched: an engine, ladder truck and ambulance from Forest Park, an engine from River Forest, another engine from Oak Park and a ladder truck from North Riverside. And, if the incident commander decides it is necessary, 12 engines, six trucks and up to a half dozen chief officers would be on the scene in less than 30 minutes.
“There is a saying in emergency management,” Glinke said. “If you have to pull the plan from the shelf you’ve already lost control of the incident.”
Kevin Joyce, a spokesperson for the county office that provided the template, agreed that much of the information would appear redundant to fire and police departments. Those offices work under structured protocols everyday, Joyce said. In the event of a crippling storm or a terrorist attack, additional resources may be needed, and the plan helps coordinate that effort.
“The rest of the disciplines are playing catch up,” Joyce said.
According to what the village has completed thus far, Mayor Anthony Calderone would immediately get himself to village hall and set up a command center to begin handling a large-scale disaster. Calderone would summon his crisis management team including Lundt, Glinke, the police chief, building director and a communications center director.
The team would work through a pre-established chain of command to implement a response that includes law enforcement, medical needs, public information, damage assessment, clean up of hazardous materials, mortuary needs and shelter for those left homeless. There are even provisions for the care of abandoned pets.