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home : news : news   December 17, 2014

9/2/2014 11:44:00 AM
If disaster strikes: How ready is the Illinois Valley?

Connie Brooks, the director of the La Salle County Emergency Management Agency in Ottawa, showed the NewsTribune several utility trailers, trucks, and pieces of equipment that are housed in their building. Brooks said that the La Salle County MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) which includes fire departments throughout the county keeps their trailers and equipment in-house to make it more accessible in the event of a disaster in La Salle County. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Connie Brooks, the director of the La Salle County Emergency Management Agency in Ottawa, showed the NewsTribune several utility trailers, trucks, and pieces of equipment that are housed in their building. Brooks said that the La Salle County MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) which includes fire departments throughout the county keeps their trailers and equipment in-house to make it more accessible in the event of a disaster in La Salle County.

NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Lauren Blough
Staff Writer

The earth may shake apart beneath your feet; Mother Nature may release a ferocious tunnel of wind; the waters may rise so high that safety is too hard to find.
Disasters happen.

September is National Preparedness Month. Disasters can’t always be pinpointed and prevented. The best response against a disaster is to be prepared and to have a plan.
So, how ready is the Illinois Valley?

The resources available for people residing in the Illinois Valley — including public safety agencies, police and fire departments and Emergency Management Agencies in and around surrounding counties — are plentiful.

“We are more prepared, say since 9/11,” said director of La Salle County EMA Connie Brooks, “Are we 100 percent? There is always room for improvement.”

Multiple factors go into being prepared when disaster strikes. Ask Fred Moore, the deputy director of La Salle County EMA who showed the NewsTribune three oversized binders filled with hundreds of pages of planning in the event of a disaster. Those three binders cover communications in the wake of emergency as well as nuclear disaster preparedness.

“We teach a community emergency response class — to communities, businesses, churches — anyone who wants it.” Brooks said, “Our agency’s mission is to prepare more resilient people in the communities.”

Brooks added that people can visit the website

“Ready is a national public service advertising campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters. The goal of the campaign is to get the public involved and ultimately to increase the level of basic preparedness across the nation,” according to the website.

“ has all kinds of considerations,” Brooks said. She added that the website has blank ­templates available for individuals and families to draft plans in the event of an emergency.

Separate entities focused on public safety also are available in the Illinois Valley.

“Disaster Dogs of Illinois is its own entity.  To date, we have not been approached by any other local emergency response agency,” said Joann Jesse, Treasurer of Disaster Dogs of Central Illinois. “Part of our mission is to strengthen disaster response in our local community by partnering with the local fire departments and first responders to find people buried alive in wreckage of disasters.”

Getting involved
Brooks said more often than not people get involved after a disaster strikes. She said, however, that there are better ways of being prepared.

“Being aware, staying informed and getting involved ahead of time make it easier,” Brooks said.

The agency hosts health and safety fairs and has a monthly radio show to make people aware of what’s happening locally and gives tips on how to keep families and individuals safe and prepared.

Brooks isn’t the only person who thinks getting involved before disaster strikes is important.

“The kinds of blood donors we really love are those that keep coming back all year. Whether it be every eight weeks, 10 weeks, whatever fits with your schedule,” said Sarah Stasik, branch manager at the American Red Cross of the Illinois Valley chapter. “Be consistent, whether or not we’re experiencing a disaster.”

Individual precautions
When planning for a disaster there are steps individuals can take to stay prepared.

“Everybody should have a weather radio,” Moore said. “They are affordable, they’re programmable and you can hear the alerts. Even if you can’t afford one now — save your change for a month.”  

Moore also discussed a cellphone warning system that has become key in the event of an emergency.

Integrated Public Alert Warning System or IPAWS is set up on most smartphones made after Jan. 1, 2014. The alert system sends Wireless Emergency Alerts to cell phones in affected areas of an emergency.

 “You can turn those alerts off, guess what? Don’t turn them off,” said Moore about individuals staying prepared. “We as a county have the authority to send out messages.”  

Technology grants people an opportunity to stay safe when it comes to the IPAWS system. There are other systems in place, however, that don’t require smartphone technology to stay prepared.

Moore said there is a registry at the EMA office in Ottawa for people with disabilities to register on the La Salle County Function and Access needs database.

People who have a lack of transportation, medical conditions that require ongoing medical professional assistance, needs of supervision, non primary English speakers, people who are deaf, mute or blind and have children who are too young to care for themselves or adults who need assistance can sign up on the registry.

“The registry allows first responders to move them [those registered] up on evacuations. We can say to them ‘Hey, this person doesn’t have transportation, or this person lives alone and will need help’,” Moore said.

The preparedness experts said it’s important to have an emergency contact that isn’t in your neighborhood.

“Sometimes cellphones can be spotty after a disaster. You should have someone out of town — far out of town — so there is someone that everyone can call and check in,” Stasik said.

Lauren Blough can be reached at (815)220-6931 or Follow her on Twitter @NT_SpringValley.

Understanding IPAWS
There are three types of emergency alerts:
- Presidential alerts issued by the U.S. president in the event of a nationwide emergency
- Imminent Threat alerts issued by the National Weather Service in the instance of tornado, flash floods, blizzard and other weather related emergency warnings
- Amber Alerts issued by law enforcement to share information about a
child abduction.

The system alerts any capable cell phone in an affected area — it doesn’t require GPS or special features. Those who have a smart phone capable of receiving the alerts won’t get charged for the text message-like notifications.

These alerts will include a unique ring tone and vibration different from what you have as default settings.

How do you know if you have it?
Connie Brooks and Fred Moore, director and deputy director of the La Salle County Emergency Management Agency in Ottawa said if someone is unsure if their cell phone is equipped or capable of having IPAWS they should contact their cell phone provider.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Article comment by: fosterbw99

There are some glaring omissions under the section under Individual Precautions. This article makes the assumption that the government will be able to respond quickly to a disaster. That may be true for some events, but not all. Everyone should understand that they must be able to fend for themselves while the government is organizing. This is especially true in large events that disable infrastructure. Such events include terrorist attacks, major civil unrest, prolonged power disruptions, etc.
Most grocery stores only have about 3 days of inventory on the shelf. If the transportation system is disrupted and the trucks don’t roll, then you won’t be able to buy food – even if you have cash. Everyone should have enough food and water on hand to “shelter in place” for a prolonged period of time – 3 weeks to a month comes to mind. If you need medication, you should keep that on hand also. Concerning cash – if the power is out, most ATM’s and payment systems will also be down. You may want to keep a few hundred dollars in cash handy. Naturally, some form of protection is also prudent, as civil authorities may be overwhelmed. Gasoline will also be in short supply. While storing gas is not advisable for most people, you can keep your tank topped off. If you are forced to evacuate or local conditions convince you to do so – you should be able to locate all your important papers quickly. Water and transportable, nonperishable food is a must. Bottom line – while all the government agencies and systems mentioned in this article are great – everyone must understand that they are responsible for themselves and simple preparations can make a world of difference for their own experience during a disaster.

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