The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 21, 2013

ARE WE READY? ‘Everything that everyone else doesn’t want to do, we get’

BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — Handling situations ranging from severe weather, epidemic diseases, hazardous material emergencies and everything in between falls on the shoulders of the Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency.

“Everything that everyone else doesn’t want to do, we get,” said Ted Fisher, county EMA executive director. “It’s pretty much like you name it, we do it.”

Although spreading the word in the face of severe weather and tornadoes is what most residents associate with EMA, the county department is as much proactive as reactive in preparing for as many potential emergencies as possible.

Fisher, who had headed up the unit since 2007, said the responsibilities have continued to grow since the 9/11 tragedy.

“It’s getting to be more and more all the time with all the rule and regulations handed down by state and federal,” he said. “This is the stopping point here, so we have to make sure all of that gets done.”

Part of that responsibility includes an overall emergency plan for the county, which is required by state law every two years. He estimated that the plan was a little more than 100 pages prior to his arrival.

As of early this year, Fisher said the plan stacked up at more than 700 pages and he expects it to grow even bigger in the coming years.

“Pandemic flu, huge strikes, ice storms, long-term power outages, what happens if the economy tanks — that’s going to effect everything,” he said, adding there has to be an outline for action in every predicament, including school shootings.

“You can’t fix everything, but you have to try to limit how much risk you have out there to keep everybody safe and happy,” Fisher added.

EMA covers a number of areas in trying to prevent disasters and emergencies before they begin. The department monitors companies that store chemicals locally as well as handling flood plain management in the county.

It also has a radio team, damage assessment team and search and rescue team.

Planning is foremost in many instances.

“Everybody should have a plan,” Fisher said. “Even business call us and we try to help them put together a plan. Daycare centers, nursing homes, schools — they all need some kind of emergency plan.

“There’s a lot to it,” he added. “Some of the biggest things are getting the public educated to being more responsible and taking the preparations on their own.”

When response a disaster is warranted, Fisher said EMA is prepared to set up an emergency operations center at its building along Georgetown Road to coordinator communications and decisions.

Working out of the main building, however, isn’t always feasible, making it necessary to plan for what Fisher has dubbed “EOC in a box.”

“If I had to go to Allerton tomorrow, it’s kind of hard to set up something in the middle of a corn field,” he said. “But we have to, so we have trailers we can go down there with, and tents and resources to set that EOC up there.”

In instances where the emergency operations center is set up at the EMA building, preparations are made to make sure officials and operations remain at the building 24 hours a day. That includes housing food and water at the building.

“If (officials) are here taking care of business in the EOC, there might not be any place to go eat,” Fisher said. “And while you’ve got them here you don’t’ want to let them go because they might not get back quickly when you’ll need answers from them.”