By David Geary
EVENT: Emergency management training
WHO: American Public Works Association's Chicago Metro Chapter – Lake County Branch
RESULTS: Through classroom and in-the-field training, 30 Chicagoland agencies learn how to work together during a disaster.
For decades, neighboring police, paramedic, and fire agencies have practiced how they'll help each other during emergencies, assigning roles and responsibilities and ensuring that their employees are able to communicate when traditional mechanisms break down. As a result, these first responders coordinate, communicate, and interact with one another very well.
Though also first responders, the public works discipline hasn't as pro-actively organized response efforts — ironic, given that severe weather, floods, and major equipment malfunctions often require the response of public works teams. While oftentimes departments train to respond to big emergencies, these smaller events are much more common than an event like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Plus, increasingly tight budgets make it difficult for communities to acquire enough resources to respond to unusually large requests or events.
In reality, public works should spend time working within their own organizations and with other local, regional, and state responders. By discussing and practicing emergency plans, they can better serve their communities and save money by not having to invest in elaborate backup resources or additional equipment.
Established in 2008 by a committee of volunteers, the Illinois Public Works Mutual Aid Network (www.ipwman.org) maintains a network of agencies that provide assistance when a member is confronted with a disaster. Open to any governmental agency that performs public works functions, the network protects both requesting and responding members from liability.
Closely modeled after the long-standing and successful police and fire mutual aid organizations, this public works network provides both an easy membership application and a simple process for calling for assistance. Member agencies pay yearly dues: $100 for those serving 15,000 or less, $250 for 15,001 to 75,000, and $500 for more than 75,000.
To prepare for a situation that would require an agency to call for assistance, public works professionals need to plan and practice together — to properly utilize, credential, dispatch, and track personnel and resources. These issues, and more, were addressed during a day-long simulation hosted by the American Public Works Association (APWA)'s Chicago Metro Chapter – Lake County Branch.
In the classroom
In early fall, representatives from 30 agencies in the Chicagoland area gathered to discuss issues and challenges that may arise while responding to a disaster. Held at the Lake County DOT facility in Libertyville, Ill., members of the local APWA branch launched the training with a tabletop exercise simulating a tornado touchdown.
In the scenario, neighboring agencies would be asked to help open roads, clear debris, maintain water and sewer operations, and respond to fire and police requests. Participants were broken into five groups to answer some basic — and some more challenging — questions.
Group 1: Monitoring weather and making notifications —
Group 2: Damage assessment and setting priorities —
Group 3: Requesting assistance and receiving aid —
Group 4: Assigning tasks and getting work completed —
Group 5: Personnel rehabilitation and recovery —
By answering the above questions and sharing information about their own plans, attendees identified best practices and improvements that could be incorporated into their operations.
Then the training transitioned from the theoretical to the practical.