In light of recent hurricane catastrophes, local citizens may question whether Peoria County is prepared to handle a natural or manmade disaster the magnitude of Katrina. But county officials participate annually in numerous exercises to practice our preparedness with other governmental entities and the various agencies, departments, and organizations considered “first responders” during a disaster.
In the 1970s, our county’s civil defense facility expanded to become the Emergency Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA). Currently, ESDA coordinates all phases of comprehensive emergency management, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery for the county outside the City of Peoria.
The county’s emergency plan addresses communications among emergency response agencies, direction and control of the disaster, disaster intelligence, evacuation procedures, community health, mass care, medical concerns, mortuary needs, resource management, public warning systems, and public information. More detailed plans include the updated nuclear plan, hazardous materials, oil spills, mass fatatilies, and terrorism. The terrorism plan covers the tri-county area.
ESDA practices the county’s preparedness by participating in at least one full-scale disaster exercise annually. This year, ESDA participated in two: an exercise conducted by the Peoria City/County Health Department on the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in the event of bioterrorism and a simulated airplane crash at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport. ESDA also participates in “table top” exercises that test disaster preparedness by gathering representatives from all agencies involved in an actual disaster to review their emergency response.
While the county plays a vital role in all disaster preparedness, we aren’t necessarily the lead agency were an event to occur. To alleviate confusion about who’s in charge during a disaster, the National Incident Management System (NIMS), created by the Secretary of Homeland Security, details a chain of command that all agencies receiving federal funding must incorporate into their own emergency plans.
Depending on the nature of the disaster and its location, the first emergency responder to the scene, with the appropriate training to qualify as such, becomes the Incident Commander. This is the person in charge, through whom all subsequent assets are coordinated. One representative from each responding agency reports to the Incident Commander on site as part of the Unified Command Center.
In a large-scale disaster, an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is opened off-site to offer further assistance to the Incident Commander. Should the Incident Commander at the scene need more resources, he or she directs that request to the EOC. Members of the EOC then facilitate the addition of those resources. The EOC typically includes the highest elected or appointed official from each entity providing resources towards containment of the disaster; these officials have the means to expedite adequate response.
By keeping citizens informed and strengthening relationships with other governmental entities in Peoria County, together we’ll overcome any “Katrina” that may hit the heart of Illinois. For more information on the county’s emergency preparedness, call 691-3111. IBI