Local officials band together to present emergency preparedness meeting
There was a stark contrast between two rooms at Stoney Creek Inn May 1.
In one room, there was a party atmosphere; in the room next door, it was completely silent except for one person speaking about a serious topic — emergency preparedness.
About 100 people attended an emergency preparedness forum that was sponsored by the Central Illinois Public Information Officers, Stoney Creek Inn, the Peoria Area Association of Realtors and the Peoria City/County Health Department.
Tazewell County board chairman David Zimmerman emceed the event.
Speakers included East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus, Elmwood Mayor John Hulslander, Illinois State Police, Pekin Fire Department, the American Red Cross and the Stark County EMA, as well as Sally Williams and Doug Damery, both of Washington, who lost their homes to the Nov. 17 tornado.
“Since Nov. 17 my heart has been touched by some many people who have helped the city of East Peoria,” Mingus said. “Your whole life changes ... You just don’t know until you go through it.”
Mingus said after the tornado, city officials immediately made preparations for the future.
“The city of East Peoria learned a tremendous amount. ... We know that you can never be totally prepared. We learned that and we never became so aware of that until that day.”
Mingus said the city didn’t have a formal command center, generators or enough telephones during the disaster.
In preparation for any future disasters, Mingus said a command center will be established.
“We didn’t really have the preparedness that we should have,” he said.
The town of Elmwood was hit by a tornado in 2010. Hulslander said he has never been so scared in his life.
“From that moment on my wife and I started preparing. We purchased generators. We have water storage, food storage,” he said.
In addition to preparedness, Hulslander said it is important to practice what actions need to be taken during an emergency.
Dustin Pierce from the Illinois State Police gave an officer’s perspective of Nov. 17.
Pierce echoed Hulslander’s comment about having a plan.
“Have a communication plan for your family. Have a third person that everybody can contact that doesn’t live with you, preferably out of town so if you and your family are separated, you can all make contact with that person,” he said.
Other tips, Pierce provided, included:
• Make sure young children know their last name and phone number.
• Learn CPR and basic first aide and have supplies in an emergency kit
• Know alternate routes home.
• Know how to shut off utilities at home.
• Don’t rush to the scene of a disaster.
“We have to control the area. ... I know a lot of (officers) out there took a beating because they couldn’t let (people) in, but they have to do that. There’s power lines down, there’s gas leaks,” he said.
• Be patient. Pierce said an officer was hit by a motorist at a checkpoint.
“The person was determined they were going to go past that officer,” Pierce said. “They ran into him with the car and it made a bad situation even worse.”
• Record serial numbers of guns and take photos of guns and other valuables.
“I have a Walgreens account so all my stuff gets saved to that. That’s on a separate server out there that I don’t have at my house,” Pierce said.
• Keep guns in a safe and mount it to the basement floor.
• Include helmets and whistles in emergency kits.
Pekin Fire Chief Kurt Nelson provided safety tips about fires:
• Don’t smoke in bed or light candles and leave home.
• CO detectors and smoke detectors are required by law in homes.
“Our last 18 fires in Pekin did not have a smoke detector activated. They have all been residential fires. We got lucky; nobody died.”
• Make sure to have a plan in the event of a fire.
• Don’t block or lock doors to allow firemen access.
• Renters should buy renter’s insurance.
• Document items inside the home with an insurance company.
• Don’t plug multiple things into electrical outlets or cover cords with rugs.
• Get a sprinkler system.
“The only real way to protect yourself in a fire is basically sprinkler systems. ... There’s a little bit of a cost to it but it depends on what you put on the price of a life.”
Sally Williams said her and her family of Washington were unprepared for the reality they faced Nov. 17 and the days following after they lost their home.
They took cover in their basement under a couch as “the sounds of mass destruction” were directly over their heads.
“There were no words to explain the fear that all of us felt,” Williams said.
Williams said in the future she will do things differently.
“Next time when I go to the basement, I’m going to definitely take my purse, my cellphone, my laptop and my iPad with me. I thought I was coming back up in about 20 minutes on that day. Well, I was wrong and it was in the kitchen and all of that blew away to Chicago,” she said.
Williams tips are:
• Have a backpack in the basement with a change of seasonal clothes.
• Put a heavy pair of boots in the basement.
• Put a first aid kit in the basement.
• Put pet supplies in the basement, including a leash.
• Put important papers in a safe in the basement or put them in a safety deposit box in a bank.
• Take pictures or videos of every room in the house and put it in a safe place.
• Go over insurance policies.
• Build a storm shelter.
Washington resident Doug Damery, who also lost his home, offered these tips:
• Backup digital photos somewhere else.
• Don’t wait. Act on an emergency plan now.
• Establish a safe room.
• Keep an extra phone charger somewhere safe.
• Have a backup for financial information.
• Heed the warnings.
Jason Musselman, director of the Stark County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency, said the Nov. 17 tornado was the fourth biggest since 1950. There were 25 tornadoes in Illinois that day, he said.
Prior to the Nov. 17 tornado, Musselman said they had four days notice of the storm.
“That led to some great warning times. The average lead time for tornadoes that day was 15.1 minutes,” he said. “To have that much warning saved lives that day.”
Musselman explained the difference between watches and warnings. Watches, he said, means there is a potential for severe weather. Warnings mean that severe weather is imminent and people should take cover immediately. Musselman said they can shoot out an alert to a mass group on all new phones.
“That’s part of what we call a wireless emergency alert system,” Musselman said.
There are also other services people can sign up for, such as text programs through the Weather Channel. A new website called centralilweathernet.com also provides more information.
Musselman concluded by saying: “Don’t go out and take pictures and video and risk your life. We saw a lot of that. A lot of good video and good pictures, but a lot of people were injured.”
Katelyn Trunnell, disaster preparation coordinator for the Central Illinois Region of the American Red Cross, said emergency kits should contain three days of supplies.
Some of the basics, she said, are food and water, 1 gallon per person, per day, extra glasses, medicines. Other items listed on a Red Cross sheet are flashlight, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, first aid kit, hygiene items, copies of personal documents, cellphone with chargers, blankets and more. For a complete list, visit, RedCross.org.
“After what you think about what you need to physically survive, you need to think about what you need for the disaster situation,” she said.
Trunnell said the Red Cross also offer smartphone apps for a variety of different emergencies. The tornado app has a siren that goes off to alert people.
Zimmerman said he learned some great information at the event, which also offered 14-gallon totes for an emergency supply kit to the first 100 attendees, 150 safety tube kits and door prizes.