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Deep Freeze 2014: Cook County “gets ahead of the game” with Public Safety Consortium

January 6 - High temperature for the day -2 degrees at 12:03 AM, beating the 1912 record of -1. Noon temperature was -14 degrees. “And it just kept going down”, reported Deputy Director of Communications Natalia Derevyanny.

With wind chill factor dropping to -30, public and private schools were closed and the emergency plan called for getting as many people as possible off the street and as many issues as possible off the table, according to Michael Masters, Executive Director of the Cook County, IL Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM).

One of the rules is always to “get ahead of the game,” said Masters, so the Cook County DHSEM brought out its Extreme Weather Plan and began releasing public safety information before the worst of the cold hit, making sure there was close coordination with utilities and power grids that might be overtaxed, and letting the parts of the work force not involved in public safety stay home.

There are 946 square miles and 133 jurisdictions in Cook County. First responders needed a lot of layering and had to tailor their messages to different groups and different regions. Cook County doesn’t rely on one authority, said Masters. Its Public Safety Consortium is a very collaborative organization in which all agencies have a role in public safety and handling resource requests. The consortium is made up of virtually all entities -- public, private non-profit, courts, and private business in Cook County, just to name a few.

Masters, who indicated that he personally spent multiple hours on the phone developing a comprehensive situation overview with his counterparts in the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, had special praise for the social service agencies “who know the people well” and worked with them in checking on neighbors, providing heating tips, and pointing out when they needed their cars.

At the end of the day, Masters said, “just about all of the credit goes out to the people out there on the streets, where the police, fire, EMS and social services workers are.”     


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