State Cites Illinois Town for Flawed Emergency Plan

August 6, 2013

When a tornado siren went off during a meeting at Belleville’s City Hall and nobody took charge to move people to safety, it got the attention of Alderwoman Lillian Schneider.

Her formal complaint to the Illinois Department of Labor led to a citation from state regulators over gaps in the city’s planning for tornadoes and other emergencies. The Department of Labor conducted interviews in early June and determined employees lack training on the city’s emergency plan, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.

In a July 17 citation, the department gave Mayor Mark Eckert until Aug. 21 to submit a new written emergency plan. Eckert said that plan now has been written and he’s hoping to start drills this month at City Hall. The mayor said he wants the new plan approved by the City Council on Monday.

“We’re going to be better because of this,” Eckert said.

Eckert said although he had been working with the police and fire departments in the southwestern Illinois city to improve emergency preparedness, the process should have been completed sooner.

“It’s not that we’re procrastinating because we’re procrastinators. It’s like anything else. We kind of deal with emergencies each and every day and you get sidetracked,” Eckert said.

Belleville officials provided an emergency operations plan during the state inspection, but regulators issued a citation for a lack of procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Department of Labor classified the citation as “serious.”

Police Chief Bill Clay said his department is working on building-specific plans across the city and the fire department is upgrading the citywide plan.

“The police department is putting these plans in place: drawing the maps, getting them together, forwarding those as we get them done to the Labor Department,” Clay said. “The mayor has to sign off on them, and then we’ll put them in place.”

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