I'm in the department of agricultural and consumer economics in the College of ACES with a three-way appointment in teaching, research and extension.
I have been involved from the beginning when I came here in 1993, the summer of the "Great Flood." I traveled to the flood site with Peter Bloome and another extension specialist, where we [met with flood victims.] We [all] tried to help. But we had a hard time. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was giving information to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency who was passing it to the Illinois Association for Regional Councils who held town meetings. By the time we got the message, it was garbled. It wasn't helping [anyone].
The task force now has a formal agreement with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and we get the information directly from them.
There are some really practical things that we did during the 1993 flood. We put together a household inventory checklist, for example, when someone's house is swept away [in a disaster] in order to get money [from various agencies] they ask you to claim all of your goods. It's pretty tough to remember all of your belongings in any situation, but it's even worse when you are in the middle of a disaster. We still use that guide today, helping the recent tornado victims. We also set up a database of information telling people what places are offering food, for example, or where to go for help in their county in a disaster. We also developed a Lotus program to help people fill out the Small Business Administration paper work, which used to take 17 hours to do. It now takes about 1 1/2 hours.
In the spring of 1994, we were still helping people recover and we were pushing the UI administration, telling them how we'd learned so much and we didn't want to forget this, to lose this information. We gathered the key people to see if we needed a task force. We unanimously decided to form the task force in September 1994.
Since the flood, we've added people from several other departments, including the director of the Fire Institute. We routinely invite guest speakers from the Red Cross, ESDA [Emergency Services Disaster Agency] and IEMA. I'm also now involved with other agencies that deal with disasters and I help with the education programs with some of these groups. Our job is to get the word out [about available services] and make sure the word is accurate. From where we were in 1993, we did a much better job responding to the [recent] tornadoes.
For information on how to form a plan to prepare for a disaster, individuals should contact the American Red Cross, their local ESDA and in the fall, their local Cooperative Extension Service office. You should also find out how you will be informed in disasters and what, for example, the sirens mean in your community.
To learn more about the safety plans for your building, you can phone Don Beasley, the UI fire chief.