County emergency agencies responding on all fronts during pandemic

By Erika Wurst For Chronicle Media

Kendall County Emergency Management Agency conducts a training session earlier this year. EMA workers and volunteers must now have plans for not only severe weather or natural disasters but also for a pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Kendall County EMA)

As the coronavirus pandemic makes its way through Kane, Kendall and DuPage counties, residents’ eyes are focused on the potential dangers lurking six feet in front of and behind them.

And while local Emergency Management Agencies are working diligently to encourage social distancing guidelines, they are also cautioning people to keep their eyes on the sky as well as on the people around them.

“We’re trying, obviously, to keep the weather on everyone’s mind,” said Joe Gillespie, director of the Kendall County Emergency Management Agency. “We don’t want anyone to be caught off guard.”

As part of his job, Gillespie not only sends daily COVID-19 briefings to county officials and first responders, he also sends forecasts. In doing so, he hopes to keep everyone informed of a much less talked about potential danger: severe spring weather.

Wearing many hats because of the unforeseen challenges they now face, EMA workers must remain vigilant and have all their bases are covered. This means having plans in place for flood or tornado disasters in the midst of a pandemic. This challenge, Gillespie said, is not a simple one.

“We think about this all the time when we try to go to bed tonight,” he said.

DuPage County DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has been coordinating efforts to collect personal protective equipment for police, fire, and health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. Wheaton College made this donation on March 27. (Photo courtesy of DuPage County OHSEM)

The book of procedures and protocols — which he called a ‘living, breathing document” — can change up to 10 times a year depending on the fluidity of the situations the county faces.

“We’re constantly doing the ‘what ifs’,” Gillespie said. “We try to have a plan in place for every for every possible hazard.”

Should the shelter-in-place mandate still be in place during a severe tornado incident in Kendall County, residents would be sheltered at hotels, away from one another.

If drive-thru testing becomes necessary, the Oswego Park and Ride would be the set-up location.

“These are things we all get together and think about,” he said.

DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Public Information Officer John Nebl and his team are working together just closely to make sure that more than COVID-19 is on peoples’ minds.

Nebl said he has worked 27 days with only a single day off making sure the office is running smoothly and that the flow of information to the public is on par with the ever-changing circumstance.

While some plans were in place to address a major medical situation like the county is currently experiencing, the All Hazard Planning team is hunkering down and quickly moving to acclimate to constant change. But, with employees working from home and in offices away from each other, the task become harder than one might expect.

“The last thing you need is the EMA getting sick,” Nebl said. “We’re all trying to take care of each other.”

He urged residents to take care of themselves by always knowing what’s going on with the weather, noting that weather hazards should not come as a surprise.

Using sites like the National Weather Service, turning on emergency updates on your phone, and listening for sirens are excellent ways to stay on top of pending events.

Joe Gillespie

“If you don’t have a severe weather response plan, the shelter-at-home situation is a great time to develop one,” Nebl said. “Personal awareness is the best thing to have.”

Kane County EMA is still accepting donations of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to assist in the COVID-19 response.

Businesses, medical and nursing schools, nail salons, tattoo parlors and residents can donate unused and unopened PPE in the parking lot of the Kane County Judicial Center located at 37W777 IL-38, St. Charles.

The drop off site will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Friday April 17, from noon until 7 p.m.