July 22, 2008

Williamson County hosts disaster-planning session

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale researchers, along with local emergency officials, will host a public meeting this week aimed at giving residents of a Southern Illinois county a voice in planning for disaster response.

The meeting, set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 23, at the Williamson County Emergency Management Agency office, will give the public an opportunity for input in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster mitigation plan for the county. The office is on Illinois Route 148 south of Illinois Route 13.

The meeting is part of a $1.2 million federal effort led by Nicholas Pinter, SIUC professor of geology, and assisted by Harvey Henson, SIUC geology research project specialist. The two SIUC faculty members, along with faculty from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and members of five Illinois regional planning commissions, are helping local officials write pre-disaster mitigation plans for 16 counties and one community in Southern Illinois.

During the meeting, Pinter and Henson will give a presentation titled “Natural Hazards and Historical Disasters in Williamson County.” IUPUI researchers also will present the results of computer modeling studies and analysis of Williamson County disasters.

Those simulated disasters run the gamut, from a re-creation of the current-day effects of the 1982 tornado that hit the area, to an extremely violent modern-day New Madrid fault-centered earthquake. Other models look at the effects of a certain types of winter storms, drought and a locally centered earthquake, Pinter said.

Members of the Williamson County planning team and residents will offer input and comments on the analysis provided by the researchers, Pinter said. They also will begin identifying strategies to mitigate the threats.

The meeting is one in a series planned over the duration of the pre-Disaster Mitigation Planning Initiative headed by Pinter. University officials in January announced Pinter would lead the FEMA-funded effort, which he expects to last through 2010. Administered by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the money will go to SIUC, IUPUI and the regional planning commissions that work with the counties involved.

The project’s goal is to help each county write a FEMA-approved plan that will in turn allow counties to identify possible scenarios and weaknesses and apply for further funding to reduce their vulnerabilities, Pinter said.

Along with Williamson, the counties involved include Pulaski, Massac, Union, Johnson, Jackson, Franklin, Jefferson, Perry, Gallatin, Edwards, White, Crawford, Bond, St. Clair and Clinton. The city of Cairo, in Alexander County, also will participate in the project.

The regional planning organizations involved are the Southern Five Regional Planning Commission, Greater Egypt Regional Planning and Development Commission, Southeastern Illinois Regional Planning and Development Commission, Greater Wabash Regional Planning Commission and Southwestern Illinois Planning Commission.

Once the assessments and plans are in place, Pinter said each agency can ask for additional funding from FEMA to reduce the dangers. An example might include shoring up a river levee or building earthquake-resistant fire and police stations. In Williamson County, officials want to incorporate plans for new schools into the outlook.