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Chicago has a new disaster czar

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

One man will now oversee the city's plans-of-action in the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Neal Sullivan has been appointed to coordinate the city's response to a major disaster.

Sullivan was chosen because of his extensive background planning security for major events while with the Chicago Police Department.

It is hard to imagine a year with more challenging and frightening events, including terrorist bombs in London subways, a devastating tsunami in southeast Asia and two back-to-back monster hurricanes in the Gulf states. It all kind of makes a foot of snow in Chicago look like a big nothing. But a lot of big somethings are also possible in Chicago, so Mayor Daley wants to be ready, and he is asking a veteran cop to coordinate disaster planning, which apparently has a long way to go in terms of public awareness.

Chicagoan after Chicagoan told ABC7 Tuesday that in the event of a downtown disaster they would not know the best way to evacuate the Loop. Neil Sullivan, the city's new disaster czar, has a big job ahead of him judging from the answers from a cross section of the million people who work in the downtown area and apparently don't have a game plan for what to do in the event of an attack or a disaster.

"We do have a long way to go in certain aspects. That is one of the things that I am going to be looking at right now," said Neil Sullivan, Chicago Emergency Coordinator.

Sullivan is a police commander with extensive experience in crowd control and emergency planning for Chicago events ranging from the World Cup soccer tournament to the Democratic convention to the massive demonstrations against the Iraq war and US trade policies.

Now, in the wake of hurricanes in the South and terrorist attacks in London, he is on loan to the city's 911 center for the next few months. He will try to fine tune the city's disaster plans, make sure they are in sync with other agencies and communities and, perhaps most importantly, educate the public so there is less chance of mass hysteria in the event of a disaster or an attack.

"He is well versed in it and he is well adapted in regards to moving people," said Mayor Richard Daley.

"It is both a daunting task, first of all, because you want to be right, but there are, you have to be able to adapt. Adaptability is really the key," said Elaine Enright, Chicagoan.

The city already has a detailed disaster plan that includes warning sirens, followed by public address and media announcements and automated telephone calls telling people what to do and where to go in the event of an attack or a disaster. But most people don't know about it.

So Neil Sullivan will be working with the director of emergency management, Andrew Velasquez, and the mayor's chief of staff, Ron Huberman, to develop a public awareness campaign, which may include a videotape or some explanatory news conferences. The trick is to inform the public. without providing advance information that might give terrorists a game plan.

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