Chicago plans voluntary evacuation in portion of downtown

Monday, August 28, 2006

It's something that would have to be done in case of a disaster. Now, city officials are planning to evacuate up to 13,000 people from the loop as part of an emergency drill. Mayor Daley unveiled plans for the disaster drill Monday.

It will happen next week, and it's something the city hopes will give them a feel for what might happen in case there is a real disaster downtown.

The city's had tragic fires, explosions, crashes and building collapses, extreme weather's taken a lot of lives and a leaky tunnel under the Chicago River flooded the Loop in 1992. But nothing has required a mass evacuation in short time, so most of us are woefully unprepared, and that's why City Hall is using the anniversaries of Hurricane Katrina Tuesday and the 9/11 attacks next month to start creating what's being called a "culture of preparedness" with a mock evacuation in downtown Chicago tentatively scheduled for September 7.

"Yes, we have a plan. Yes, we understand the plan. Yes, we believe it will work well. We'll test it and make sure it does. If it needs to be weekend to, we'll do it," said Cortez Trotter, emergency management director.

The voluntary evacuation drill includes up to 13,000 employees who work in four skyscrapers at the corner of Monroe and Wacker. They are tentatively scheduled to evacuate the buildings in the late afternoon of September 7. Police and firefighters, responding to a mock disaster somewhere else in the city, will direct them to nearby transportation, and they will be taken to emergency shelters where supplies are waiting.

The city is videotaping the drill and eventually handing out thousands of instructional DVDs.

"We have had evacuations just of our floors for fire drills and such. But this is different. I think it's good," said Chris Beukema, building employee.

"If you empower people by giving them information, then you have less of a likelihood they will start freaking out every time they see some type of disaster on television," Cortez Trotter said.

Senator Dick Durbin, who got a tour of the city's 911 center from Mayor Daley Monday morning, is pushing a bill that provides $250 million in evacuation planning and training grants for cities to conduct drills like Chicago's.

"You can't do it alone," said Senator Dick Durbin, (D)-Illinois.

"We have to know the right escape routes, the right exits, who to watch for, who to trust, where we can go," said Mayor Richard Daley.

Durbin says the money won't be available in time for the mock evacuation. or the other activities planned for September, which is national preparedness month. So the city is partnering with the private sector on a big ad campaign, and top officials will be visiting schools and senior centers, and appearing on TV and radio shows to preach preparedness.

By the end of the month, all of us should know what supplies to keep at home or in the office, what web sites to check and who to call to get information on how to deal with a real emergency.

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