Emergency responders learn from Nov. 17

Drew Veskauf TimesNewspapers

Emergency response time is everything when it comes to natural disasters. When the Nov. 17 storm hit Illinois it brought 25 tornadoes with it across the state,  striking hardest in Washington.

Pekin, East Peoria and Morton were also hit in Tazewell County.

“Because it was county wide, it presented challenges for those who needed help,” Tazewell County Emergency Management Agency deputy director Jerry Zuercher said.

TEMA is on call and ready to go 24/7. Although the Nov. 17 tornadoes were out of the peak season for this kind of weather, Zuercher and others were ready at the emergency operations center.

“We had people at the EOC and all of a sudden it cut loose,” Zuercher said.

With Pekin being the first hit in the county, Tazewell Emergency Management Agency Dawn Cook was on the ground there first, Zuercher said.

Once the word got in about Washington, the TEMA efforts were shifted to extend its help in the worst hit area.

The tornado struck Washington around 11 a.m. and by noon, TEMA was at the Washington Police Department.

“We actually had one of our guys on scene within a half hour and got the vehicle there,” Zuercher said.

TEMA’s unified command post was positioned at the police department to aid in communications.

“In communications, the biggest thing is getting information to the right people. That’s the biggest challenge, because you need them in the right place at the right time,” Zuercher said.

“Washington needed a certain number of assets they couldn’t get their hands on. We helped getting them organized and other assets collected.”

Unified Command Posts from surrounding counties were also sent to Pekin and East Peoria.

 Zuercher said with the numerous departments involved and the volunteer efforts by AmeriCorps, communications were an extreme importance.

“There was a lot of people that wanted to help, it was way more than what our (emergency operations center) could actually handle,” Zuercher said.

TEMA operates out of Tremont. Its EOC had 12-15 people on staff during the initial tornado recovery. On the ground in Washington, TEMA also had another 15 people providing assistance.

About a year later, rebuilding efforts in Washington are still underway and TEMA still seeks improvement.

“We’ve actually had some good things come out of it with getting help with disaster recovery,” Zuercher said. “It’s volunteer coordination that will be a very valuable asset next time, so, we can get them in quickly with a phone call.”

“You end up assisting where you can, as much as you can. With help from the EOC, that allows us to help direct some of the volunteers.”