Thursday, November 06, 2014
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Jefferson Street Christian Church hosts Safety Awareness Family Event
New safety plan addresses public venues

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[November 06, 2014]  LINCOLN - Everyone in central Illinois remembers the day an EF4 tornado decimated neighborhoods of Washington, IL just 40 miles north of Lincoln. We know where we were and what we were doing near noon on November 17, 2013; and we weren't all at home at the time of the severe weather outbreak.

This catastrophic event, and other happenings, have caused families and community leaders every where to stop short and think hard about if we are prepared enough.

Severe weather, natural disasters and other life-threatening events can occur in any given moment with just minutes to respond.

The Jefferson Street Church community has numerous members involved in fields related to emergency response. A year ago, a team began meeting weekly with church staff and leaders. The team helped create a new Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) for use in public assembly places in Logan County.

The new EOP addresses various potential emergency situations that could occur when people are assembled in public places, and it provides protocol responses. It has been approved by and is on file the Logan County Emergency Agency and the state of Illinois EMA.

The EOP, a gigantic six-inch thick packed notebook, the JSCC team simplified events and response instructions into a nine-page Emergency Operation Guidelines for JSCC use. The EOG defines actions to be taken during specific events and has a map of the church building with designated shelter areas.

The next step was to train with JSCC staff and inform the church body about the various plans of action.

On Sunday, October 19, JSCC hosted an afternoon family event to explain the plan to its members. The Safety Awareness Family Event "S.A.F.E." began with food in the church fellowship hall at 3 p.m. and was followed by a period of family fun and games.

One of those who came for the presentation was JJ Simpson. Simpson serves as a worship leader. He is also a technology expert. He wanted to be familiarized with the plan so that he would know what he should be doing that would be of best assistance during an emergency. Simpson operated the PA system during the presentation.

At 4:30 p.m. everyone gathered into the worship center for an introduction to the plans.

In prayer, church leader Neal Windham thanked God for the work and vision of the men who worked hard for so long on the plan - "to pioneer a comprehensive safety instrument for people of God in this place, and way beyond this place."
Logan County Emergency Management Agency director Dan Fulscher began the presentation and introduced the planning team, Curt Schleich, Kirby Rogers, Kendall Caruthers, Bucky Washam, Jay Bennett and Mike Irwin; each of whom brought their knowledge and professional skill to portions of the newly completed plan.

Fulscher explained how this safety plan was created. Pointing to a table stacked with large notebooks that he said these were just some of the many operation plans his office has created and maintains. The plans are all approved by the state. There are EOP's for safe schools, operating the 911 dispatch center, operating the state resources center 'EMCOM', hazardous materials response, communication and many more. Applicable parts of these and other plans were incorporated into the new public places safety plan.

The condensed JSCC Guidelines addresses emergency responses to natural events such as severe weather or earthquake. It also individually addresses other types of emergencies -- fire, hazardous material threats, safety and security. Communications is defined in various situations and over-all.

Protects children

Fulscher pointed out one of the most valuable components for the church is that having a plan would help provide reassurance for parents when they bring their children to the church.

The plan's response measures include security during reunification between parents and children after an event. Just like family home fire safety plans, this plan includes meeting places after an emergency, and identification processes before handing over a child.

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Gives direction

Fulscher summarized a variety of emergencies -- weather, fire, hazardous material in the outside air, earthquake, intruder -- and briefly explained how the plan launches decision-making by church staff and leaders; how those decisions would be communicated to those present in different portions of the church building; where people should move to and when; how and where adults would be reunified with children.

The plan team

Curt Schleich, as an elder in the church and communications technology specialist for Logan County Emergency Management, facilitated the planning.

Kirby Rogers, a former school superintendent for District 27, reviewed what to do if an earthquake would occur. The instructions are short and immediate: Drop - Cover - Hold. Kirby said that the primary aim is to protect the head by getting under any structured object like a chair or table. Outdoors advice is to stay away from things that can fall on you -- buildings, electrical wires and trees.

Kendall Caruthers reviewed day-to-day use and storage of hazardous materials in the church. There could also be a temporary chemical cloud in the area and persons would be sheltered in the church.

Bucky Washam, formerly the city of Lincoln Fire Chief is currently EMCOM director of state resources. Washam led the fire safety planning.

Jay Bennett participated in an "Intruders" training class. Plans are in place if a suspicious person would be observed; individual leaders have been trained and when possible a team would we involved in separation, risk assessment, communications; and finally, whether to make a call for lockdown or evacuation.

The latest advisement when an active shooter is present is to take one of the following actions immediately: Run - Hide - Fight.

Mike Irwin took charge of reviewing how to make the building more secure. During the week doors are now kept locked; the maintenance room and certain other areas are kept locked; keys are being better kept track of, and go only to authorized personnel.

Following the review of action plans, the assembly broke for an actual emergency exercise. Groups went out to where they would commonly be located in the church and waited for the alarm to be sounded, and then moved to designated safety places.

Fulscher thanked children's minister, Laura Moore for her assistance and Patrick Doolin of Integrity Data for printing the multi-paged guidelines handout when there were problems printing it at the last minute. Doolin was also one of those who spurred the development of the plan when his family was away from home during a severe weather event.

Looking to the future, Fulscher acknowledged that everything changes. The plan would need to be reviewed regularly, "As soon as the ink was dried on the plan, it needed updated." An annual family day is planned to keep the church body informed of changes.

Fulscher said that the plan would be presented this Spring to other churches and organizations. Each group can employ the Emergency Operation Plan strategies. The condensed Emergency Operation Guidelines written for Jefferson Street would be available to tailor a plan to need. EMA representatives would even help to map out shelters for other groups at their locations.

[Jan Youngquist]

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