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Tornado turns town to tragedy

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Posted: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 9:39 am | Updated: 9:56 am, Wed Nov 20, 2013.

Quinn declared seven counties disaster areas after tornadoes, with winds of substantial power, socked Illinois.  These counties included Champaign, Grundy, LaSalle, Massac, Tazewell, Washington Woodford and Will. 

Sunday, 80 miles East of Macomb, Washington, Ill. was one of the towns in Illinois that was hit the hardest. 

The town of 15,410 people was knocked with an EF4 rated tornado packing winds of up to 190 mph, which caused  a destruction radius of more than 46 miles.

Western Illinois University’s Emergency Management Program is calling the severe and destructive weather “the November 17 Tornado Outbreak.”

Western’s daughter chapter of Illinois Emergency Services Management Association (IESMA) deployed its first group of emergency management students to Washington to assess the damage to the area. 

“Dr. Rozdilsky and a group of students will be scoping the area (today),” said Heriberto Urby, an assistant professor of emergency management in the department of health science. “They are (doing this) to see how deep the devastation was. We know it was bad.” 

The four phases of disaster, or the Disaster Life Cycle — mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery — act as a blue print for emergency management. Urby believes that his students are prepared to use the lessons they have learned in class. 

“I think our students have an all hazards, comprehensive approach,” Urby said. “More of a holistic view… Our students are ready to go out there, you know the firefighters are ready to go there and put out the fire. 

“But it’s not just about response, it’s about getting ready for the response. Mitigation is long-term, preparedness is short-term, response is the action and recovery comes after — to bounce back.”

Though many students in the emergency management program are already working part-time jobs in the field, Urby stressed that before they jump in  to the efforts in Washington, they should learn the optimal time to respond. 

“In the first couple of days, it is very official. The emergency management people with credentials… You would hope that all of the certified people in those areas have responded,” he said. 

“By the same token, there are voluntary groups who like to respond. But there is a time where those emergent groups should respond, or else it can easily get out of hand, and you can have a disaster in a disaster.”

The IESMA student group went to Washington early this morning. Urby hoped that while there, the members focused more on the response and recovery aspect of emergency management. 

“Ideally, it would be wonderful if (students) will help with the actual response and the recovery, because there are a lot of needs that need to be met right now. Ideally, it would be nice if they could put those two phases to work. (However,) we want to have a place and a job to do. To help people that are in need. We may not be able to reach everybody, but we can

reach some.”

Urby stressed the emergency management program at Western is about getting the degree — obtaining an education in emergency management; it is not just basic training. 

“Our student group is affiliated with the parent group, and we try to teach the students, not just the theoretical parts of emergency management, but also try to combine the practical parts. So we do theory and practice as much as we can,” Urby said. 

The program, developed in 2007, is the first and only university-level program in Illinois that offers a Bachelor of Science in emergency management. Because Western’s IESMA group works so closely with the state-wide association, students are welcomed with open arms into the emergency management community — often this leads to internships and job offerings for Western students. 

“(IESMA) has kind of taken Western students as part of them,” Urby said.  

Anyone is welcome to join Western’s IESMA chapter, even if they are not emergency management majors. Contact Jack L. Rozdilsky, Emergency Management Program Coordinator at JL-Rozdilsky@wiu.edu.

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