Practice Makes Perfect

City Tests Section of its Disaster Plan

By Jennifer Kuhn, Senior Administrative Assistant in Human Resources

Heritage, Community, Service, and Opportunity are the four umbrella components of the City of St. Charles’ mission. And on May 31, 2018, the City’s Human Resources department experienced the engagement of our community agencies, the service of volunteers, and an opportunity to enhance our emergency protocols.

The City’s HR staff, in partnership with the St. Charles Park District and the overarching leadership of Emily Kies, former Emergency Management Coordinator with the City and current Red Cross volunteer, ran an exercise plan (Charlemagne Fox FSE) to test the City’s Spontaneous Volunteer Management Plan. Formally called, “Annex Q,” in the larger emergency operations plan, this annex outlines how the city would incorporate local volunteers if a disaster were to strike. While trained emergency agencies such as the Red Cross or AmeriCorps are deployed in a disaster, citizens from the community not affiliated with a particular agency (spontaneous volunteers) are an invaluable resource in disaster management. The City’s HR department was tasked with setting up and receiving spontaneous volunteers and in this simulation of a tornado striking our community we gained valuable insight about how to enhance our plan.

About 15 volunteer “actors” (including Alderman Lora Vitek, some community service participants, emergency management employees, park district employees, neighbors, and family members) presented a variety of scenarios we might encounter. During the two-hour simulation at Pottawatomie Community Center, the City’s community restitution coordinator and assistant prepared the “actors” to go through the process of registration, site assignment, training, and check-out. We received realistic test calls from Chris Adesso, Assistant Director of Public Works Operations, and Lisa Garhan, Communications Division Manager, with requests for volunteer assistance and information. Fire Chief Joe Schelstreet visited the site to observe and offer support for the exercise. The exercise taught us ways to refine the flow of the volunteer center, a better idea of what information was helpful for volunteers, and new ways we can partner with community agencies to assist volunteers. The HR staff will receive an after action report that focuses on the strengths and areas for improvement, leading to improvement planning, an after action meeting with decision and policy makers, ultimately resulting in an improvement plan with target dates for completion.

There’s no doubt in our minds that the residents of St. Charles and the surrounding community would eagerly step forward to assist their neighbors in a disaster, and the City is more prepared as a result of this simulation. In an actual emergency, the location and needs of the spontaneous volunteer center would be publicized through many media avenues such as the City’s website, radio and television. It would be important for residents to be aware of the requirements for volunteers (such as age, physical demands for particular jobs, and the need for a photo ID or specific dress or equipment). We sincerely hope that we never have to open the spontaneous volunteer center for the City of St. Charles, but if we do, we are ready to partner with citizen volunteers, city employees, and community agencies to make a difference in our community.