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Climate Action Campaign Urges Comprehensive Disaster Planning In Normal

Screen at Normal council meeting
Charlie Schlenker
Climate Action Campaign Members presented data to the Normal Town Council Tuesday night on fatalities from a Chicago heat wave that can be used to create better disaster plans for Bloomington-Normal.

Normal Town Council members and town staff agreed with an environmental group that the community needs better emergency plans for heat waves and polar vortexes.

Climate Action Campaign members told the council Tuesday night that global climate change will bring longer and more frequent heat waves and cold spells in coming decades.

City Manager Pam Reece said emergency planning for heat waves and sub-zero cold in the past has been on a case-by-case basis, but more prolonged extreme events would need better coordination with countywide emergency services.

"It's not as simple as saying Uptown Station is going to be open from X hour to X hour, or the library from X hour to X hour or the Community Activity Center, but it has to be more defined on who it can accommodate. Where do pets fit in? And do you have predetermined locations for those situations? There should be much more coordination that goes into determining locations. Someone who should absolutely be represented in the conversation should be Unit 5 schools," said Reece.

Climate Action Campaign members used fatality numbers from a recent heat wave in Chicago to tell the council extreme weather events become deadlier the longer they go on, because heat effects are cumulative. In that example the death toll did not rise sharply until the third and fourth day of heat.

Bill Rau of the Action Campaign said so many died so fast the city of Chicago had to use a meatpacking facility to store bodies because the morgues were full.

The group said data suggest Bloomington-Normal could have the same kind of heat by midcentury that Houston, Texas, does now.

Rau said slow disasters require a different sort of planning than plane crashes or severe storms because needs build little by little.

"We follow McLean County Emergency Management and they have not designated certain locations. Clearly we need to do better in working with McLean County in having a countywide emergency management plan," said Reece.

The group said there are 5,000 people in McLean County who are housing challenged or who do not have adequate air conditioning and are thus vulnerable to extreme heat and cold.

The group said Emergency Medical System personnel need better training on severe heat stroke responses not widely needed before in central Illinois.

The group also plans a presentation to the McLean County Board.

The Town Council also approved federal Community Development Block Grant spending for the next year. That included:

  • Unity Community Center after-school youth activities and PATH Homeless Outreach Services, $59,400
  • Homeowner Emergency Repair and Accessibility, Habitat for Humanity partnership, and AMBUCS, $72,850
  • Infrastructure in income-qualified areas, particularly for sidewalk and ADA ramps, $263,000
  • Property acquisition for sidewalk right-of-way in income-qualified areas, $30,000
  • Resurfacing of at least one street in a low- to moderate-income neighborhood, $225,420
  • Rehabilitation of at least one section of sanitary sewer in a low- to moderate-income area, $23,884
  • Affordable housing through the acquisition of properties for Habitat For Humanity development, $25,000
  • Financial assistance to HUD qualified homebuyers through the town's Down Payment Assistance Program, $45,000
  • Anti-housing discrimination assistance through Prairie State Legal Services, $10,000
  • Funding and staff involvement with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission Regional Housing Advisory Committee, $20,000
  • General program administration (travel and training, advertising costs, etc.), $19,190

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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