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McLean County Disaster Council Celebrates 50 Years Of Preparing For The Worst

Smoking plane
Bloomington Fire Department
The McLean County Disaster Council conducts an annual exercise each year to test the community’s emergency preparedness, including at CIRA.";

When disaster strikes, we take it for granted that first responders, public health, schools, and other community agencies will all work together for the common good. But that doesn’t happen on its own.

And for the last 50 years, the McLean County Disaster Council has been the driving force behind that collaboration. The council will celebrate its 50th anniversary at an event Thursday in Bloomington.

The Disaster Council was created 1969, spearheaded by civil defense director Al Thomas. He saw that while there were many emergency services in the county, there was little collaboration in planning.

The council’s current president, David Hopper, said membership in those early years was mostly fire departments and law enforcement. But times change and so did its members.

“(FEMA) adheres to a principle called whole community preparedness—that is you involve as many stakeholders as possible into the planning process, because it’s not that disasters are not more complicated than they were, there’s just more of a recognition that they’re more complex,” Hopper said.

First responders aren't the only ones affected by disasters. Faith-based organizations, social service agencies, public health departments, and private businesses are all impacted, and the Disaster Council has grown to include these entities.

“We have a much wider array of different organizations that come to the table so that we can better represent what our population looks like,” said Hopper, also the emergency preparedness coordinator for the McLean County Health Department.

The McLean County Disaster Council conducts an annual exercise each year to test the community’s emergency preparedness. That has included a plane crash exercise this year at Central Illinois Regional Airport, and a mass medicine dispensing exercise at Redbird Arena in 2018.

Hopper said that if not for these exercises and the council itself, emergency preparedness in the area would look starkly different.

“McLean County is very fortunate,” Hopper said. “The Disaster Council we have is unique if not a standalone in the state. There’s been recognition of it statewide. I know without a doubt that McLean County is better prepared (because of) this Disaster Council existing.”

The Disaster Council will hold its 50th anniversary celebration from 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at the former Central Illinois Regional Airport terminal building, 2901 E. Empire St., Bloomington. An open house will feature emergency response vehicles and equipment from member agencies, showcase the Disaster Council’s history, and provide an opportunity for the general public to meet members and learn more about the Disaster Council’s role in the community.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.