Cook County officials released a draft of a hazard mitigation plan that will give county and municipal governments access to federal funding for projects to prevent damage from natural disasters.
Officials from some of the 115 municipalities that are part of the plan gathered in Orland Park last week to hear about the draft, which outlines the risks the county faces from severe weather, floods, tornadoes and other natural hazards as well as steps it could take to limit those risks.
Because Cook County has never had a hazard mitigation plan, projects to reduce damage from natural hazards haven't been eligible for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Rob Flaner, hazard mitigation program manager at Tetra Tech Inc., hired to help develop the plan.
"People have missed out on some pretty significant funding opportunities because they haven't had a plan," Flaner said.
Michael Masters, executive director of the county's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which is leading work on the plan, said it also helps communities prepare. Each participating municipality had to assess the risks posed by various natural hazards, their capabilities for responding, and possible steps to reduce their risks — something that's much easier to do before a disaster strikes than after, he said.
Once approved, the plan is expected to be the largest hazard mitigation plan in the country, Masters said. It covers 115 Cook County municipalities, even though some cities, including Chicago, have separate plans.
The biggest risks county-wide, in terms of how likely they are to occur and how much damage they would cause if they did, were severe weather, including high winds and intense heat, severe winter weather, floods and earthquakes, according to the draft. County officials also studied risk of damage due to tornadoes, dam failure and drought.
The county could tackle some of the proposed actions to counter those risks, such as completing the countywide mass notification system, with existing funding, according to the plan.
Additional grant funding could be sought for actions such as expanding the Cook County Mobile Response Team's capabilities for emergency and disaster response and developing and implementing a countywide critical infrastructure security program.
Orland Park is one of the municipalities participating in the plan. The last time Orland Park experienced a natural hazard that qualified for a FEMA Major Disaster Declaration was in July 2010, when severe storms caused flooding. But since then, there have been several instances of flooding and severe weather – including the snow and extreme cold in January -- that the village identified as natural hazard events in assessing its risks..
Orland Park's hazard risk ranking is similar to the county's. The village is considered to be at a high risk of severe weather and severe winter weather hazards, with a moderate risk of tornadoes. The village is at a relatively lower risk of earthquakes and floods, followed by dam failure and drought.
Village officials are evaluating their resources to determine what, if any, mitigation actions they'll pursue when the plan is approved, said village spokesman Joe La Margo.
Some of the mitigation steps identified in the village's section of the draft wouldn't require outside funding, such as coordinating the plan with existing village emergency plans and updating the village's emergency response plans. Grants would be sought for upgrades to critical facilities and operations equipment, constructing stormwater and flood control and retrofitting or relocating structures in hazard-prone areas, according to the plan.
Masters noted that while municipalities are encouraged to pursue mitigation projects they're able to fund independently, they're not required to complete any of the actions included in the plan.
"It's really nothing but a positive," he said.
Officials are encouraging Cook County residents to fill out an online survey to help prioritize projects. Dave Sanders, who lives in an unincorporated area near Midlothian and Oak Forest, said he attended the meeting because he wanted to tell officials about the sewers he says empty into the creek behind his house, flooding it on a regular basis.
"I'm hoping there's something in the there that could help with that," he said.
The survey, at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CookCountyHazMit, is open through June 10, when the public comment period ends.
If the plan is approved by Illinois Emergency Management Agency and FEMA — hopefully by September, Flaner said — municipalities will have one year to formally adopt the plan.