President recognizes the important role of public works as a first responder

Brigitte Mayerhofer, P.E.
Director of Engineering
Village of Wilmette, Illinois
President, APWA Chicago Metro Chapter

Chicago welcomed President Bush to the Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy (NIPSTA) in Glenview, Illinois this summer. The same day that the 9/11 Commission's final report was released, President Bush joined Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Congressman Mark Kirk (IL) to address a crowd of police, fire and public works professionals. The afternoon began with a mock disaster training drill which demonstrated the importance of adequate training for our first responders.

Public works employees were among the first responders who participated in the mock disaster drill. A public safety team responded to a hijacked bus that crashed into a chemical tanker. A SWAT team subdued the mock terrorist while a hazardous materials team took readings to detect contamination. Fire and EMS personnel removed seven dummies from the bus. The drill concluded when public works personnel wearing self-contained breathing apparatus provided cleanup after the spill. Two-person teams from the Villages of Glenview and Northbrook Public Works Departments participated in the drill.

NIPSTA was the backdrop of the President's speech acknowledging the completion of the 9/11 Commission's report. The President discussed the steps that the current administration has taken to overcome the security threats to the United States. He said that significant strides have been taken, but that there is still work to do. President Bush told the 800 public service officials and political supporters that "the new threats of the 21st Century are dangerous and they are frightening, but America has the resources and the strength and the resolve to overcome them."

In addition to participating in the mock terrorist attack, public works staff assisted with the preparation for the President's visit including planning and setting up the exercise, assisting with the building and grounds preparation, and being there to greet the President as he landed. Chris Clark, Assistant Director of Public Works for the Village of Glenview, was involved in the planning and execution of the drill. Clark said there were several chalkboard runs and a walkthrough of the exercise before the President arrived. "Everything worked out as planned," Clark said, "and our seat at the table showed how public safety teams work together."

The training academy was developed to provide a resource for public safety (police, fire and public works) training opportunities. This exercise proved that public works is an integral part of a first responder's team and it was terrific to be recognized. Jim Reynolds, Public Works Director for the Village of Northbrook and Chairman of NIPSTA's Public Works Committee, said the logistics of having the President as a guest were mind-boggling. At the end of the day, the exercise went flawlessly and brought attention to the need for investing in our first responders, Reynolds reported. After the drill, President Bush asked the 30 public safety personnel to gather around where he thanked them for the important role they played in the homeland security effort.

Brigitte Mayerhofer can be reached at (847) 853-7627 or at mayerhoferb@wilmette.com.