By Alexander Germanis
In ancient Greece, the storyteller Aesop told a fable of a wise, industrious, hardworking ant and the ant’s neighbor: the frolicking, carefree grasshopper. When winter comes, the ant is prepared and well-stocked for the bitter season while the grasshopper is left begging for aid from the ant lest he perish. In later retellings of the fable, the ant shows compassion and helps the grasshopper survive the winter.
For thousands of years this moral has been told to illustrate the need for personal preparedness.
While Aesop certainly encourages us to not be like the grasshopper, the people of Peoria County are fortunate they have a compassionate, hardworking neighbor in the Peoria County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).
To Mitigate, Prepare, Respond, and Recover
Since April 1994, R. Jason Marks has been serving the community. Starting as a sanitarian for the Peoria City/County Health Department before transitioning to become Emergency Management Coordinator 10 years later, Jason was finally appointed Peoria County Emergency Management Agency Director of Emergency Management in 2018.
In his nearly 30 years of service, he has enjoyed working toward the continued wellbeing of the community. What that work entails, however, is constantly shifting.
“As disasters increase in frequency and intensity, emergency management is ever-changing,” says Jason. “As those hazards and vulnerabilities differ over time the risks and threats to the public change.”
To make sure the community remains a community, Jason says the Peoria EMA’s “goal is to promote, coordinate, and direct a comprehensive emergency management program which addresses mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery relative to disaster and major emergencies.”
Through mitigation, the EMA seeks to reduce risk by preventing emergencies from either taking place or engage in long-term activities to at least minimize the adverse effects of the emergency when it does occur.
The EMA also prepares “measures for preserving life and minimizing damage resulting from disasters caused by enemy attack, sabotage, or other hostile action, or from natural or man-made disasters.” They also set up activities, programs, and systems used to support and enhance response to an emergency or disaster.
Should any of the aforementioned emergencies transpire, the EMA’s duty is, naturally, to respond. By providing the necessary assistance, activities, and programs designed to minimize the impact of the disaster, the EMA addresses the immediate and short-term effects and helps reduce the casualties and damage, and to speed recovery. Although the recovery—returning the county and systems to their normal, pre-emergency state—might sound simple, this responsibility that falls to the EMA is anything but.
The foolishness of the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable is notable, especially considering the sure knowledge the winter is approaching, but the lesson regarding the wisdom of preparedness remains the same even when facing once-in-a-lifetime emergency situations. Helping people become self-reliant in such situations is one of the core purposes of the EMA and one that may minimize the need for a lengthy recovery after an emergency.
“The first and most important decision is to prioritize preparing,” Jason assures. For this reason, the EMA has developed a budget-friendly plan for families so they can build their own emergency supply kit over the course of 24 weeks.
Taking people’s already hectic lives into account, the list is broken up in easy chunks, averaging only three items to add and one or two steps to take per week. These range from packing garbage bags and simple tools to arranging for a friend to help your children should you be unable to respond during an emergency. The list also includes instructions for families with seniors, special needs individuals, persons with disabilities, and pets. (The complete list is available for download on the Peoria City/County Health Department website at www.pcchd.org/DocumentCenter/View/273/.)
It is a part of human nature to ignore or pretend negative events don’t even exist until it is usually too late to do anything about them. “Recognizing that there are threats and risks in the community and what those specific hazards are and how they may affect individuals and families is the second-best way to be prepared,” Jason adds.
In other words, recognizing the winter is coming is a step in the right direction.
Communication and Connecting
Starting with preparation, dealing with an emergency as it transpires, and following through to recovery all require the same thing in order to do so safely and successfully. “Knowledge is the key,” Jason emphasizes.
Knowing how to take care of yourself and your loved ones, how the community partners are coordinating and helping the area carry through, and of course knowing there is a state of emergency in the first place will help you to think clearly and avoid panicking.
Communication is vital when it comes to disseminating this knowledge. “We attempt to do this in Peoria County by coordinating with various community partners (government, agencies, private sector, non-governmental organizations, etc.) in conduct of a Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA), assessment of the 32 FEMA Core Capabilities, and the ability of the community to meet those,” Jason lists. The HVA is conducted at the end of each year and encompasses how to respond to myriad emergencies ranging from power failures or public unrest to frostbite or fatalities.
Jason continues by adding the development of an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) is also implemented to ensure continuation of FEMA Community Lifelines during an incident, to identify and coordinate training and exercises as appropriate based on threats and risks to the community, and to provide outreach to the community on how they can be prepared as individuals and families.
As important as communication can be during an emergency, he includes a caveat: “Today more than ever it is critical to ensure that information is being shared through authorized channels as the access to information via social media, the internet, 24/7 news channels can create disinformation and misinformation.”
Keeping this channel of communication clear and true means establishing a foundation of strong relationships between departments, agencies, and other key partners. “The EMA’s role is in coordinating and facilitating community activities around the operations of a Joint Information Center (JIC) when appropriate during an incident,” Jason explains. But the JIC and the Public Information Officer are tasked with providing critical information to the public in a timely manner.
Prepare to Survive, Prepare to Succeed
Benjamin Franklin once stated: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Never are his words more proven than during a state of emergency.
Although any emergency tests one’s mettle, the ability to be prepared for one not only shows personal wisdom, but it contributes to the greater good. The more prepared the individual is, Jason says, the more resilient the community will be. An unprepared community will ultimately be, in Benjamin Franklin’s words, a failed community.
But preparation need not be a daunting task. In fact, Jason assures preparing for emergencies can be quite simple. “It's really just a mental exercise and acceptance that certain hazards are a greater threat than others,” he says. “And with a little preparation we can be more comfortable in our ability to be okay.”
Peoria County Emergency Management Agency is located at 10321 Civil Defense Road in Brimfield, Illinois. For more information on how you can better prepare yourself or your family for the next emergency, please visit us on the web at www.peoriacounty.org/494/emergency-management or phone us at (309) 679-6020.Back to Top