Efforts are underway in Chicago and across the state to inform citizens on the importance of being prepared for emergencies and the potential future effects of climate change, among other crises. We take a look at some of the latest efforts.
Efforts are underway in Chicago and across the state to inform citizens on the importance of being prepared for emergencies and the potential future effects of climate change, among other crises.
Chicagoland is one step closer to being ready for climate-change related weather and other disasters thanks to the “Climate Change and Public Health Action Plan for Cook County” unveiled last Wednesday.
Sarah Lovinger, executive director of the Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility, which collaborated with Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering to create the plan, said the report is “not a mitigation plan.”
“We’re not trying to reduce carbon,” she said. “We’d like to, but that’s not that goal.”
The point of the plan is to address public health needs with the collaboration of medical professionals, elected officials and public health personnel, among others.
“Climate change is happening, and the extreme weather that can come with climate change has a lot of health implications,” Lovinger said. “The public health community needs to be prepared for those health implications and help the medical community adjust.”
The plan identifies five areas of concern in Cook County: extreme heat and weather; foodborne illness; vector-borne illness; water quality and quantity and waterborne diseases; and air pollution and allergens.
These health crises are expected to be more prevalent as climate change continues and extreme weather events become more common, according to the report.
To help mitigate these challenges, the report calls for better communication with the public about the risks and prevention of disease, improved water treatment infrastructure, and including advocates for vulnerable populations when developing emergency plans.
The main flaw of the plan, Lovinger said, is that it only encompasses Cook County. The groups would need more funding to expand the plan’s coverage.
Lovinger said the other counties in Illinois would face similar climate-change problems as Cook County.
In addition to Cook County’s climate-change plan, a federal campaign is underway aimed at rallying citizens to take preparedness actions within their own families.
A truck with the words “It can happen!” printed on its sides made its way through Will and DuPage counties, among others, during the month of June.
The educational truck made pit stops at community events across Illinois with the hope of spreading awareness on the importance of making a family emergency plan and a “go bag” for when disasters strike, among other precautions.
The truck is part of the “Gear Up. Get Ready. It can happen!” campaign spearheaded by the federal government's Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program — a collaborative outreach effort made up of public safety officials, non-profits and community and faith-based organizations.
The preparedness grant program is a Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiative that’s operating in 16 counties in Northeast Illinois, Northwest Indiana and Wisconsin.
The campaign’s goal is to educate the public on how to take action, said Ed Mashaw, project manager for the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program.
“We’re not reinventing a new campaign,” Mashaw said. “The theory, the message is there. But how do we get people to take the message and take it one step further?”
During recent stops in Chicago, Joliet and Addison, among other cities, members of the campaign passed out literature about how to make family, work, school and pet plans, along with tips on what food and materials to store for an emergency. The truck will wrap up its tour in Mundelein and Waukegan on July 1.
Mashaw said it doesn’t hurt to create plans and stockpile a few days worth of non-perishable food, because “when an event happens, it’s too late to prepare.”
Yvette Alexander-Maxie, director of external operations for the American Red Cross — one of the organizations working on the campaign, said the future is uncertain, but education is key.
“Be aware that things can happen,” she said. “Seek out as much information about things that could happen, and take steps that you can do right here and now.”