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Photo by Flickr user Kate Skegg

Given its dense population and status as a major transportation hub, the Chicago region must be prepared to respond to a large-scale disaster such as a pandemic, national security incident, or a natural disaster such as catastrophic flooding.

Part of GO TO 2040's regional vision is to make the region adequately prepared should such an emergency occur, while at the same time educating citizens about how to plan for such an event and their individual responsibility in case of a disaster.

In coordination with an advisory committee of regional experts, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicagohas prepared general recommendations for actions to improve emergency preparedness within the long-term contextof the GO TO 2040 plan. The recommendations cover:

  • Develop a culture of preparedness

  • Identify stakeholders and create collaborative inter-organizational teams

  • Acquire and manage resources

A report that provides more details on these recommendations is forthcoming and will be posted in this space when available; an executive summary is currently available.

Effect of physical planning decisions on emergency preparedness

The purpose of the questions below is to understand how today's planning policy and investment decisions – covering transportation, land use, housing, economic development, and the natural environment – might affect emergency preparedness in our region in 2040.

How would emergency preparedness be affected by different economic development policies: focusing on investments in human capital (improving the region's workforce); infrastructure (investing in physical infrastructure such as transportation facilities); or innovation (including but not limited to technological innovation)?

  • Investments in all of these could have positive impacts on emergency preparedness. Human capital investments could aid the development of a culture of preparedness, infrastructure investments are needed in event of evacuation, and technological improvements, particularly in the area of communication, could improve response.

  • Overall the more dependent our society is on complex and integrated systems, the more vulnerable it becomes. While pursuit of technological improvements is important and may aid emergency preparedness, redundancy should also be built in to prepare for unexpected disruptions.

How would emergency preparedness be affected by different transportation investment alternatives: focusing on major infrastructure investments (road or rail expansions); low-capital operational improvements (improved bus service, sidewalks, and trails); or technology (including real-time information or improved traffic signal timings)?

  • Investments in infrastructure should be sufficient to allow a major evacuation, and this should be a concern in infrastructure planning. Insufficient investments in the capacity of our infrastructure could limit our ability to move large numbers of people in an emergency situation.

  • Investments in public transit are particularly important, as people without cars will need evacuation options.

  • Technological improvements would also increase our evacuation ability, particularly in the area of communications interoperability between responders and transportation providers, as well as traveler information systems.

  • The use of the transportation system to transport hazardous materials should also be considered, as this is one potential cause of an emergency requiring a major response.

How would emergency preparedness be affected by different land use policies: focusing on dense, infill development; moderate densities with emphasis on community-centered design; or low-density new development?

  • The impact of development density on emergency preparedness is very complex and has not been researched well enough to draw conclusions. What is certain, though, is that community strength and connectedness is critical when responding to and recovering from emergencies. In particular, land use policies that create stronger communities can support the development of a culture of preparedness which is a major recommendation.

How would emergency preparedness be affected by different land conservation policies: focusing on preserving large areas open space for biodiversity; providing parks for community access; or providing open space as part of new development?

  • One of the most likely types of emergencies to affect the region is flooding. To avoid negative consequences of serious floods, floodplain development should be reduced as much as possible through coordinated land conservation policies.

How would emergency preparedness be affected by energy policies: focusing on adopting clean energy sources; reducing the energy consumption of buildings; or reducing the energy consumption of the transportation system?

  • Regardless of approach and source, long-term planning for energy should consider the energy infrastructure necessary to operate critical facilities in an emergency, including redundancy of energy systems and the response and recovery of utilities.

How would emergency preparedness be affected by housing policies: preserving existing affordable housing; creating new affordable housing near transit and jobs; or reducing housing costs through energy efficiency improvements?

  • Concentrations of vulnerable residents – whether they are lower-income residents without vehicles, senior citizens, disabled people, or other groups – present special challenges in emergency response and evacuation. The method used to create affordable or special needs housing is less important, for these purposes, than having a disaster preparedness plan for housing of this type.

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