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Cook County refines hazard plans for future

Winnetka's Ann Wilder, left, talks Dec. 11 to Rob Flaner, who heads the planning for a new Cook County hazard mitigation plan, about a flood control plan she doesn't like. | Irv Leavitt/Sun-Times Media
Michael Masters, director of the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, addresses a gathering for the proposed coungy hazard mitigation plan. Irv Leavitt/Sun-Times Media
Northbrook  Village President Sandy Frum, co-chair of the steering committee of the Cook County Multi-Jurisdictional All Hazards Mitigation Plan, checks how likely her home is to be destroyed by an earthquake (not very). | Irv Leavitt/Sun-Times Media

NORTHBROOK — It was about 10 degrees with a 15 mph wind Dec. 11, but the weather inside Northbrook Village Hall seemed much scarier.

Blizzards. Floods. Tornadoes. Earthquakes.

But it was just talk, as various officials chatted blithely about the horrible possibilities of the future that they’re trying to get Cook County ready for, with the Cook County Multi-Jurisdictional All Hazards Mitigation Plan, now under construction.

And yes, earthquakes aren’t weather. But they seemed to fit in well with all the other abominable things that might afflict the County.

And an earthquake is definitely in your future, especially if you plan to live here for a long time, said Rob Flaner, lead planner of Tetra Tech, a California-based environmental hazard management company.

Tetra Tech is the firm that’s organizing the plan for Cook County and most of its jurisdictions. It helped run three regional public meetings in a week, in Homewood and Northbrook, and finally, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Village Hall of Westchester, 10300 W. Roosevelt Road.

An earthquake, Flaner said, that might shake you up pretty good has a 40 percent chance of occurring here in the next 50 years. An earthquake that knocks down buildings: about 10 percent chance in the same time period.

But if you’re looking for something to really worry about, there are plenty of more pressing horrors, such as floods.

Sam Pulia knows a lot about them. He’s the village president of Westchester, where the local government had to spend $2 million to recover from spectacular flooding in 2010.

“With a budget of $17 million, where do you get $2 million?” he asked. Not from the feds, it turned out, because Cook County hadn’t put together its mitigation plan, required by federal law in 2000 for both mitigation/preparedness and recovery dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency .

“We didn’t even get 5 cents,” he said.

Lake County had its plan. So did DuPage, McHenry and Will. Not Cook.

Michael Masters, executive director of the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, appointed by then-new County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, talked Dec. 11 about finding a $480,000 grant in place in 2011, enough to get the plan started.

“It was going to expire in six months,” he said. And the game was not afoot.

There’s been a lot of work done since then, and the Cook County plan is now in the home stretch.

Westchester, understandably, didn’t wait. It put together its own mitigation plan. Chicago has one, Des Plaines, Oak Park, and a few other municipalities, but until the Cook County plan is done, and approved, in the spring of 2014, “there’s no chance of getting a dime,” Pulia said.

No recovery money, and no prevention cash, for things like floodwater reservoirs, either.

Before the plan is done, as much information as possible is needed about the predilection for floods and various other disasters to occur. If that kind of bad stuff for each jurisdiction isn’t in the final document, at least in a general sense, money to prepare for it, or fix it if it breaks, may not be forthcoming.

For that reason, the planners need people to take the anonymous survey available at www.surveymonkey.com/s/CookCountyHazMit.

The official floodways and floodplains are already mapped into the digital form of the plan, but those only show a fraction of places that actually stay wet after it rains.

Visitors to the Dec. 11 session got a chance to look up their address on the County’s computer program, including Diane Thornton, who lives on Highland Avenue, north of Techny Road, in unincorporated Northbrook.

“You’re not in the floodplain,” Aaron Stevens of Tetra Tech said. “If you were, it would be purple.”

Thornton remarked, “It always floods.

“It doesn’t get in our basement, but our house looks like an island.”

Be glad you’re not in the floodplain, Stevens said. “If you were, you’d have to buy flood insurance.”

Another person who checked his house was Chuck Kramer, one of many area emergency officials at the Northbrook meeting.

Kramer, a 31-year Arlington Heights firefighter who’s now the village’s assistant Emergency Management Agency coordinator, has his house outside the purple part, but he has flood insurance, anyway.

He said it’s relatively cheap, but worth it, though he’s a little more prepared for disaster than many people.

“I’ve got a natural gas-powered generator,” he said. “Power goes out, it comes on automatically. The whole block is dark, and my house is the only one with lights on.”

As the plan is being finished, it may even give people a better idea about what might happen in case of a tornado, Flaner said.

The paths and damage records for 2,130 Cook County tornado events are being mixed together to create a range of possibilities for future events. It’s hard to say what the result will be, because, Flaner said, it’s never been done before.

There will be predictions in the plan for where many of the negative things that could occur, will occur.

There are about two dozen dams in Cook County, but don’t look for much specifics about them when the plan is published next year.

“We’re not going to say where the damage will be when dam failures happen,” Flaner said.

“Bad people could get ahold of that.”

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