Illinois Public Media News
Emergency personnel from Central Illinois say more communication on the local level is needed before the state even responds to a disaster.
Greater coordination in one region is a concern that came out of brainstorming sessions in a Homeland Security Town Hall meeting in Urbana Thursday. It's the second of eight the state is using to gauge strategies on how to handle disasters, as well as emerging threats.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathan Monken says the first such town hall, held in the Metro East area, focused more on the state's efforts to respond.
"I was very interested to hear the conversation about how they can improve at the local level, at the regional level to say how we can be better to prepared for the first four to six hours of an event before the state can even get there," Monken said.
Richard Jahne, director of the Illinois Fire Service Instiute at the University of Illinois, says one area he wants to see upgraded is bringing in all the right responders. Jahne says emergency personnel have a wide range of capabilities, but he's still concerned with the way the skills are applied.
"Does the way we use them match the way we train to prepare people to use them," said Jahne. "And who's missing? Who isn't part of the team that needs to be included in training and preparation and exercises."
Mahomet Police Chief Mike Metzler says even for a small agency like his, it's important to stay in involved with other agencies, and further develop mutual aid agreements that are already in place.
"Obviously, a place like Mahomet, resources are one of those things that we're always looking for to improve our standing, coming with money for training and equipment.," Metzler said.
The Urbana meeting was also intended to bring in more people from the private sector, but only a couple attended. John Dwyer is Deputy Director of Champaign County's Emergency Management Agency.
"What they can bring to the table during disasters - they're an untapped resource - working with our local businesses to see what they can help us with," he said.
The state will gather input from six more town hall meetings in different areas to develop a response strategy at a final summit in Springfield next September.
The Chicago Sun-Times and its 39 affiliated suburban newspapers are scheduled to start charging for online subscriptions.
Starting on Thursday, online readers will get 20 free page views across all Sun-Times Media websites every 30 days before hitting a paywall.
"The journalism we generate has value, and we think our readers and viewers will fully understand and support this decision on our part," said Sun-Times Media CEO Jeremy Halbreich.
Sun-Times Media will charge $6.99 for a four-week, unlimited subscription, about $78 annually. Current subscribers to any Sun-Times affiliated newspaper will be charged for $1.99 every four weeks for online access.
Halbreich said he's not concerned about losing readers after the paywall goes into effect.
The Northwest suburban paper The Daily Herald enacted a similar paywall earlier this year.
The Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District is trying to expand the use of technology for its riders.
That is why it has launched a competition for software developers to come up with applications that work on smart phones, desktops, and other devices. Karl Gnadt, who is the CUMTD's director market development, said more people are using this sort of technology to look up information about bus departures and arrivals.
"More and more are telling us that they don't use our schedule books, that they use the real time information," Gnadt said. "Typically, they'll get that on a mobile device. Though, often times they will use a computer as well."
The top three software developers will get a cash prize of $1000, $600, and $200, but Gnadt said all of the applications submitted will be in circulation on smart phones, desktops, and other devices.
"We think that the top three that the judges select are probably going to be the best of the bunch," he said. "So, I would think that those three would be the most popular and the most used."
Gnadt said there are currently about a dozen applications in circulation for CUMTD riders.
The deadline for the competition is Feb. 20.
An Illinois retailers group is endorsing bills in Congress that could settle the battle over sales taxes between online sellers and brick-and-mortar stores.
Illinois Retail Merchants Association President David Vite said his group welcomes both versions of the Marketplace Fairness Act, saying they would create uniform nationwide definitions and rules for state sales taxes --- making it easier for online retailers to collect those taxes from buyers in every state. For instance, he said states would have to agree on how they categorize items for tax purposes.
"What is clothing and what is an accessory?" Vite said. "So if clothing is taxed as a tie --- an accessory, or is it part of clothing? If you're selling food, are the definitions the same? That has to occur, and there has to be some very simple remittance requirements --- a single form and those kind of things. And if the state certifies that they do that, they would be eligible to participate."
Stephanie Sack owns the Viva La Femme shops in Chicago, which sell clothes to plus-size women. Speaking at a news conference in support of the bills, Sack said online sellers have an unfair advantage, because they generally don't collect state sales taxes like she does at her stores.
"The advantage that the Internet has - no matter what, where, when, or who - is a government sanctioned 10 percent markdown," Sack said.
Amazon.com has come out in favor of the Marketplace Fairness Act, while some other big online sellers have stayed away. Overstock.com said it supports another bill, called the Equity in Sales Tax Collection Act.
Vite said that bill is similar to the Marketplace Fairness Act, but he said the bill favored by Overstock provides a "small business exemption" for annual sales of up to $30-million --- a level he said is too high.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) is co-sponsoring the Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate, while U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring it in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A recording of dispatch radio calls shows that emergency workers were expressing concern about severe weather just minutes before winds ripped through the Indiana State Fair and caused a fatal stage collapse.
WTHR-TV in Indianapolis obtained recordings of Marion County dispatch communications from the night of Aug. 13, when thousands of fans were waiting to see a concert by country music group Sugarland.
In one excerpt, workers are warned about five minutes before the collapse that severe weather was moving in and are advised to seek shelter if necessary. Two minutes later, another dispatcher asks if concert fans have been released from the grandstands.
Fair officials have said they were preparing to order an evacuation when the stage rigging collapsed into the grandstands. Seven people died.
Chicago-based Exelon is a step closer to becoming one of the largest power companies in the country. Shareholders of Exelon and its rival, Constellation Energy, approved a merger Thursday. Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison.
Analyst Travis Miller with Morningstar predicts the merger will bring new jobs to Illinois and benefit consumers. "You know a larger company offers cost savings that can flow to ComEd and reduce the infrastructure portion of consumer bills," Miller said.
Miller predicts the merger will be finalized by early 2012, but it still needs approval from regulators.
Meantime, Illinois' attorney general is criticizing the deal. Lisa Madigan's office is concerned about what would happen to electricity prices if the merger goes through.
A Chicago-based wind energy company will start preliminary work on placing 30 turbines in northeastern Champaign County.
After hours of debate in the county's Zoning Board of Appeals, the county board Thursday night unanimously approved Invenergy's special use permit and a road agreement in a matter of minutes. The company will also place 100 turbines in Vermilion County as part of what's called California Ridge Wind Farm.
But Invenergy Vice President for Development Kevin Parczyk said for a while, there will be little to see in the area north of Royal, where the wind farm is locating in Champaign County.
"Because it's spread out over such a large area, there's a lot of things that people don't even see happening," he said. "And really where it's going to be happening is probably in mid to late spring, you'll start seeing the turbines arriving, and then they'll start popping up. A lot of prep work has taken place, and it will for the next six months or so."
"Today is a momentous day," County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz said.
Parczyk said the work of wind farm construction is very sequential, and is constantly moving, but he expects work in an area north of Royal to start this spring. He said the wind farm will mean 150 to 200 construction jobs, plus those for local vendors who provide stone, concrete and other needs for completing the project.
Parczyk said public road work and foundation excavation is underway in Vermilion County, where the county board approved Invenergy's permit last month.
An economic official in Danville says the expansion of mobile broadband in the area adds a missing sales tool in parts of rural downstate Illinois.
AT&T's mobile broadband has now expanded to rural cities like Rossville, Tilton, and Georgetown, and St. Joseph. The company is now offering a 3G network, with hopes of expanding it to 4G if AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA is approved.
Vermilion Advantage President Vicki Haugen says employers of all sizes, ranging from to ThyssenKrupp, to farmers, to a winery in Oakwood stand to benefit.
"So you look at communities like Hoopeston or Oakwood, off of the interstate (I-74), or some of the other communities that have business development," said Haugen. "They have been at an unfair disadvantage just because of the lack of quality connectivity. This is a key to today and in the future."
Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the legislature's 2010 vote to modernize Illinois' telecommunications act made the expansion possible. AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza says the company has boosted its infrastructure by $3-point-8 billion the last 3 years, due in part to that legislation.
Besides Danville, 11 other cities are impacted, including Hoopeston, Westville, and Tilton in Vermilion County, and St. Joseph and Gifford in Champaign County.
Work on building the Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of is back on track, with a new partner.
IBM withdrew from the project over the summer citing technical and financial difficulties. But now, the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications has received National Science Foundation approval for a new $118 million contract with Seattle-based Cray Incorporated.
Blue Waters Project deputy director Bill Cramer said while IBM's plans for Blue Waters had certain advantages, Cray brings more computational capability, more memory and more storage capacity to the project. Cramer added that supercomputers are Cray's specialty.
"The Cray Company only does super-computing," Cramer said. "So they don't do many of the market pressures that IBM felt. The Cray company specialize s in supercomputing and doing these very, very large projects and systems. And they've had a large history of doing that."
Cramer spoke Monday from Seattle, at SC11, an annual convention for high performance computing, where the NSCA and Cray announced their plans for Blue Waters.
Blue Waters is being built to help scientists and engineers work through their most complex problems, with an expected sustained performance level of more than one petaflop. That's one quadrillion floating point operations per second.
"And those scientists will be using it to simulate the world around us in everything from earthquake engineering and the damage earthquakes might do to buildings, to epidemiology to basic chemistry," NSCA spokesman Bill Bell said.
NSCA officials say Cray will start delivering hardware to the U of I Urbana campus before the year is over. And an "early science system" of Blue Waters is expected to be running a sort of Beta version of the supercomputer in early 2012. Cramer said Blue Waters should be fully operational by next fall.
Illinois patients once again can use a public website to find out whether their doctors and chiropractors have shady histories.
The Physician Profile became available Wednesday on the website for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
It allows consumers to see whether a doctor has been disciplined in Illinois or in another state. Malpractice judgments and settlements going back five years are posted.
The searchable database was taken offline last year when the Illinois Supreme Court declared a medical malpractice reform law unconstitutional.
A new law reinstated the database and gave doctors 60 days to review the information before the site went live. That review period has passed, allowing the comeback.
The website drew more than 150,000 hits weekly before it went dark in 2010.
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