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Central Illinois First Responders Weigh in on Homeland Security Plan

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.