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County crews assisting with storm aftermath, facilities open

     JOLIET —Will County Executive Larry Walsh said that all of the County’s facilities are open on Tuesday in the aftermath of Monday night’s storms and departments are working to keep residents safe.

     In addition, for the first time, ComEd has opened its Joint Operations Center in the Will County Emergency Agency’s offices in order to better facilitate the electric company’s response to local outages.

     “We want people to know we are open for business,” said Walsh. “Our staff people are here to assist those who need to come to our offices and conduct business, and our highway department is out in force to clean off our roadways. Our other departments, such as EMA and Health, are working to ensure the safety of our residents. ”

      The Transportation Department was out in force, some with some maintenance workers beginning their day hours earlier than usual. Director of Transportation Bruce Gould said, “All our maintenance guys are out right now. We had calls at 1 o’clock this morning.”

     He said his staff first responded after getting calls from the Sheriff’s Department about problems with debris on North Cedar Road, Mills Road and Chicago Bloomington Trail.

     Smaller crews were dispatched to begin the work. The full force of 45 from all three facilities -- Crest Hill, Joliet and Monee -- has been out since 7:30 a.m.

     Work will continue until all 265 miles of centerline county roads are cleared, said Gould.

     Maintenance Director Mike Miglorini said there was no damage to any of the buildings under his jurisdiction, which are all of the County facilities except the Courthouse and Sheriff’s Department facilities. The power at the County Office Building, 302 N. Chicago St., went out for a short while, but the generator kicked in until it came back on.

     “Right now, we’re good,” Miglorini said.

    

EMA activated

 

      Harold Damron, Director of the Will County EMA, said his staff started watching the weather Monday afternoon when the first forecasts of severe weather were coming in. The first wave arrived around 6 p.m. and “mostly impacted the northern part of the County,” with high winds knocking over trees and taking down power lines.

     The second wave, around 10 p.m., created the same problems in the rest of the County, Damron said. “Most or all (damage) appears to have been caused by straight-line winds.”

     At its peak, about 56,000 customers were without power, and about three-quarters of Will County’s communities had power outages. By 11:30 a.m., that number was down to about 43,000 customers.

     An apparent lightning strike at the tower at the Sheriff Department’s dispatching center on Laraway Road knocked out half of the computers around 10:30 p.m. Monday, having some operators using pen and paper to record calls.

     Kathy Hoffmeyer, a Sheriff Department spokesman, said repairs were made and the system was up and running again Tuesday morning.  

     For the first time, ComEd opened a Joint Operations Center in the EMA Emergency Operations Center.

     Craig Cremean, a manager with ComEd’s AMI Operations, said the power company had done an assessment of their storm response. “In the past, people felt like there wasn’t smooth communication” between ComEd and municipalities and counties.

     In order to better facilitate communication and prioritize repairs, ComEd decided to use local facilities to operate from in emergencies.

     Damron said his office had been having discussions with the utility for about two years about putting the system in place. Since his office already works with communities, relaying information from one to another and the weather service, about what is happening, the County was a natural partner. 

     Both Cremean and Damron said one reason for the collaboration was to prioritize repairs. “That’s our focus,” said Cremean.

     For the County’s part, it pre-identified places, such as nursing homes and city water systems, that would be high priority if outages occurred.

     “The list gives us a starting point,” Damron said.

     That list was compared to places that actually were out of power. The two agencies have been working together to put together an order for repair; ComEd opened its Joint Operations Center at the County Office Building since 5:30 a.m.

     Crimean said his group will remain there “until all the lights are on” for critical customers.

    

Siren test

 

     On Tuesday morning, the countywide warning sirens were tested. Tom Murray, the EMA’s Deputy Director for Operations, said state law requires a test at 10 a.m. the first Tuesday of the month as long as weather conditions are such that the test wouldn’t cause confusion about an actual event.

     Since the day dawned sunny and warm, there was no reason not to test the sirens. “It’s the right thing to do, I think,” said Murray.

 

Food safety tips

 

     The Will County Health Department offered several food safety tips for those have lost electricity:

  • If the power is out for less than two hours, the food in your freezer and refrigerator is typically considered to be safe to eat;
  • A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for up to 48 hours;
  • Keep freezer and refrigerator doors closed as much as possible;
  • Keep a couple of coolers handy to store foods in case of a lengthy power outage;
  • Perishable foods should never be held above 40 degrees F for more than two hours;
  • Once power returns, check food temperatures. Food in the freezer that still has ice crystals can typically be refrozen;
  • Every kitchen should have more than one food thermometer on hand at all times.  Keep an appliance thermometer in your freezer and refrigerator at all times;
  • Always keep dairy, meat, poultry, fish and eggs refrigerated at 40 degrees F or lower. Products found with temperatures above 40 degrees F after a power outage should be discarded;  
  • Frozen foods should be kept at least 0 degrees F;
  • And finally, never taste food to determine its safety.

     For more information about programs and services available through the Will County Health Department, go to  www.willcountyhealth.org.

     For ComEd safety tips, go to the Will County EMA Facebook page.

 

          Walsh said it appears people heeded the weather reports and took shelter.

         “The good news is no one is injured.” 

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