State cites Belleville over emergency plan after alderwoman's complaint

News-DemocratAugust 3, 2013 

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert.


— The city has been cited by the state for having an inadequate emergency plan at City Hall and a lack of employee emergency procedure training.

Alderwoman-at-large Lillian Schneider filed a formal complaint to the Illinois Department of Labor, which resulted in an inspection at City Hall.

Schneider's complaint was that the city does not have an emergency plan for tornado warnings, and there has never been training on the procedures in the event of an emergency.

Mayor Mark Eckert said he had been working with the police and fire departments to improve the city's emergency preparedness, but he admits that it should have been completed sooner.

"It's not that we're procrastinating because we're procrastinators. It's like anything else. We kind of deal with emergencies each, and every day and you get sidetracked," Eckert said.

"But we've talked for some time about starting to have fire drills and storm drills in our buildings, especially City Hall, the libraries, those types of things were we have the public also interacting. They will be implemented very soon."

The Safety Inspection and Education Division of the Department of Labor conducted the inspection June 10.

Tornado sirens sounded on the evening of May 30 while a meeting was under way in City Hall. Schneider complained that no effort was made to move people to safety. Eckert said afterward that the city does indeed have a plan in place, and he followed it that night.

"We take it very seriously. We wouldn't keep people in a building with glass windows if there was danger. ... We've emptied it out before," Eckert said.

The city was able to provide the Belleville Emergency Operations Plan during the recent inspection, but the Department of Labor issued a citation for a lack of procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires these procedures.

The Department of Labor classified this citation as "serious."

Eckert said shortly after the inspection he began each City Council meeting with instructions for officials and the public as to where they should meet in the event of a fire or storm so that everyone could be accounted for.

After interviewing Eckert and City Hall employees, the Department of Labor determined that city employees had not been trained on the emergency plan.

Eckert said in May that not all aldermen had been trained to follow the emergency plans, especially new aldermen, but that City Council members would be discussing the possibility of training new members on emergency preparedness soon.

He said department heads and emergency staff members had been trained to follow the emergency plans.

A subcitation was issued because Eckert failed to review the emergency plan with new employees, which is another OSHA requirement.

Now, Eckert said when a new employee begins working at City Hall, he or she will be given a copy of the building's disaster plan.

"We'll do our best to show everybody the plans, make them sign off so they can't say they didn't know and they will be expected to participate when we have drills," he said. "It'll be part of their policy manual for employment."

Eckert received a "Citation and Notification of Penalty" on July 17 stating that he had violated the Illinois Safety Inspection and Education Act, as well as the Health and Safety Act.

Eckert was given until Aug. 21 to provide the Department of Labor a written emergency plan that meets all requirements, specifically any procedures or methods to account for employees after an evacuation or other emergency.

With the help of Assistant Police Chief Jim Spargur, a new plan for City Hall was completed and signed by Eckert on June 28.

Eckert has until Sept. 18 to provide proof of employee training, including the name of the trainer and training materials used.

"We'll start actually having some drills in the month of August in City Hall," Eckert said.

Eckert hopes to formally adopt the completed City Hall emergency plan at the City Council meeting Monday night.

"We're going to be better because of this," he said.

In addition to a more polished plan at City Hall, Police Chief Bill Clay said the police department is working on building-specific plans across the city while the fire department is improving the citywide plan.

"The police department is putting these plans in place: drawing the maps, getting them together, forwarding those as we get them done to the Labor Department, the mayor has to sign off on them, and then we'll put them in place," Clay said.

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