Highland city officials met Thursday morning to finalize preparations in anticipation of a severe winter storm set to hit the region.
“At the P.D., we are going to staff an extra dispatcher during the storm in order to handle the call volume, and we have reassigned our investigators to assist with patrol during the peak daytime driving hours,” said Highland Police Chief Terry Bell. “We will have a full shift of officers available overnight with additional officers who live in town on standby.”
First-responders have also coordinated with the Street and Alley Department to make sure a salt truck will be available around the clock to escort fire and/or EMS to any calls within the district — to and from.
“The important thing we want people to understand is, that while the conditions may make response slower than normal, we have a plan in place to get emergency services to folks when they need them, including those folks in our ambulance district,” Bell said.
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The National Weather Service issued the following advisory Thursday morning for the St. Louis area: “The winter storm watch has been expanded to cover the entire area. Freezing rain is expected to develop over southeast Missouri tonight and then spread northward on Friday and Friday night. The precipitation will continue through the weekend, with the freezing rain changing to rain at times where the surface temperatures climb above freezing. This storm will still bring anywhere from one-quarter inch to three-quarters of an inch of ice accumulation to the area. Plan now for hazardous travel conditions and possible damage to trees and power lines.”
“Hopefully, folks will be watching the weather, and we will be providing updates through the city social media to keep folks informed about road conditions. It currently looks like we should be prepared to endure about 48 hours of potential icing conditions, so hopefully most folks will use that time to catch up on their Netflix binge watching and stay safe,” Bell said.
Highland EMS is staffing an additional ambulance.
“We will have four units response ready,” said Brian Wilson, Highland EMS chief.
The fire department is also staffing each station with a crew of four.
“Fire will also provide support for EMS units responding to calls in Highland,” Wilson said. “They will assist with putting salt down and helping to carry patients to make to safer for all involved.”
Since the Highland EMS response area is about 280 square miles, EMS may also relocate one ambulance to the Marine Fire Station and one to the Pierron fire station to reduce what will likely be lengthened response times due to weather conditions.
“This would still leave two units in the city of Highland,” Wilson said.
Highland EMS also serves the Highland-Pierron, Grantfork, Marine, St. Jacob and St. Rose fire districts.
The city of Highland has seven trucks with salt spreaders and plenty of salt available for use.
“All streets will receive a treatment of salt after the snow routes are covered,” said Highland Public Works Director Joe Gillespie.
Meanwhile, Illinois State Police (ISP) officials statewide issued snow travel advisories and are urging motorists to plan ahead and take the necessary safety precautions while traveling on interstates and state roads.
Police are advising the motoring public to take the necessary safety precautions before getting behind the wheel. Motorists should reduce speeds and drive at safe distances.
“When crashes occur during extreme weather conditions, we encourage motorists to exchange insurance and driver information to keep motorists safe and the roads clear, unless medical attention is required,” said Lt. Timothy Tyler, District 11 interim commander.
Motorists can file crash reports at the nearest ISP District within 10 days.
Road condition information can be obtained by contacting the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) at 1-800-452-IDOT (4368) or on the Internet at gettingaroundillinois.com.
Highland Light & Power Director Dan Cook said all his department’s personnel are on standby.
“We have discussed, ‘what if the storm hits,’ so that we can hit the road running if emergencies arise,” he said.
The department also replenished stock on all of its trucks, filled up all equipment with fuel and made sure all equipment is in “perfect operating order,” Cook said.
“We have verified that all standby generators at our facilities are fully fueled and functioning and ordered 7,000 additional gallons of diesel fuel to be delivered today (Thursday, Jan. 12) for the power plant in case of the need for generation. We have stocked up on bottled water and other needed staples in the event that we have extended outages which require working long hours,” Cook said.
Greenville-based Southwestern Electric Cooperative, which serves much of the rural area around Highland, placed all of its line crews and operations personnel on alert earlier this week in preparation for a labor-intensive weekend.
Bobby Williams, chief operating officer of Southwestern Electric, said co-op trucks are loaded with equipment and ready to deploy from facilities in Bond, Madison and Fayette counties.
“We’re keeping a close watch on radar and regional weather forecasts. We’ve reviewed our response plan, and our crews are prepared to respond quickly and effectively,” he said. “At this point, we’re not sure how much ice to expect. In the event of a widespread outage or significant damage, we’re prepared to call in contractors and crews from other co-ops to assist our linemen.”
With temperatures expected to dip below freezing, Southwestern is urging members to develop an outage safety plan.
“Ice brings the potential for broken poles, miles of downed line, and prolonged outages,” said Joe Richardson, communications coordinator for the cooperative. “If you have a standby generator, make sure it’s working properly before the severe weather hits. If you don’t own a generator, arrange to stay with a friend or family member until your power is restored.”
The city of Highland has prepared to open and staff the Weinheimer Community Center as a warming center/shelter if needed.
For more information on warming centers, contact your county’s emergency management agency, or visit keepwarm.illinois.gov.