Preparedness & Recovery

Public-Private Partnership Facilitates Communication in Cook County, Ill.

Businesses that plan and prepare alongside public-sector agencies are likelier to stay afloat after disasters.

by Rick Weil / August 6, 2010
Tom McKeith/July 2010 EM art

Corporations, business owners and their employees make up an integral part of our community. They provide the goods and services we need and support many local events, schools, agencies and public works projects.

Data show that businesses that plan and prepare for critical incidents are considerably more resilient to crises than companies that don't. Unprepared companies are significantly likelier to go out of business following a disaster than those that planned and prepared.

In planning and preparing for disasters, public safety agencies have found it necessary to form partnerships, because no single department can handle a disaster on its own. Likewise, businesses have formed associations and special-interest organizations to deal with common concerns.

In the Cook County area of Illinois, just north of Chicago, a public-private partnership was formed to facilitate communication in public safety. It began in July 2007 with the formation of the Lake-Cook Regional Critical Incident Partnership (LCRCIP), an organization composed of public agencies and businesses in the southern Lake and northern Cook county regions.

The LCRCIP soon joined forces with my agency, the Deerfield, Ill., Police Department, where I am the commander, and local corporations, including Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Baxter Healthcare and Walgreens. The partnership, funded by a U.S. Justice Department grant, helped develop an understanding of how public and private resources and exchange of information can complement and support one another.

For its participation, the Deerfield Police Department, comprising 39 sworn officers in a community of 18,000 people about 20 miles north of Chicago, received an excellence award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. 

The LCRCIP realized that one of its most important goals was partnering on emergency preparedness response to critical incidents using an all-hazards approach. We focused on resource development and mitigating the impact of critical incidents, especially for the private sector.

It Starts With Planning

Losing a business can have a dramatic real-life impact on a community, and the public and private sectors have developed greater understanding of the value of joint emergency planning. Joint planning, training and exercising are key parts of ensuring that the public sector can respond to potential incidents. They also ensure continuous communication between agencies, which is critical in today’s demanding world.

Business and community leaders’ commitment in the joint critical incident planning and response process must also be obtained. Disaster recovery planning must begin before tragedy strikes, not after a disaster. Adequate planning develops the understanding that risk assessment, emergency planning, response and recovery are similar processes within the public and private sectors.

The LCRCIP was determined to ensure that it established goals and principles to deliver the desired results the partnership was asked to bring. The partnership used a process-driven approach with specific steps to help define these goals. One objective was to figure out the purpose for which the partnership had been organized. The following partnership principles were identified:

  • through joint education and training, to create public- and private-sector understanding of the common goals of protecting lives and property while sustaining continuity of community life;
  • to evaluate, benchmark and disseminate information to members about best practices in the collaborative planning for, response to, recovery from and mitigation against emergencies and disasters of all kinds;
  • to inform decision-makers and assist businesses, public agencies and communities in the development and furtherance of joint emergency and contingency planning;
  • to encourage public- and private-sector entities that already engage in the assessment and planning process to form cooperative partnerships and improve community resilience;
  • to cultivate an understanding of methods that public and private organizations can utilize to complement and support one another; and
  • to develop an understanding of mutual and respective preparedness goals in the public and private sectors.


Enhancing Business Continuity

Deerfield and its private-sector partners determined that a secondary emergency operations center site should be prepared and readied if their primary site were inoperable.

The Deerfield Police Department and private sector also realized that this lack of a secondary site was a possibility for them. During risk analysis, it was concluded that emergencies, such as a tornado, hazardous materials spill or active shooter could possibly close access to the stricken entity. Thus, a mutual-aid agreement and memorandum of understanding were initiated among the Deerfield Police Department, Baxter Healthcare and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

Businesses, especially large corporations, must be involved in an incident command post when an event develops that requires upper-level management decisions affecting the stricken company. The key decisions for business continuity demand that the security and core management have National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) awareness training.

The Deerfield Police and Lake County Emergency Management Agency required that LCRCIP partners — both public and private involved in critical incidents — adopt and understand the NIMS/ICS systems. Takeda Pharmaceuticals recognized the concept’s importance and trained more than 150 of its security and in-house Emergency Response Team members in basic NIMS/ICS awareness-level training. This training will continue with the other large corporations.

More Than Touring Facilities

During this partnership initiative, we found that the critical incident planning process is more than touring facilities. We developed an understanding that during a critical incident, no company is an island unto itself and the loss of a business can have a dramatic real-life impact on the community. We revealed that we needed to take time to understand layouts, and fire and security systems. Finally, we agreed to bring public responders into facilities before a crisis occurred to obtain firsthand knowledge of risk locations, safety processes and technologies. While this practice is common sense, it hadn’t been practiced with the dedication and commitment that this partnership has fostered.

We agreed to partner with smaller business because they often lack the resources necessary to survive. We found that planning and identifying community resources is an integral part of ensuring our community’s safety. Finally the identification and sharing of resources from both the public and private sectors will benefit the community.

To further maintain the highest level of communication, we opened dialog that:

  • provided the private sector with community contacts and developed an understanding of the support available from the public sector;
  • created an understanding of why rapid business resumption is important and what basic community infrastructure may be needed to support business resumption following a disaster;
  • developed an accurate understanding of public-sector resources and private-sector responsibilities until public support is available; and
  • developed recognition of how the loss of one business may affect and impact other businesses in the community.


Improved Capacity to Respond

Illinois is developing a clearinghouse that details agreements with the private sector which provide for the utilization of resources during a critical incident. This effort has taken form in the recently established and still emerging Private Sector Alliance Project. It’s a work in progress; at the foundation of its strategies is consolidating goals to enhance homeland security and emergency preparedness. Under the purview of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the project is working to actively engage law enforcement, public safety and private-sector members to promote a culture of information sharing and partnership.

We believe the Deerfield Police Department and LCRCIP have already broken new ground and are pioneers in this endeavor. An initial benefit we identified is that our effective partnerships already improve communication, increase mutual understanding, solve problems and create solutions. Other benefits include enhanced methods for exchanging key information, developing joint resources, and creating new and different types of partnerships. By establishing these alliances ahead of time, the Deerfield Police and LCRCIP businesses and corporations have already improved their capability to respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters.

Collaboration Is Key

The Deerfield Police Department, the Lake-Cook Regional Critical Incident Partnership and local entities collaborated on the following public safety initiatives:

  • assisted the understanding of private-sector requirements and resources;
  • helped obtain private sector commitment to become a part of the overall community emergency response planning process;
  • enhanced communication with the private sector prior to an incident, informing it of available community resources; and
  • heightened awareness that the private sector may not be able to control everything inside the fence line and may need to involve others during recovery.

Rick Weil is the commander of the Deerfield, Ill., Police Department.