MARION — Shawnee Preparedness and Response Coalition hosted its seventh annual Southern Illinois Regional Disaster Conference Weathering the Storm 2017 on Tuesday in the Pavilion of the City of Marion.

The conference featured five concurrent sessions with breakout topics such as planning basics, weather, earthquake, drones, a live line with Ameren, cyber safety, congregation and community preparedness, individual preparedness, lessons learned from evacuating Franklin Hospital, emergency resources basic training, Civil Air Patrol and lessons learned from Eclipse 2017. 

“This is our opportunity once a year to bring all the members of Shawnee Preparedness and Response Coalition together to share lessons from emergencies and disasters in the last year and build relationships that will help us be better prepared,” Bart Hagston, Jackson County director of environmental health, said.

One popular breakout was a panel discussion called Lessons Learned from Eclipse 2017, which featured Lt. Kendall Hollister of SIU Police, Robert Barett of Medic One Medical Response, Chris Pulley of Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Shane Kerley, emergency room director at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.

They talked about the planning process for the eclipse and their take-a-ways from the event.

Hollister said SIU took the lead in planning for the event and started about three years in advance.

He said not everyone was on board early. The committee grew slowly until the date was closer. One downside was that the steering committee spent a lot of time repeating information for the constant stream of new partners.

Barrett’s group is a contractor of emergency medical services. They had normal complaints through the weekend, until Eclipse Day. They had 57 patient contacts in four hours. Their biggest issue was traffic.

Pulley’s branch of IEMA covers the southern 16 counties of Illinois, and 13 of those had a full eclipse for some sort of time. He decided to focus on four areas: Jackson County and SIU, where the longest duration of totality would happen; Williamson County; Randolph County; and Franklin County, because of the number of accidents on Interstate 57.

“I worried about people camping who didn’t know the area and what would happen if we had two or three inches of rain in a few hours,” Pulley said.

Pulley said people camping in the Shawnee who were unfamiliar with the area did cause some jams on Monday afternoon. Cell phone directions took then to dead end spots where they had to turn around and backtrack.

Kerley was charged with preparing for normal flow of emergencies with an abnormal influx of people to the area, as well as planning for some sort of incident out of the ordinary.

“Very quickly we identified that we were not equipped to work outside the emergency room,” Kerley said. “What we thought we knew, we didn’t know.”

He said it was very eye opening.

What are the take-a-ways?

Kerley said to practice and talk to each other.

Hollister said the days leading up to the eclipse were a shock because of the number of people who did not come to events. He said no one attended because of fear.

“It was absolutely detrimental to the economy,” Hollister said. “The day of the event, everyone came at once and left at once.”

The event itself went very well. 

Barrett said communication was a great issue. His advice is to give attention to details in communication.

Pulley said the way local residents were asked to prepare for the eclipse crowds drove down business for planned events. Smaller jurisdictions were not prepared for people trying to get home.

“We didn’t plan for people getting out of town,” Pulley said.

Kerley said relationships built during the eclipse between outlying agencies and hospitals should continue.

Hagston said we get a chance to do it all again Monday, April 8, 2024.

For more information about Shawnee Preparedness Coalition, visit www.shawneepreparednesscoalition.com.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Herrin and Carterville, and is the food writer for The Southern.

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