MARION — Shawnee Preparedness and Response Coalition (SPARC) hosted its ninth annual regional disaster conference titled “Weathering the Storm” on Wednesday in The Pavilion in Marion.

Bart Hagston, administrator of Jackson County Health Department and SPARC executive board member, said the keynote speaker for the event was Esther Blythe Wallace, who spoke about human trafficking from her personal experience.

“I think she really opened eyes of everyone that this is something that happens in rural communities like ours,” Hagston said.

After Wallace spoke, participants attended six concurrent sessions on a wide variety of topics, such as training for Stop the Bleed and CPR, Disaster Relief, active shooters, preparing crisis plans for schools, alternative energy sources, sheltering those in need and recaps of past events and the lessons learned from those events.

“We offer a wide variety of topics because we have varied attendance,” Hagston said.

He added that this year, attendance was 250 participants, the highest the organization has seen.

“It gets a little bigger and better every year,” Hagston said.

Carterville Mayor Brad Robinson, who is SIH system coordinator of emergency services and SPARC executive board member, said SPARC is a unique organization among emergency preparedness coalitions.

“It is a health care and resource coalition,” Robinson said. “It was built with the same approach used to deal with disasters. It is one of the things that is special about our coalition.”

The coalition includes hospitals, public health agencies, emergency management, emergency medical services, communities, police and fire departments, volunteer organizations, community groups and individuals who don’t fit into any of those categories. Robinson called it “very Southern Illinois.”

In addition to concurrent sessions, participants could visit with vendors offering goods and services that are needed in an emergency.

Egyptian Health Department created a “Hidden in Plain Sight” display. The display is a typical teenager’s bedroom, and this one belonged to a male.

Phyllis Wood of the department pointed out several items that did not appear to be out of place but had been modified to hide drugs or paraphernalia, such as deodorant sticks, flashlights, shaving cream cans or pencil sharpeners. Some other items in room included a NARCAN kit to reverse an opioid overdose, body spray, mouth wash and mints.

Woods pointed out that a soda bottle, cork and bicycle pump can create a device to vape alcohol from liquor. The room also had a specialized jacket for vaping with rubber tubing that looked like normal strings on a hoodie.

“Students look like they are chewing on the strings of their jacket, and they’re actually vaping,” Wood said.

She added that the idea is to get parents to talk to their teens.

Robinson and Dr. Joe Haake, SIH emergency medical director and emergency room physician, taught Stop the Bleed training. Students who passed a quick practical test were eligible to be certified.

Participants learned how to pack a wound and apply pressure, when to apply a tourniquet, how to apply a tourniquet and how to spot a counterfeit tourniquet.

“If you see someone and say, ‘that’s a lot of blood,’ apply a tourniquet,” Dr. Haake said.

“A lot of training and information we want the general public to know,” Hagston said.

For more information about Shawnee Preparedness Coalition, visit shawneepreparednessandresponsecoalition.com.

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