As several hundred thousand people jammed Grant Park to celebrate Barack Obama’s election to the presidency on the night of Nov. 4, police, firefighters, dispatchers and municipal officials conducted an eight-hour a multi-jurisdictional test of emergency response procedures.

According to all involved, the drill went off without a hitch. For River Forest, this was the first time in many years for such a drill. “We were happy to see very little activity on election night. But we were still able to use the event as an opportunity to practice emergency operations,” Steve Gutierrez, River Forest’s village administrator, said in a press release. “Our police department did an excellent job of putting together a plan and Chief of Police (Frank) Limon coordinated that plan very well.”

Police officials in both River Forest and Oak Park agreed.

“I thought it went spectacular,” said Village President Frank Paris, who praised Limon in particular. “We have a man who knows his business.”

“It was a good learning experience,” Limon said. “Everyone performed well and worked as a team.”

The key to any effective emergency response is communication, according to Limon, who called the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center the lynchpin of the operation.

Dispatch and police officials set up an emergency operations center in the village hall’s second-floor conference room, equipping it with three telephones and several laptop computers, a projection screen for dispatches and e-mail, televisions sets with cable connections to monitor news stations, and a police radio to monitor other agencies.

Limon was assisted by a three-person senior command team.

“I had Lt. (Craig Rutz) as my aide, the incident commander,” said Limon. “Deputy Chief (Kendra) Sullivan as public information officer, and Deputy Chief (Dan) Dhooghe in the field.”

While last Tuesday’s operation focused on possible civil and traffic problems, the operation is intended to develop into a sort of template for all future emergency operations, including such situations as September’s flood emergency and the widespread August 2007 storm damage.

Paris said he expected the planning to pay big dividends, saying, “There’ll be a lot of improvements in the future as regards our disaster response.”

Whether the first time or the 20th, officials said such tests are essential to keep responders sharp and to assess what needs to be improved.

“It’s a way of keeping our edge,” said Oak Park Deputy Carl Leidy. “It’s use it or lose it with these skills.”

“The more you do it, the better you get at it,” Limon said.

Limon called the operation a start and said he expected reports on the dispatch and police elements to be completed in the next two weeks.

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