Henry County’s Office of Emergency Management is one of those entities that you hope never to need, but grateful they are there if you ever should.
Mat Schnepple, the OEM director, a big man with a broad smile and a ready laugh, has a plan for every emergency, and the staff and equipment to back it up.
Got a pandemic? Boom, call on your partners at the Health Department and start vaccination clinics in the parking lot of the local Community College. Need Personal Protective Equipment? Let the OEM be in charge of bulk buying and distribution, eliminating the inclination to hoard. “You want 1000 masks? I can get you 300 today, and there will be more tomorrow if you still need them,” was the response that agencies got, insuring that every ambulance service, firehouse, hospital and clinic had what they needed to care for their community, a one-stop shop with no duplication of efforts.
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The purpose of the OEM is to have a centralized control center in the event of a disaster. Members of the agency break down the occurrence, analyze the phases of action needed, creating a relevant plan of action. They coordinate lines of effort in order to avoid duplication of labors, maintain a centralized point for information dissemination, creating a managed workforce of of professionals and volunteers.
With its roots in Civil Defense from the 1950s, the OEM has come great strides since. In the 1970’s, the agency became know as Emergency Services Disaster Association, (ESDA), and transformed once again in the early 2000’s to Emergency Management Association (EMA). The current name designates a higher level of preparedness than its predecessors. OEM will partner with IDOT, FEMA, IEMA and Hazardous Materials teams, with the training and equipment for almost any incident that crops up.
An agreement was made with Stark County in 2018, allowing the Henry County OEM to provide emergency preparedness service for Stark County as well. This move was groundbreaking, as it was the first time in Illinois one agency represented two counties.
The agency’s humble beginnings were housed in the basement of the jail in Cambridge. Equipment was housed all over the county, in township buildings, firehouses, anyplace that there was space. OEM Director Schnepple and Sheriff Loncka’s agencies were the beneficiaries of the referendum approving a public safety tax. An agreement was reached in 2018 between them that the Sheriff’s needs in staffing, jail and sheriff’s department requirements would be the first expenses handled by that tax money, and OEM would ask for their share when they were ready.
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With the pandemic, and the major role the OEM played in vaccination clinics, plans for the county and various communities to adhere to COVID mitigations, and do the best at returning to normal, the OEM was very busy in 2020.
During an assessment of operations for the first year …….