URBANA — An Urbana agency helped get about 60 police officers from central and southern Illinois to Harrisburg to help out after a deadly storm moved through the area.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System, headquartered in Urbana, helped coordinate the officers being sent to help after tornadoes killed at least six people in the early morning Wednesday.
The officers come from a variety of police departments and sheriff's offices, ranging from Carbondale, Marion, Centralia and Vienna, said Jim Page, executive director of the law enforcement system (commonly known by its acronym, ILEAS, pronounced "eye-LEE-us").
"We got a call from Harrisburg at about 6 a.m. for 40 officers," Page said. "We're still counting, but I think we ended up with 60 officers and (state) troopers."
ILEAS also sent a regional planning coordinator to help the emergency agencies in the area.
Harrisburg — with six deaths and hundreds of homes destroyed — was the hardest-hit in a series of overnight storms that swept through Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.
Officers sent to help would report to a staging area in Harrisburg, where the agencies there would choose how they would be used.
"They have to have an assignment" in order to be sent, Page said.
"Most of these people are traffic (control)," he said. "They'll keep gawkers out, keep looters out."
The police also can be used for relief of others on the scene, and to escort people in and out of the stricken areas.
"This is going to be a long-term thing," Page said. "We don't know how long."
The officers are paid by their departments and are sent at no cost to the receiving agency, Page said. If a disaster declaration is made, ILEAS can seek funding to repay the costs.
Gov. Pat Quinn declared a disaster area Wednesday in the affected parts of Saline County.
The parallel organization to ILEAS for fire departments is the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, which also is known by its acronym, MABAS (pronounced "MABE-us").
"Initially, there were requests that went to MABAS. They did call out five units for technical rescue," said Patti Thompson, communications manager for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, but just one actually wound up going to Harrisburg. More help may be needed as the picture becomes clearer, she said.
The Urbana Fire and Rescue Department was prepared to send firefighters and equipment as one of the requested units, Chief Mike Dilley said.
Dilley said the Urbana department was prepared to send 10 firefighters and two trailers already prepared with equipment for work in confined spaces and collapsed buildings. But the request was withdrawn. He thinks emergency officials at Harrisburg got a clearer picture of their needs as the morning progressed.
"Typically, locals try to decide if they can do it with their own resources," Dilley said. "Ultimately, they decided they didn't want us."
The state emergency agency also has representatives in Harrisburg, Thompson said.
"We're working with the locals to determine what it is that they need and how we can get resources to them. For example, the Department of Transportation has a lot of heavy equipment, and the Department of Natural Resources has (law enforcement) officers that can help."