Michelle was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness.
First, it is not me alone who strives for every citizen in Illinois to be prepared. This mission is that of all of the 230 employees who work at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Our goal is a better- prepared state, and we do that not only as an agency, but also through the Illinois Terrorism Task Force as the 60-plus member homeland security policy authority in Illinois, as well as within local units of government. We try to get people across the state to better prepare themselves for a disaster of any kind, as well as encourage them to take the next step and volunteer within their community for disaster preparedness.
It’s easy to push something you believe in, but it’s another thing to live it. I know I have it covered at home with a very robust disaster preparedness kit, a storm shelter, three different weather apps for my iPhone that I always get teased about, and a communications plan for my household, which includes my husband and 9- and 7-year-old boys. Who knew that freeze-dried food was actually pretty good? As parents, my husband and I feel very strongly about showing our boys that it is wise to be ready. Far from frightening them with what-ifs, being prepared creates a sense of security in our home. We practice our shelter-in-place exercises at both home and the work place. I hope everyone else takes the opportunity to do that as well.
I am fortunate that one of my primary missions is to interact with local units of government to better prepare their communities through Citizen Corps. After the State of the Union address in 2002, Citizen Corps was developed and administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to capture the spirit of people who wanted to assist after the September 11th attacks. Each state was to start a Council to oversee the program and efforts of their communities to help coordinate volunteer activities that make them safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to any emergency situation. I was named chair of Illinois’ Citizen Corps Council in the spring of 2002 and have served in this capacity ever since.
The nearly 95 counties, cities, townships, and fire protection districts in Illinois that have adopted this program are inspirational. The beauty of this program is that every single one is unique. They are all tailored to what works in their community for their citizens and first responders alike.
The reality of community preparedness is that there are many ways for people to take care of themselves as well as their neighbors before, during, and after an emergency. I encourage everyone to think of the unthinkable now—while they don’t need to. When you have to, it can be too late. While I may just be “doing my job,” when it comes to disaster readiness, everyone else needs to be doing it, as well, for themselves and their families.
Michelle Hanneken is the Homeland Security Program Manager at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.