With no discussion, the Peoria City Council recently approved spending more than $47,000 to buy the city's firefighters and police officers some heavy-duty protective gear.
This included ballistic vests and helmets for the fire department, and rifle plate vests and armored shields for police.
The purchase was part of an ongoing training exercise. Both departments have trained jointly for over a year on honing their responses to a "critical incident," like a mass shooting or a terrorist attack. The training is funded by a $1.2 million Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks (CCTA) program grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2017. The federal agency assesses Peoria at "high risk" for such an incident.
Yet it was unclear why FEMA gave Peoria that designation, even to some of the first responders engaging in the drills.
The money for Peoria was passed through the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The city of Aurora and City of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications also received grants in 2017.
An independent peer review panel of experts scored and reviewed applications received for the grants. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shed more light on why Peoria was selected.
In an undated application, IEMA said much of the state's counter-terrorism resources go towards the Chicago area. But the agency noted that many smaller cities throughout the state are also prime targets for terrorist incidents, and are far more vulnerable than the state's largest city.
The Peoria metropolitan area has a population of 369,000 people. The region also boasts three major hospitals, a large manufacturing base, and four major bridges crossing the Illinois River. The city was seen as representative of other Illinois cities facing a similar CCTA risk, like Bloomington, Champaign, East St. Louis, Effingham, Mount Vernon, Rockford and Springfield.
Specifically, a 2016 hazard vulnerability analysis conducted in Peoria County identified active shootings, mass casualty incidents, terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction, and civil disorder as "high-probability, high-consequence hazards."
"The proposed project is designed specifically to stress whole community capability and capacity to identify areas of improvement required in processes for the city of Peoria and the State of Illinois, and to provide a model of preparedness, prevention and response to CCTA to similar cities statewide," the grant proposal read.
As part of the grant, IEMA hired a full-time project manager to oversee the four-year process. Steps include identifying current preparation gaps; putting together plans on how to fill those gaps; training with community partners (which include local, state, federal and non-profit groups like the Red Cross); and conducting several exercises, including one full-scale, whole community CCTA exercise.
The performance period of the CCTA preparedness plan is expected to wrap up in September 2020. At that time, IEMA plans to distribute project materials and plan and procedure templates to other communites across the state so that they might build off of Peoria's work and adapt that infrastructure to their unique needs.