Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) today provided a summary on the City’s response to last week’s extremely cold temperatures and snowfall. In preparation of last week’s historic cold, the coordinated citywide response focused on keeping residents – especially vulnerable populations such as homeless individuals, seniors and people with disabilities – safe and warm by urging the public to utilize City-offered services such as warming centers to find shelter, 3-1-1 for homeowners experiencing insufficient heat, as well as other additional resources to avoid weather and health emergencies.
“Chicago is no stranger to extremely cold winters, but no matter the conditions, each year our City departments and agencies were prepared to assist residents with services ranging from warming center shelters to well-being checks," said Mayor Emanuel. “We are also very proud of the residents who came to the aid of fellow Chicagoans in their time of need as we all felt the impact of the extremely cold temperatures. Chicago truly is a city of big shoulders and even bigger hearts."
During the period of Friday, January 25 through Friday, February 1, 2019, the National Weather Service issued four advisories/warnings for extreme winds, cold, and snow. Throughout this time, the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), Department of Buildings (DOB) and other City departments prepared and coordinated full-scale responses to immediately assist with any emergencies caused by the weather.
“The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications began monitoring weather conditions well in advance of the extreme cold last week and quickly mobilized a full-scale response by the City and our partner agencies to assist residents,” said OEMC Acting Executive Director Rich Guidice. “When residents were unable to come to City facilities for assistance, the City came to them by designating CTA buses as mobile warming shelters and providing individuals with limited mobility a ride to any of the City’s warming centers.”
Before, during and throughout the days following the recent storm, city officials went beyond standard operating procedures and implemented new initiatives to ensure the City's most vulnerable residents had the services they needed.
As part of the City's new initiatives to protect vulnerable populations, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) partnered with DFSS to supply five warming buses for mobile homeless outreach efforts and five warming buses for O’Hare to assist those at the airport. The buses included DFSS staff members who proactively sought out homeless residents to ensure immediate access to food and clothing provisions, as well as Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) medical personnel to conduct well-being assessments and provide medical care for health-related emergencies. CTA also honored Metra Riders using the Metra Link pass along the southeast corridor because of the service disruption on the Metra Electric Line.
During the record-breaking cold and with the temporary closure of Cook County courts, Mayor Emanuel directed the Department of Buildings (DOB) to utilize its full police power granted by the Chicago municipal code to protect the health and safety of residents. The DOB worked closely with the Department of Law to file court cases to ensure property owners restored heat and hot water to bring their building into compliance. From Tuesday, January 29 through Sunday, February 3, the DOB addressed over 900 complaints about no heat, and the Department of Law took seven landlords to court for receivership and filed 17 properties for emergency hearings for no heat in single family homes and/or insufficient heat in multi-unit residential buildings.
Prior to the cold snap, residents were encouraged to call 3-1-1 for a range of services, including shelter for homeless residents, warming centers and well-being checks. From Tuesday through Friday of last week, 3-1-1 received more than 36,000 calls for City Services during the extreme weather conditions, which was an increase of over 16,000 calls for the same four days of the previous week. As part of these services, DFSS, Chicago Police Department, Department of Buildings, Chicago Housing Authority and other city agencies conducted more than 70,000 well-being checks for residents throughout the city.
To assist some of Chicago’s most vulnerable residents, DFSS conducted, together with its delegate agencies, homeless outreach on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights to ensure they were aware of the City-operated facilities and warming centers where they could go to keep warm. The City also expanded its network of warming shelters to more than 270 facilities, including both Garfield Community Service Center and King Center facilities which opened and operated on a 24-hour basis to provide shelter for the homeless and those without heat. During this period, shelter bed placements were at 99.5 percent capacity as DFSS added 500 beds to its shelters to accommodate the expected influx.
The Chicago Department of Water Management (DWM) encouraged residents to act early to make sure pipes were properly insulated and not exposed to freezing air. Throughout last week, DWM addressed 751 calls for residents with no water and fixed 17 affected water mains throughout the city.
The Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) implemented two Snow Programs throughout last week and deployed more than 300 snow vehicles across Chicago to ensure arterial and residential streets were safe and passable for motorists and first responders during the period of extreme weather.
A total of 22 Situation Reports were issued by OEMC to all departments and agencies in an effort to provide awareness of ongoing conditions and responses. In addition, the department activated the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Tuesday afternoon and operated continuously through Friday afternoon to coordinate resource requests and responses to individual situations. OEMC continues to monitor the City’s ongoing response and recovery to weather-related incidents caused by the extreme weather
Following the cold snap, Mayor Emanuel directed OEMC to conduct an After-Action Meeting and draft a thorough report to capture best practices and lessons learned for future extreme weather emergencies.