Is Chicago prepared for any emergency?

September 8, 2011 4:33:11 AM PDT
From security cameras around the city to dogs that can sniff out explosives, many changes have been made in security in Chicago since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

ABC7 got a firsthand look at the layers of security that are in place to try to keep Chicago safe while still preparing for the possibility of disaster.

In one demonstration, an undercover officer carried a small amount of C-4 explosives through Chicago's Union Station. And time, and time, and time again, Amtrak's dogs sniffed him out in crowd.

"If it contains explosives, that's the vapor he keys up on so he acts. So he doesn't actually touch anybody or get near them, he just picks up the trail that comes off them," said Sgt. Michael Stoltz, Amtrak railroad police.

"This kind of detection doesn't have a lot of false positives, if you will, because a dog's nose is just that good," said Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesperson.

From dogs to cameras, evacuation plans to police and fire's ability to communicate. It's one man's job to coordinate disaster planning in Chicago. His name is Gary Schenkel of Chicago Emergency Management & Communications.

"We have plans for just about every type of event that you can think of," he said.

Schenkel used to run the Chicago Police training academy. He's a former Marine, airport security director and head of federal protective services in Washington, DC. He says Chicago is piloting new programs for tracking criminals and preventing problems. Right now cameras can track specific vehicles downtown by their license plate. More tracking tools are being tested.

"There are in the thousands of sets of eyes out there that we have access to," said Schenkel.

Next month, Chicago's emergency planners will begin testing new downtown evacuation plans. One point eight million people are in the central business district on an average weekday. Ten years after 9/11, technology, training and even animals are tasked with keeping them safe.

"We're the president's hometown. We're a vibrant city that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So that makes us somewhat of a lucrative target, but I can't concern myself with that because we have to work on prevention and that's what we do," said Schenkel.

An enormous amount of federal Homeland Security money pays for many of the security systems in place. Some of it squandered. This summer, Cook County conceded millions spent on a system that was supposed to connect first responders in the suburbs to their colleagues across the county didn't work. The new Cook County administration is trying salvage what it can. But it underscores how not every post 9/11 security endeavor has worked.

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