THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective - Chicago

By Joseph Straw

Raymond Orozco has served as executive director of the City of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) since July 2008. He has overseen expansion of Operation Virtual Shield, which links the city’s private CCTV systems into OEMC’s video surveillance network, and he has launched an upgrade of the city’s 911 computer- and video-aided dispatch system. Orozco serves as the city’s principal for developing safety and security protocols and incident action plans for major events including 2008’s election night rally at Grant Park. A 29-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, Orozco served as the city’s Fire Commissioner for two years before moving to OEMC. As commissioner, he managed more than 5,000 sworn department members and an annual budget of more than $470 million, updating the department’s incident command policies and high-rise life safety programs. Orozco developed the department’s Tactical Operations/Intelligence Center, which is responsible for providing mitigation, preparedness, response, intelligence, and coordination for small and large-scale emergencies and disasters. Orozco coordinated emergency responses including 2004’s LaSalle Bank Fire, the 2005 Ford City Mall natural gas explosion, and the summer 2006 METRA northeastern Illinois commuter train derailment. He earned his Associate’s Degree from Harold Washington College, his Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Illinois University, and is a certified EMT-B. A strong believer in education, Orozco has taught fire science classes for Chicago City Colleges, has lectured at Northwestern University Center for Public Safety, and is on staff at the University of Illinois Fire Institute in Champaign.

 

Q. What are the responsibilities of your office?

 
A. The office of Emergency Management and Communications provides 911 service for the Chicago Police and Fire departments, which includes EMS. It coordinates all major emergency responses within the city, or responses in which city agencies go outside our jurisdiction. We operate the city’s Operations Center. That’ s where traffic management is, it’s where our intel cell is located, and there we take in more CCTV feeds than any other unit of OEMC. We also have the City Incident Center—we call it the CIC—which monitors all the infrastructure within the city, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. By infrastructure I’m talking about all the city’s traditional infrastructure departments, including where their resources are deployed, and available. We also handle the city’s 311 information services.
 

Q. What assets and threats make your area unique?

 
A. The assets that are well known are obviously the famous geographical and architectural landmarks: the John Hancock Center and the Willis (Sears) Tower. Obviously we have the lakefront, and no different than any other large municipality we have a central business district including the financial district, which is on par with or even exceeds financial output that takes place in New York. And like every other large municipality in the United States we have expressways, major thoroughfares, and a major public transit system. And we also have major special events. For the Taste of Chicago on the third of July each year, we’ll draw in excess of a million people to the lakefront.
 

Q. How does your background inform your current work?

 
A. I’ve got 30 years with the City of Chicago. I spent 28 ½ years with the Chicago Fire Department, and I was fortunate enough to serve as a fire commissioner with the department, and a little over a year ago Mayor Richard M. Daley asked me to move over here, and I was honored that he did, and that’s where I find myself today.
 

Q. How does your region administer the homeland security mission?

 
A. We’re one of the seven Tier I cities under the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) program. UASI funds are governed by the Urban Area Working Group, which consists of members from the City of Chicago, various agencies within the city and Cook County, because the Chicago urban area comprises City of Chicago and Cook County. This governance body rolls up into a statewide governance structure called the Illinois Anti-Terrorism Task Force, IATTF, and we work very closely with them and actually sit on their committees.
 
Within the city, we have an organization that I think is unique, called the Public Safety Consortium. It includes the Fire and Police departments, the Board of Health, the city Department of Aviation, OEMC, and representatives from the Mayor’s office. There’s an IT subcommittee to make sure that everything that we do is compatible from a technology standpoint, there’s an operational subcommittee that addresses multi-jurisdiction, multi-department operational issues, and there’s also a training subcommittee to make sure that we have interoperability with regard to training.
 

Q. What is the greatest challenge your office faces?

 
A. I think there are a couple things. One is the threat that we don’t know about yet. And if I could answer that question I’d be working someplace else. So in Chicago we look at everything on the worldwide stage. We don’t just look locally; we do not just look regionally. We look at everything that happens throughout the world. We analyze data and events and that data is analyzed and pushed out to the appropriate departments as intelligence.
 
One of the other great challenges is technology, because technology is ever-changing. And you want to make sure the technology we invest in today is going to be compatible with technology that we invest in next year. So we continue to build upon the technology that we use that will give us leverage in the whole homeland security mission through system integration.
 

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