November 15, 2017

Chicago (November 14)—The year was 2012, and a fire had started track side at Chicago Union Station (CUS) above the basement location where many SMART-TD Metra members reside for their interim rest periods. The concerns from those SMART-TD members were obvious, what were the correct procedures for evacuation of the facility should an emergency occur, and how would they know to evacuate?

SMART-TD Illinois took those members concerns to Amtrak, the owner of CUS, in 2012 and insisted that a formal procedure be put in place that will allow for the efficient notification of those in the basement of CUS that an emergency exists.

As a result, an initial CUS emergency evacuation drill was held in early 2013, and it revealed some glaring shortcomings. This initial drill was conducted by a manager using a bullhorn to issue auditory warnings and evacuation, as some speaker systems were inoperable.

A majority of emergency lighting didn’t work properly when tested during that initial drill, and some of that lighting was visually obstructed by machinery equipped to the ceiling.

The lesson learned that day in 2013 was that there was much needed improvements to evacuation procedures to help ensure the safety of those in the basement area of CUS.

Enter 2017, and as SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Board Chairman John O’Brien reports, the most recent CUS emergency evacuation drill that was held on November 7th revealed vast improvements compared to that initial 2013 drill.

“Gone is the use of a bullhorn to notify those present for the need to evacuate,” said O’Brien. “Now there is a clear automated alarm/warning message that can be heard from all locations in the north basement.”

“Also, the alarm system now includes strobe light activation throughout the facility and exit signs have been lowered below HVAC equipment for better visibility,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien also reported that unannounced evacuation drills will be conducted every Spring and Fall and that participation is mandatory for those present during the drill, with Amtrak police enforcing the policy as needed.

“I think that last point may be the most important,” said SMART-TD Illinois State Director Robert W. Guy. “Our member’s participation was lacking in those first few drills, but now it seems that our folks are taking this drill seriously, as they should.”

“This was an initiative of local members who saw for themselves that improvements were needed should emergencies occur,” said Guy. “We took that information to Amtrak and now regular professionally-led drills are held to check that the processes that are in place function as they’re intended, and that benefits all of our members who use the CUS facility.”

The most recent drill conducted included O’Brien, and representatives from Amtrak, Metra, BNSF, the Chicago Fire Department and the firm contracted to conduct the drills.

“While the drill process has come an extremely long way and the evacuation process is immensely improved,” said Guy “There will always be improvements that we will seek to ensure that our members safety at CUS is protected.”