Amid cloak-and-dagger secrecy, Chicago is building a federally funded $1.2 million backup 911 center at O’Hare Airport to handle emergency calls if a terrorist attack or natural disaster damages the city’s primary facility downtown, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Dispatchers and call takers will not have their own consoles at the backup facility. They will field calls while seated four-to-a-table. The project is so hush-hush, City Hall refused to talk about it. “Post Sept. 11, all cities are making efforts to shore up their security,” said Ray Orozco, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications and a former Chicago fire commissioner.
Sources said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been pressuring City Hall for years to establish a backup 911 center because Chicago is high on the list of potential terrorist targets. Andrew Velasquez, the former 911 center chief who is now director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, initially offered several alternatives, all of which were unacceptable to Homeland Security. One of them was a portable tent that could be set up anywhere and house as many as 100 call takers and dispatchers. That idea went nowhere because Homeland Security wanted a center permanent enough to field emergency calls for weeks, if not months, in a major disaster.