MABAS and the Floods of 2011: Being Ready When, Not If

As April began, both the Ohio River and the Mississippi began to rise. By mid-month, they were approaching flood stage and several communities were threatened. IEMA established a unified-area command post in Marion in the south central part of the state. MABAS staff joined in this unified command.

MABAS had already determined that, while most levee building and major flood control are perhaps not traditional firefighting tasks, many of its assets around the state could be called into play. These included 20kW generator trailers with four 1,000-watt light towers each, decontamination vehicles, boats, all-terrain vehicles and tent shelters. These resources were readied throughout the state. And indeed, Illinois began calling up these resources, especially the generator light towers, very soon.

On April 27, MABAS received a call from IEMA requesting a MABAS tent city be sent to Marion to support the Illinois National Guard being deployed there. A tent city is a self-contained semi-trailer unit equipped with ten 35’ by 19’ tents, with its own generator, heat, air conditioning, lighting, bunk-bed style cots and chairs. The 10 tents aboard can accommodate 20 people each, and the emptied trailer can sleep an additional 20, for a total of 220 personnel. The tractor for the trailer is supplied by United Parcel Service (UPS) through a letter of agreement with MABAS.

MABAS was prepared to deploy assets on the morning of the 28th. The trailer was already packed, checked and secured as part of the anticipated deployment. Shortly after 10 a.m., UPS arrived at the MABAS Readiness Center in Wheeling with a tractor. Hitched to the trailer, the tent city departed in convoy with MABAS staff for the 345-mile trip to Marion.

Arriving there at approximately 5:30 p.m., the MABAS staff directed the units to the parking lot of a vacant Wal-Mart, where two generator light towers and three MABAS decon units were already in place. The decon units would provide hot showers and other hygiene for the Guard members.

Two members of the Illinois USAR team coordinated the build out of the tent city plan. The first tent went up under their direction, with labor from about 12 members of the National Guard. This was a training session for the Guard, since they had never seen the tents. Erecting the tents is a straightforward procedure, but it must be done methodically and with good team communication and coordination.

After the first tent was completed, those Guard members mentored others in assembling the remaining nine tents. The tent-city trailer’s generator provided electricity for lighting and air conditioning. The Marion Fire Department sent an engine company to fill water bags to use as ballast for the tent tie-downs as an alternative to driving stakes through the asphalt surface. As night fell, about 60 Guard members and the MABAS staff took to their bunks while a Marion police officer provided site perimeter security.

On the morning of April 29, the camp and all MABAS resources on site were rechecked. The crews from the decon vehicles—all members of local fire departments who had responded with the MABAS asset as requested—were briefed on camp procedures and a quick meeting was held with the National Guard, which was in the process of assigning additional troops to the area and to the tent city. Following that, the three MABAS staffers from Wheeling began their return trip to the MABAS Readiness Center.


The MABAS Readiness Center in Wheeling, Ill., northwest of Chicago, is an approximately 73,000-square-foot structure that was formerly the Wheeling Public Works facility. With about 4.3 acres of parking space on site, it houses a variety of specialized equipment, including three tent city trailers, the resources of the MABAS USAR team, mobile warehouse trailers and MABAS support and utility equipment. However, the majority of MABAS’ resources are prestaged around Illinois in the 68 divisions that comprise MABAS.

For more information, visit the MABAS–Illinois webpage.


Four days later, MABAS was again contacted by IEMA to support the flood efforts. The Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System—ILEAS, the MABAS counterpart from law enforcement—had been tasked to send officers to the flooding areas, many of which were being evacuated, including Cairo and Metropolis. They provided traffic control and augmented the already taxed local police and sheriff’s departments. Could MABAS provide additional shelter for these officers?

MABAS responded by sending a second tent city and two more decon units to Marion. Again, MABAS staff members and USAR team members, with a tractor operator from UPS, made the trip. Six more tents were erected for housing, and two tents with a connecting vestibule were assembled to create an expanded food storage and mess tent.

Additionally, two more generator light towers were assigned to the growing tent city and a MABAS utility vehicle with a fuel-tender trailer went along to replenish not only the tent city’s needs, but several other generators and diesel pumps in operation in the area as well. This time, a MABAS USAR team member remained in Marion to oversee the resources while the other MABAS members returned after two days on site.

The tent city in Marion remained occupied and operational until May 9. By that time, both the Illinois National Guard and the ILEAS forces had been demobilized. MABAS sent the decon units back to their home divisions and began providing after-action maintenance to the generator light towers, most of which had been in continuous operation for two weeks or more.

To take down the tent city, MABAS sent a crew of six USAR members via Huey Helicopter to Marion. MABAS has a memorandum of agreement with the Law Enforcement Aviation Coalition to provide such services. The tents were taken down and the entire site vacated in one day; the crew in the helicopter was back home that same evening.

Total MABAS resources assigned to the floods in Southern Illinois included:

  • 2 tent city semi-trailers
  • 1 fuel tender trailer and utility truck
  • 7 decontamination/shower vehicles
  • 17 generator light towers
  • 1 IMT support trailer

Tom Lovejoy is the plans chief for MABAS-Illinois.

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