The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis challenging the Region in ways never before seen. Yet, Northwest Indiana is handling the situation with a united front and a great deal of success. One of the reasons things are proceeding relatively smoothly is the Northwest Indiana Information Sharing and Security Alliance (NIISSA).
Founded after the disastrous floods of 2008, NIISSA is a public-private partnership that brings together local governments and emergency services with leaders in the Region’s private sector. The goal was to form a network where information and resources could be shared to strengthen Northwest Indiana’s ability to resist and respond to disasters and hazards. The COVID-19 pandemic activated NIISSA in the Region for the first time, but they were ready. They are a partner of the District 1 Indiana Department of Homeland Security, whose emergency operations center (EOC) for the pandemic is located at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
“NIISSA, with Gary Mayor Jerome Prince and Andy Qunell [President of VRQ, LLC] was instrumental in getting the Airport Authority to grant use of the terminal. NIISSA funded all the repairs to make the space useable and get the mechanicals functioning, and in a matter of days, the EOC was up and running,” said Nick Popovich, founder and president of Sage-Popovich, one of NIISSA’s private partners.
NIISSA also is coordinating the donation of materials, such as food, personal protective equipment, and other hard-to-find assets that have helped keep District 1 and area healthcare facilities open and functioning, Popovich said.
Preparation for a disaster takes practice and repeated visitation even during times of calm.
“We’ve done exercises for the past 12 to 13 years to make sure that we’re prepared,” said Frank J. Mrvan, North Township Trustee, in a recent Leadership Life interview with GreatNews.Life founder Chris Mahlmann. Mrvan is a member of the NIISSA Executive Committee.
“Private industry is included and everyone is communicating. When the flood hit in 2008 the private sector had a lot of assets that the public could have had access to, and we’ve torn down those barriers to sharing them,” he said.
NIISSA’s private partners represent a variety of industries and include organizations such as ArcelorMittal, NIPSCO, and Ivy Tech. When COVID-19 hit, they rallied by donating tens of thousands of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that NIISSA was able to distribute to hotspots around the Region. General Motors even contributed 34 ventilators, which NIISSA delivered to Region hospitals.
“When we put out the request for our private partners to help, the response was tremendous and everyone gave what they could,” said Steve Scheckel, Munster Police Chief and NIISSA President. “Without NIISSA’s public-private partnership, I think a lot of hospitals would have run out of those critical supplies.”
“Frankly, I am amazed at what was and is being accomplished by the private sector in response to NIISSA’s call for help,” Popovich said. “I’m particularly proud of one of our private partners, Doc’s Smokehouse and Craft Bar, that started a fantastic wave of generosity with the Adopt a Healthcare Worker program that delivers food to healthcare workers on the front lines. Since then dozens of restaurants are doing the same. Imagine that – an industry that has struggled as a result of the pandemic turns out in these numbers to feed front line doctors, nurses, and first responders. They are amazing and need the community to support them,” Popovich said.
The program allows individuals in the community to purchase and donate a meal for $10 that participating restaurants then will deliver to the frontline workers. NIISSA is helping to coordinate these efforts with assistance from the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority. Info for participating restaurants can be found here: https://www.southshorecva.com/region/our-south-shore/support-local/.
NIISSA volunteers are also helping in other ways. Lisa Murray, owner of Dune Billies Beach Café in Michigan City, delivered gourmet lunch to Indiana Department of Homeland Security and National Guard personnel who are testing symptomatic first responders and medical professionals for COVID-19.
“People are generally good, and care about others sometimes more than they care about themselves,” Mrvan said. “This national health crisis has made people better. It highlights how we are our brothers, sisters, and keepers. A lot of individuals, organizations, and people are trying to make a difference, and that’s what you need to do.”
Scheckel noted that while there is always room for improvement, such as building a bigger stock of emergency-ready PPE on hand in the future, the overall response of NIISSA and Northwest Indiana could serve as a role model for other communities.
“The people of the Region have been very understanding, cooperative, and patient,” he said. “I’m pleased with the response of the whole Region. They’ve shown that we’re all in this together, rather than fighting these restrictions. I want to give everyone an A+ for doing what they’re doing. The Region has stood proud with NIISSA, and the outpouring of support has been heartwarming.”
Information about NIISSA’s efforts – including how you might be able to help – can be found on their Facebook page.