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Mayoral aide: No regrets about on-time Bears start, delay as storms rolled in

Gary Schenkel executive director Office Emergency Management Communications | Sun-Times files

Gary Schenkel, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 20, 2013 6:27AM



The city, the Bears and Soldier Field management made the decision to start Sunday’s game on schedule instead of delaying the start time until the storm passed, and it was the right call, a top mayoral aide said Monday.

Gary Schenkel, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications said City Hall “always retains the right” to delay or postpone major events because it has “proactive and eminent responsibility” to protect the citizens of and visitors to Chicago.

But the noon start was allowed to proceed as planned because there was no justification for a delay, Schenkel said.

“I don’t regret that decision in any way shape or form. There were no imminent threats when they started the game. We took all of our weather reports [into account], working with the National Weather Service and AccuWeather and, at the time the game started, there was no imminent threat that we would have to make a decision on an evacuation at that time,” Schenkel said Monday.

“We proactively reminded all the residents of the city far in advance of the game that there was a possibility of severe weather. We still had 58,000 show up for the game. We did not feel at that point that anything warranted a delay or cancellation.”

On Sunday, officials at Soldier Field portrayed the decision to start the game on time — forcing a mandatory evacuation of the stands during the first quarter — as the NFL’s call.

As always, Schenkel said City Hall will do a post-mortem to review the extraordinary evacuation and determine what the city might have done differently.

But playing Monday-morning quarterback, Schenkel sounded as proud of the city’s performance as backup quarterback Josh McCown was about the Bears’ overtime victory over the Ravens.

“There are always ways to improve anything. But, we were very pleased with the evacuation. It was orderly. Everybody was cooperative. No one was injured or even hurt. I would call that a success. It was a great example of how we all work together,” Schenkel said.

What about fans who complained that it took too long to evacuate fans from the stands?

“At times of duress, people’s time frames aren’t necessarily accurate. It’s like people saying it took 10 minutes for police to get there and, when we look at the recordings, it was actually a minute and a half,” he said.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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