Are New Arlington Heights Police Station Planning Standards Held to the Same Scrutiny as Mom & Pop Businesses?


If you’ve lived in Arlington Heights very long, and if you’ve ever attended a Village Board meeting or watched one on local cable TV, you’ve noticed that Arlington Heights building codes and planning requirements are rigorous. While seeking approval from the Village Board you will hear all sorts of hypothetical situations proposed by Village Board members, who say they are looking out for the best interest of the business owners and their businesses. Some are thoughtful considerations, some are overbearing.

If you’re a business owner you will quickly learn that Arlington Heights will tell you what color you’re allowed to paint your building, how big your signs can be, and how many parking spaces you need — to name a few restrictions. Village Board members will discuss the safety of your operations, ask about your business plan, and they will discuss the feasibility of your business plan as it relates to market conditions and the overall community.

If you’re a homeowner communicating with planning personnel, you might learn at Village Hall that your driveway has to be a certain width, your fence has to be a certain height, and you might learn that the planned peak of your roof of your proposed luxury home has to be flattened because your proposed peaked roof is three feet too high — and the village won’t give you a variance.

Many of the village planning restrictions assure Arlington Heights is a nice place to live, and the village is probably safer compared to many other villages, towns and cities across the United States. However, sometimes the restrictions are ridiculous … like when the former Arlington Theater could only install an undersized sign, way up high, on the north wall of the Arlington Towne Square shopping area (opposite where the theater is located). It was as if the Village of Arlington Heights decided the best place to hide the sign. The approved sign had no street visibility, and no other Arlington Theater signs were allowed on Arlington Heights Road, Sigwalt Street, or Evergreen Avenue — where visibility could actually have benefited the theater. Arlington Theater went out of business, and now the location is occupied by its third theater owner — Paragon Theaters.

Now let’s analyze how the board makes a decision regarding one of its own planned facilities — a new Arlington Heights Police Station. Planning for the police station is a daunting task. A single police station or police headquarters needs to be centrally located, accessible by citizens, highly visible by citizens, secure, and provide for safe entrance and exit by personal vehicles and emergency vehicles alike.

Somehow the extreme detail that the Arlington Heights Village Board would apply to some Mom & Pop businesses might have been lost or ignored in the planning of the new police station. If anything, the new police station should be held to higher standards because it affects the public safety of all of us. The new police station location is proposed in a “really tight site” as described by one Village Board member. The tight site design presents narrowed driveways and blind spots, as defined by concerns of various personnel in the village’s own departments. If you’ve watched Village Board meetings, you might conclude that a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts business wouldn’t be permitted to build in an analogous “really tight site” at some other location in Arlington Heights. There would be board criticism about how customers would access the drive-thru, return to the public street, traffic congestion, etc.

The tight space and limited size of the police station has already required plans to store evidence at a remote location, several miles away.

The police station is also located as close as 100 feet (33 yards) to railroad tracks, which could subject the $28 million building and equipment inside to vibrational damage and catastrophic total destruction in the event of a freight train rail disaster.

Here are the problems with the new proposed police headquarters — the devil is in the details.

20161205policestationArchitectural drawing for Arlington Heights police station showing lack of vehicle barriers protecting the front lobby at the southwest corner of the building (SOURCE: Village of Arlington Heights).


Tight spaces are vulnerable to terrorism and criminal activity.

There is no room for barriers (e.g., large planter, etc) at the front entrance. Lack of barriers increases the risk of a deliberate truck crash attack (or accidental vehicle crash) into the lobby at the front entrance.

Limited space at the Sally Port creates difficulty for maneuvering ambulances near the Sally Port, causing delays which can increase risk of attack on paramedics by criminal assailants attempting to help prisoner/patient escape.

EMS ambulance access to the back of the police building would involve a traffic jam in the event of a mass casualty incident at the back of the police station, such as a mass shooting or passenger train derailment located behind the police station.

Narrow driveways with public street access to only two sides of the property (south and west) increase the risk of terrorist/criminal attack by blocking driveways with disabled trucks. Such a terrorist or criminal act would effectively block all police vehicles that are parked within the proposed rear garage and police station property lots. Such a terrorist act at the police station would increase effectiveness of a secondary terrorist or criminal attack elsewhere in the Village of Arlington Heights.


Tight space increases the risk of human error, lack of efficiency, vehicle crashes and other accidents.

The Arlington Heights Fire Department Tower Ladder maneuverability is hampered for fire protection in or near the rear parking lot. At this point in the planning phase, officials aren’t even sure the Tower Ladder can maneuver in the lot at all. If the long truck can fit in the rear lot, it would have to back in or back out during emergency responses. The long narrow lot at the back of the building could be the scene of vehicle fires, fuel spills, train accidents, train fires, passenger train evacuations.

The narrow lot, affecting Tower Ladder maneuverability, could cause delayed response to a subsequent emergency elsewhere in Arlington Heights. When the Tower Ladder crew becomes available after a call at the back of the police station, the need to back out will cause delay to the next emergency.

Tight space increases the chance of fire department and police vehicle crashes due to blind spots, tight maneuverability, and hasty action required by difficult spatial conditions.

Tight space prevents any opportunity for building additions that could be necessary in the future for any new “modern” police department needs — 10 to 30 years into the future.


Proximity of the police station to railroad tracks could cause vibrations that could be harmful to the building or equipment inside the building. While a well-constructed building would not likely suffer structural damage near the tracks from vibration, such damage is not totally impossible.

Vibrations caused by passing freight trains could cause higher maintenance costs by damaging the firearms training/shooting simulator, elevators, HVAC or other sensitive equipment inside the building.

In a future setting vibrations from trains could prevent the ability to establish an in-house crime lab using sensitive lab equipment.

Vibrations from a passing train could cause a loaded weapon to fall off a shelf or countertop and misfire, causing death or serious injury.


Prisoner police transfer at the Sally Port while a noisy train is passing could make it easier for assaults on police officers. It could be easier for a third party to sneak up on a police officer during prisoner transport or transfer from police vehicle to Sally Port and vice versa during high noise conditions.

A noisy train could cause difficulty detecting that the prisoner is attempting to escape, committing self-harm, or having a medical problem. The difficulty could cause delay that would be harmful to the prisoner.

Prisoner transport to the hospital by paramedics while a noisy train is passing could make it easier for assault on paramedics preparing transport of criminal patient to hospital.

Police officers could have difficulty attempting to communicate on their personal radios while walking to their squad cars, inspecting their vehicles, or other activities near the railroad tracks at the rear of the police station. Delay in communications could occur as police have to wait for the train to pass.

Police officers outside at the back of the police building or at the rear garage could miss emergency radio traffic while a noisy train is passing or a train horn is activated.

Dispatch could have difficulty hearing a police officer’s call for backup or other emergency assistance if a police officer attempts to use their personal radio while background noise from a passing train interferes.

Proposed police station (diagonal hash mark) overlayed with train disaster scenario on satellite view of Village Hall, police station and fire station site.


Toxic gas leak from crash or derailment could make quick entry into ventilation air intakes of police headquarters, especially in the event of northwest, north, or northeast winds. Chemical leaks from certain inhalation hazards, such as chlorine gas, could mean instant death to police officers inside the police station or rear parking garage.

Fire from crashed or derailed oil tankers with leaking burning fuel could impinge on the police station building close to tracks, causing fatalities. Extreme proximity of the proposed police station to railroad tracks in the event of a railroad fire disaster would likely destroy the $28 million dollar building.

Tight spaces involving the police building and parking garage, while obstructing firefighters’ remote views of wrecked railcars on or near the railroad tracks, would make it difficult for fire officers and firefighters to cautiously approach a train accident involving hazardous materials in order to check for damage to the railcars, leaks from railcars, and identify any hazardous materials on the crashed or derailed train. The obstruction could delay the decision for mass evacuation of neighborhoods near the train disaster or force an unnecessary evacuation because of inadequate observations, or delay the decision of whether to order residents to evacuate or shelter in place (depending on the properties of the hazardous material discovered).

Tight spaces involving the police building and parking garage near the railroad tracks would hamper rapid evacuation of firefighters and equipment in the event of a rapidly destabilizing situation, such as an impending explosion or rapid venting of a toxic chemical. The proposed police station building and existing parking garage would prohibit a perpendicular rapid escape route for fire department vehicles and personnel.

Tight spaces involving the police building and parking garage near the railroad tracks would make it more difficult for firefighters to apply water to douse a toxic cloud, to cool threatened tanker railcars to prevent ignition, or to extinguish an actual raging fire. The ideal positioning of firefighters would be upwind, which is where the proposed police station and the existing parking garage would be obstructing water stream operations on a day when wind conditions are from the south or southwest.

Any of the issues above could render the police department ineffective for evacuation operations near the railroad disaster. Evacuation of neighborhoods directly north and south of a railroad disaster would be delayed until mutual aid police agencies arrived and limited to Arlington Heights squads already on the street. A toxic chlorine cloud creeping toward a residential neighborhood or downtown Arlington Heights would require heroic, rapid, and orderly evacuation of residents in order to prevent mass casualties.

A stalled freight train Wednesday afternoon February 25, 2015 in downtown Arlington Heights revealed a tanker car hazmat placard for a common industrial chemical, but highly toxic chemical known as Dimethyl sulfate, which is also classified as a potential chemical weapon. Another tanker car was transporting highly flammable propanol, which requires a one-half mile evacuation zone in case of a tanker-involved fire.

Regarding the potential for mass casualty terror act involving thousands of victims, there are two critical reasons why a police station should not be built next to railroad tracks.

1) A railroad crash involving toxic inhalation hazards requires extreme speed for citizen evacuation, which is the police department’s initial primary responsibility. A railroad Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) next to the police station would delay and hamper a rapid evacuation of citizens if police operations were hampered.

2) A police station should not be positioned in a place that could attract a strategic catastrophic attack by terrorists interested in using a railroad disaster to cause mass casualties.

In 2010, the Harvard Kennedy School published a report titled Rail Transportation of Toxic Inhalation Hazards. The paper describes and evaluates policy alternatives that might effectively mitigate the dangers of Toxic Inhalation Hazards (TIH) transportation by rail.

Secure transportation of Toxic Inhalation (TIH) chemicals requires protection against terrorist attacks as well as accidents. To date, no hazardous materials release from a railroad in the United States has been caused by a terrorist attack. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported, however, that terrorists are specifically interested in “targeting hazardous material containers” by attacks on rail cars on U.S. soil.

Deadly accidents involving TIH to date have occurred in sparsely populated areas and have not killed large numbers of people, but have injured hundreds, caused the evacuation of thousands of people, and have resulted in “staggering” economic costs.

Of all the various remaining civilian vulnerabilities, one stands alone as uniquely deadly, pervasive and susceptible to terrorist attack: industrial chemicals that are toxic when inhaled, such as chlorine, ammonia, phosgene, methyl bromide, and hydrochloric and various other acids. These chemicals, several of which are identical to those used as weapons on the Western Front during World War I, are routinely shipped through and stored near population centers in vast quantities, in many cases with no security whatsoever. A cleverly designed terrorist attack against such a chemical target would be no more difficult to perpetrate than were the September 11 attacks. The loss of life could easily equal that which occurred on September 11 — and might even exceed it. I am aware of no other category of potential terrorist targets that presents as great a danger as toxic industrial chemicals.

— Richard Falkenrath, former Deputy Homeland Security Adviser to President Bush and current Deputy Commissioner of Police, New York City

At grade crossings where highway traffic intersects with rail tracks, many accidents are caused by motorists; and such accidents are outside the railroads’ control.

— Harvard Kennedy School report

VIDEO: Metra passenger train crash with semi-trailer dump truck at a grade crossing near Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Road on Friday May 13, 2011. A crossing grade accident or terrorist act at Arlington Heights Road could derail a hazardous materials freight train right into the back of a proposed $28 million police station.

The Harvard Kennedy School defined the risk of TIH release as the product of two factors: (1) the probability of an accident or terrorist attack; and (2) the probable consequences of a TIH release if one occurs.

The first component of the risk of TIH release is the probability of an incident. The probability of exposure to an accidental release is a function of the time and distance of exposure to risk, the quality of track and its signaling system, operating conditions (such as speed, single or double track, train routing, train control, train consist), quality of the rolling stock, and other factors. Human factors also play a role in many train accidents. Human errors exacerbated by excessive fatigue can be minimized by regulating working hours. At grade crossings where highway traffic intersects with rail tracks, many accidents are caused by motorists; such accidents are outside the railroads’ control, and would be very difficult to quantify.

In the event of an accident, the second factor, the severity of the consequences, depends on various elements. The impact of a release of TIH will be influenced by the quantity of product released and the nature and toxicity of the specific chemical involved. The dispersion of the gas will be affected by the weather conditions at the time of release, including the temperature, moisture in the air, and wind direction and speed. The spread of gas from the release site is also affected by the morphology of the terrain, the density of buildings, and the shape and direction of streets.

Injuries and deaths caused by TIH release would depend on the number of persons and the duration of their exposure to the toxic cloud plume, which is a function of density of persons within the area, the size of the plume at toxic levels, and the speed at which persons affected can escape toxic levels. These factors are a
function of time of day, the distance of that population from the release, the effectiveness of public response to emergency instructions, the rate at which people can move to safety, and the effectiveness of shelter-in-place.


The extent of human injury and property damage from a TIH release is directly related to the effectiveness of the emergency response. Several factors limit the ability of TIH emergency responders to mitigate losses. First, immediate and accurate information about the specific product that has been released and the conditions and circumstances of the release are essential, because TIH products with different characteristics require different actions to mitigate damage. Confusion about what product was released has, in past accidents, resulted in injury to first responders and the public.

Second, a release could take place anywhere along 140,000 miles of freight rail infrastructure, and thus any and all of approximately one million first responders must have at least a rudimentary understanding in dealing with a TIH release.

Third, better and more quickly available meteorological information is needed to improve public protection and mitigation measures.

The adoption of crisis management best practices into the emergency response process should provide first responders with better information for decision making, decreasing the risk of damage to themselves, the general populace, and property. Information is of limited value without local emergency response capabilities to take advantage of that information in order to contain released chemicals and protect residents. Therefore the challenge of TIH requires broad support for both the specific challenges and the more general emergency response infrastructure.

Ongoing and increased support for a robust emergency response infrastructure capable of addressing diverse public health challenges is essential to minimizing the damages associated with the transportation of TIH.

In addition to better training for first responders, public education is needed on how to interpret and follow warnings and instructions from emergency operation centers, such as the best direction to flee a release cloud, or when and how to seek shelter in place. However, with the potential for a damaged police station and fire station in close proximity to a railroad disaster involving TIH, and injured first responders; the risk increases that an effective evacuation of residents would likely be delayed and hampered. Delays could increase the risk that casualties could be in the thousands in nearby neighborhoods.

See also …

The Cardinal
Stalled Freight Train at Metra Train Station Reveals a Common, Highly Toxic Hazardous Material in White Tanker Car

The Cardinal
Metra Passenger Train Crash Semi-Dump Truck at Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Rd

Daily Herald
Local fire chiefs worry about train hazmat incidents

Daily Herald
Freight train hazmat leaks increase significantly in 2014

Daily Herald
Suburban first responders train for hazmat train disaster

Daily Herald
Suburbs have dodged a bullet so far with hazmat derailments — so far

Daily Herald
Elgin firefighters prep for derailment ‘doomsday’

Daily Herald
Report: Rail hazmat safety violations should be prosecuted “Federal regulators are failing to refer serious safety violations involving freight rail shipments of crude oil and other hazardous cargo for criminal prosecution, and are going lightly on civil fines, according to a report released Friday by a government watchdog.”

Harvard Kennedy School
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