"One of my top priorities since taking
office has been to make sure our state has the ability to prevent
and deter acts of terror, while also ensuring that every part of
this state has the tools to react to a terrorist attack," Gov.
Blagojevich said. "The State Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams are a
critical part of our comprehensive plan for homeland security
prevention, preparedness and response, and I'm very proud that
Illinois is being recognized as a national leader for our efforts."
Mitretek Systems, a technology company,
and the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at
Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government
collaborated to select the five finalists from more than 70
applications. Unique in creating the State Weapons of Mass
Destruction Teams, Illinois is the only state to have developed a
response capability to the level of these teams.
The program is part of the Illinois
Terrorism Task Force's comprehensive statewide plan for providing
seven layers of terrorism response to every part of the state. A
team in each of three regions of the state -- northern, central and
southern -- gives Illinois the ability to respond to a
weapons-of-mass-destruction incident anywhere in the state within 60
to 90 minutes of notification.
The teams are capable of providing
complete first response and support to such an event, including the
removal of a human threat in a "hot" or "warm" zone -- areas
contaminated with chemical, biological or nuclear hazards. The teams
include staff from the Illinois State Police, Illinois Environmental
Protection Agency, Illinois Emergency Management Agency (including
the Division of Nuclear Safety), Illinois Department of Public
Health and the secretary of state's office.
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To develop the response teams, the
Illinois Terrorism Task Force coordinated with local, state and
federal law enforcement and combined existing training, experience
and personnel resources from a variety of state agencies and the
National Guard's Civil Support Team. This integration enabled the
task force to assemble teams that are uniformly capable of
effectively responding to a weapons-of-mass-destruction event
anywhere in the state.
Mike Chamness, chairman of the task
force, said the teams are an important part of the state's overall
terrorism preparedness program.
"Under Gov. Blagojevich's leadership,
the ITTF has implemented several new homeland security initiatives,
such as the State Terrorism Intelligence Center, the Urban Search
and Rescue Team, the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Teams, and
the distribution of personal protective equipment to local first
responders," Chamness said. "These initiatives, along with the
SWMDTs, are what put Illinois at the forefront of the nation in
homeland security preparedness."
Representatives of the award selection committee conducted two-day
site visits to each of the five finalist programs and prepared a
report for the selection committee, chaired by former CIA and FBI
Director William Webster. Officials from Illinois' program will make
a presentation on Sept. 13 at Harvard University to the selection
committee for the Mitretek Innovations Award in Homeland Security.
The winner will be announced this fall.