Thursday, May 4

Large-scale state exercise continues

State continues to deal with pandemic flu scenario and undertakes response to terrorist attack scenario       Send a link to a friend

[MAY 4, 2006]  SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois' large-scale exercise began its second day Wednesday as state officials continued response to a simulated pandemic flu outbreak in Illinois and also began dealing with another major emergency as simulated terrorist attacks occurred. (Please note: This is an exercise only, designed to improve emergency planning and preparedness.) Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich ordered this large-scale exercise last fall after Hurricane Katrina revealed major problems with preparedness and emergency response in the Gulf Coast region.

"Illinois has the strongest mutual aid system in the country, including fire services, law enforcement, emergency management and public health responders," Blagojevich said. "The exercise scenario today [Wednesday] will test the capabilities of several special response teams. If we're ever faced with a major disaster or simultaneous events, we want to know that all levels of our plan work, such as communications between state and local officials, communications between response organizations, and training and equipment."

In response to the terrorism scenario, the state deployed its new Unified Area Command vehicle, a 53-foot semitrailer that serves as the mobile vehicle for incident command at any incident scene. Decision-makers from fire, police and other emergency response organizations responding to an incident can make coordinated action decisions within this fully outfitted vehicle. The Unified Area Command post enables the state to demonstrate the ability to set up and operate a National Incident Management System-compliant Unified Area Command system in the field.

The state also used a digital satellite vehicle to send real-time video and audio from the simulated disaster scene to the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield, where state leaders viewed the live scenes, which aided in decision-making.

The staged terrorist scenario involved an explosion at a regional transportation facility with victims trapped in a collapsed building. The events were set up at the Northern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy in Glenview. More than 1,600 responders, mock victims, exercise controllers and evaluators took part in this segment of the exercise. Special response teams involved in Wednesday's activities included:

  • Technical rescue teams, which are trained and equipped to perform high-angle, collapsed trench and confined space rescue operations.

  • Illinois Medical Emergency Response Teams, which are trained and equipped to coordinate medical care during emergencies.

  • Hazardous materials teams, which are trained and equipped for response to incidents involving any hazardous or unknown chemical or petroleum materials.

Events at the training academy site were coordinated by the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, the fire service's mutual aid organization.

The exercise began on Tuesday afternoon, as Blagojevich activated the State Emergency Response Center in the wake of a simulated worldwide pandemic flu. In addition to handling a growing scenario involving the pandemic flu, the emergency center also received briefings about potential terrorist threats reported by the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center. The emergency center also responded to "requests" for assistance to a fictional overnight flood in Arlington Heights. Wednesday morning, state and local officials continued handling response to the pandemic scenario when they received word of a possible terrorist attack.

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The final day of the exercise is today (Thursday), when participants address the long-term effects of the pandemic flu. At the conclusion of the exercise, a review of "lessons learned" will occur.

More than 50 representatives from state and federal agencies and the American Red Cross are operating out of the State Incident Response Center within the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield throughout the exercise to assess the situation and coordinate with the city of Chicago and Cook County on how the state can assist with the pandemic outbreak in the Chicago area.

This week's exercise is the latest effort by Blagojevich to improve the state's preparedness for dealing with major emergencies. Others include the following:

  • On Sunday, Blagojevich signed two laws focused on improving security at public utilities and railroad terminals. House Bill 4419 requires all public utilities to maintain a security policy and conduct practice exercises annually, and Senate Bill 2489 allows railroads to use electric fencing and monitoring equipment at terminals.

  • Last week Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 2921, which enables cities or counties with emergency response plans approved by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to enlist volunteer health care professionals to help distribute medications if the governor has declared a disaster. The change will allow communities to more efficiently handle health care crises on a local level in coordination with Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

  • Also last week, Blagojevich announced that an Illinois Department of Agriculture lab in Galesburg is the first lab in the state to receive certification to perform vital testing for avian influenza. This lab will enable the state to significantly cut down the time it takes to determine whether a suspected case of bird flu may be positive, allowing Illinois to quickly activate the response. [Related article]

[News release from the governor's office]

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