Saturday, Aug. 13


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Airport safety measures added

[AUG. 13, 2005]  CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed legislation Thursday to improve airport safety and prevent terrorist attacks on airlines in Illinois. House Bill 1559, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Westmont, and Rep. Tom Cross, R- Plainfield, outlaws the impersonation of a pilot in restricted areas of Illinois airports. The governor also renewed his call to federal officials to limit the availability of pilots' uniforms on the Internet.

"Signing this legislation makes Illinois and our homeland safer," Blagojevich said. "If a person is able to buy a pilot's uniform and go into restricted areas of an airport, our security is at enormous risk. Now, impersonating a pilot in secure areas of Illinois' airports is a crime. We should do even more to eliminate this risk. Congress should take action quickly to restrict the availability of pilots' uniforms to the general public, to prevent these uniforms from getting into the wrong hands in the first place."

House Bill 1559 makes the impersonation of a pilot, airline employee, airport employee or contractor in restricted areas of an airport a Class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years in prison. The bill also prohibits anyone from claiming or falsely representing that they are a pilot, airline employee, airport employee or contractor at an airport in order to obtain the uniform, identification card or license of any airport or airline employee.

"In today's world, we cannot be too careful when it comes to airline safety," said Dillard, sponsor of the bill in the Senate. "This legislation is a common-sense measure that will improve the safety and security of our airports, and I commend the governor for signing it into law."

"When our citizens get on an airplane, they should be able to trust that the pilot and the crew are who they say they are," said Cross, House sponsor. "This legislation will help ensure the safety of our airlines and airports."

House Bill 1559 was prompted by a CLTV investigative report that documented how easy it was for someone to obtain a pilot's uniform and use it as a disguise to deceive airport security. Reporter Bob Arya found that he was able to purchase a pilot's uniform off the Internet without any form of official identification, and it arrived at his doorstep less than two days later. Arya's probe also found that about a third of the time, airline pilot identification is not thoroughly examined at checkpoints, making it likely that someone with a uniform and a fake identification could have access to restricted areas of airports, including airplanes.

"I want to thank Bob Arya for his excellent work in uncovering this risk," Blagojevich said. "He noticed a problem, tracked it down, exposed it, and we were able to act quickly to deal with it. As a result, everyone will be safer for it."

In response to the CLTV pilot uniform report, Blagojevich lobbied the federal government to close the dangerous loophole. The governor sent letters to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and to David Stone, assistant secretary of homeland security for the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA regulates security checkpoints at airports, where pilots are required to go through metal detectors and have their identification verified. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama also urged Congress and the TSA to work toward banning access to uniforms.

"The safety of our passengers always has been the benchmark of our profession," said Capt. Wendy Morse, vice chairman of the United Master Executive Council Air Line Pilots Association. "Nothing is more important to those who sit in the cockpit than the safe transport of all of our passengers, and the confidence and trust they place in us. The uniform of the airline pilot is the most visible symbol of that trust and confidence. The bill being signed today will continue to enhance the safety and security of the traveling public in this post 9/11 era by protecting that important symbol. We applaud Governor Blagojevich and the Illinois legislature for their support."

"These bills help the TSA eliminate a scary loophole in airport safety, and at virtually no cost to the taxpayer or traveler," said Joe Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development and professor of public service management at DePaul University in Chicago. "Securing our airports requires this kind of state leadership, and these bills will correct an oversight that should have been fixed long ago."

On Thursday, the governor also signed House Bill 349, sponsored by Sen. Dillard and Rep. Sidney Mathias, R-Arlington Heights, which stiffens penalties for trespassing in an airport's restricted area. The bill makes a trespassing in an airport's restricted area a Class 4 felony and makes trespassing while in possession of a weapon, replica of a weapon or ammunition a Class 3 felony. Previously, trespassing in an airport's restricted area was a Class A misdemeanor.

"The recent terrorist attacks on London's transportation systems remind us that we must strive to institute measures that protect travelers and all other citizens," said Mathias, sponsored of the bill in the House. "This new law strengthens security in Illinois airports and works to ensure the safety of airline passengers and employees throughout their journeys."

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House Bill 1559, effective immediately, and House Bill 349, effective Jan. 1, 2006, build on the state's ongoing homeland security and preparedness efforts.

  • Last week, the governor signed legislation that increased security for all municipal utilities in Illinois. The new law outlines specific safeguards that will be adopted by municipal utility facilities, including electric public utilities, restricting access to critical infrastructure.

  • Last year, Illinois retained the nation's highest rating ("green") from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to manage the Strategic National Stockpile during an act of bioterrorism or other mass casualty event. Illinois is one of only six states to achieve this preparedness rating.

  • In March 2004, Blagojevich implemented the Illinois-National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, a secure, Web-based system for hospitals, doctors and other health care providers to electronically report infectious diseases. The system allows medical professionals and public health officials to effectively respond to public health emergencies immediately. I-NEDSS is part of a nationwide system linking state and local public health departments with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • In March 2004, the administration launched a Web-based version of the hospital bypass system, providing the state with up-to-the-minute information from more than 200 hospitals in Illinois on the availability of beds and other critical health care services necessary to guide the response to an act of terrorism or other public health emergencies.

  • Under the Blagojevich administration, the Illinois Emergency Medical Response Team has expanded to 12 teams and 900 participants. IMERT responds and assists with emergency medical treatment of mass casualty incidents when activated by the director of public health. Each team consists of a physician, nurse, paramedic and an EMT who volunteer their time. The state continues to recruit more volunteers to participate in this effort.

  • The Cities Readiness Initiative is a partnership with Chicago, St. Louis and neighboring states that focuses on conducting readiness exercises between large metropolitan areas and states and how the different entities can work together on preparedness.

  • The state created the Illinois Public Health Mutual Aid System last year to strengthen the preparedness of the public health system in Illinois. Blagojevich called on all the local health departments throughout the state to sign on to the project, which provides for the sharing of resources in the event of a terrorist biological attack or other emergency. All 95 local health departments in the state heeded the governor's call to action and signed on to participate in the system. The pact provides personnel, equipment and supplies assistance by local health departments to a stricken area.

  • The Chem-Pack project is an initiative geared toward raising preparedness efforts related to responding to chemical or nerve agent terrorist attacks. Illinois distributed the packs last fall to hospitals around the state to protect against a nerve agent attack. The packs contain medicine to treat nerve agent exposure.

  • The State Weapons of Mass Destruction Team is a multi-agency effort including the Illinois State Police, Secretary of State Police, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The team is trained to respond to a biological, chemical or radiological agent attack. Specially trained individuals determine what type of agent has been used and how to respond.

[News release from the governor's office]

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