SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – In a stepped up effort to protect Illinois’ vast agricultural resources from the threat of terrorism, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced two new initiatives to help emergency officials respond more quickly and effectively in the event of an act of agroterrorism.
“Just as we are one of the nation’s leading agriculture producers, we must also lead when it comes to making sure the nation’s food supply is protected,” Blagojevich said.
The Governor explained the state’s initiatives include funding the development of the first Internet-based system in the country to track agricultural assets and the operation of a animal terrorism hotline that can be used to report suspicious nuclear, biological or chemicals incidents involving food animals, wildlife and pets.
Phase one of the Internet-based system is a $22,000 pilot project in Clinton County that will use sophisticated satellite technology to plot agricultural assets, such as livestock, grain elevators, food processing facilities and companies that specialize in transporting agricultural produce. The county was chosen because it ranks first in the state for cash livestock sales and second in the state in the number of hogs.
“Just as terrorists have become more creative in their methods, we too must be creative in developing defenses against them,” Blagojevich said. “If this project proves to be successful, the people of Illinois will have the best system in the nation in place to keep the food supply safe and protect the agriculture industry, which helps drive Illinois’ economy.”
The state is contracting with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), which will use its software, INSSITE (Interactive Sensor Simulation for Terrain Environments), to develop the model system for Clinton County that, if successful, Blagojevich has pledged to “expeditiously” expand it to the state’s other 101 counties.
“Funding for Global Positioning System technology, infield computers and mapping software is critical to having the ability to mount a rapid response in the event of a terrorist attack on the agriculture industry,” said Dr. Coleen O’Keefe, acting state veterinarian at the Illinois Deparptment of Agriculture. “It is imperative that the state be able to accurately locate animals at risk, slaughter facilities and warehouses, and be able to identify sensitive environmental concerns in the case of an outbreak.”
SAIC will incorporate agricultural information from all available sources, including the John Deere Company, which has the largest agricultural database in the nation, in order to create a Web based 3-D livestock emergency response tool that provides real-time information to the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency – the agencies that would direct the emergency response to an agroterrorism event or natural disaster. The information could be used to help quarantine areas to prevent the spread of infection, contamination or fallout.
The Illinois Animal Terrorism Information Hotline, one of the most comprehensive and thorough animal surveillance hotlines in the country, is now available 24 hours a day – 1-888-426-4767 – for veterinarians, livestock producers and government or health officials to call in with questions and concerns related to illnesses in their animals that are unusual or may be related to agroterrorism. An early warning of suspicious activity would allow the state to move rapidly to lessen the possible impact on human and animal health. Potential terrorist agents could include pesticides and nerve agents, as well as zoonotic diseases such as anthrax, plague and tularemia or foreign animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease.
The hotline, which received an initial funding grant of $165,000 from state bioterrorism funds, is a joint effort of the Illinois departments of Agriculture and Public Health and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, an allied agency of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Information from calls received by the hotline, which is staffed by specially-trained veterinarians and veterinary technicians, is immediately referred to state officials either by computer or telephone.
According to O’Keefe, Illinois is home to nearly two million cows, more than four million hogs, 120,000 dairy cattle and 74,000 sheep and goats. Illinois generates nearly $7.5 billion annually in farm income, with the livestock industry generating $1.4 billion in cash receipts.