CHICAGO- Today the “Special Task Force on the Condition and Future of the Illinois Energy Infrastructure” convened a public hearing to highlight security measures, public health and safety, and emergency response in the event of a power blackout.
“We need to ensure that the people of Illinois know how to prepare themselves for a disaster situation,” Quinn said. “Power outages pose public health, public safety and communications challenges, and can have a devastating effect, as we saw last summer in the Northeast.”
The August 14, 2003 blackout left thousands of citizens stranded in high-rise buildings, elevators and subway trains without potable water and unable to contact 911 due to a reduction in cellular phone capacity. Additionally, public safety was jeopardized where traffic signals were not functioning, and the lack of backup generation threatened critical emergency services and life support systems.
The Special Task Force – comprised of 11 state agency directors – was formed by Governor Rod Blagojevich to study ways to avoid the kind of power outages that wreaked havoc across the Northeast and Canada last summer, causing up to $6 billion in damages. Among the issues the Task Force will focus on Friday are plans for emergency preparedness; the need for reliable and affordable utility service; ways to develop “homegrown” renewable energy sources and boost energy conservation; and power plant safety concerns.
“It is very appropriate for us to be looking at energy safety issues today as the country remains under a high threat advisory,” said Quinn. “Even though the Northeast blackout hasn’t been linked to terrorist activities, we need to be watchful of the shortcomings of our own emergency awareness.”
Slated to speak were Melanie Kenderdine, Vice President of the Gas Technology Institute; Don Field, President of Utility Operations of Peoples Gas; Rod Sierra, Vice President of Corporate Communications of Peoples Gas; Scott Lewis, General Manager of Government Relations of Nicor Gas; Edward G. Buikema, Region V Regional Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Bob Bensko, Homeland Security Director of the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC); Enrique Unanue, Department Director of the Office of Health Care Regulation of the Illinois Department of Public Health; and Leslie Stein-Spencer, EMS and Highway Safety representative of the Office of Public Health and Emergency Preparedness.
This was the fifth public hearing to take place, with one additional hearing scheduled later this month. The Special Task Force took testimony from energy producers and regional transmission organizations in September; business leaders and building owners in October; and consumer advocates in December. The Task Force is expected to make comprehensive recommendations for reform at the end of February 2004.
Quinn has encouraged consumer input into the Special Task Force’s investigation by organizing a diverse citizens working group to focus on specific policy alternatives; setting up an “electronic suggestion box” and useful Web site (www.BlackoutSolutions.org
) to enable people to offer ideas on how to avoid power outages; assembling town hall meetings across the state; and convening Illinois’ first “Cyber Town Hall Meeting” on energy policy at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.