SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that the State Weapons of Mass Destruction Team (SWMDT) program is one of five finalists for a prestigious award for innovations in dealing with homeland security. The Mitretek Innovations Award in Homeland Security is the first major national award program of its kind created since 9/11 to recognize the most effective programs designed to address homeland security.
“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, which include Illinois, from more than 70 applications. Unique in the creation of the SWMDTs – Illinois is the only state to have developed a response capability to the level of these teams.
The State Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams (SWMDTs) are part of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force’s (ITTF) comprehensive statewide plan for providing seven layers of terrorism response to every part of the state. A SWMDT 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 a weapons of mass destruction event, including the removal of a human threat in a “hot” or “warm” zone – areas contaminated with chemical, biological and/or nuclear hazards. SWMDTs 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.
To develop the SWMDTs, 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 WMD event anywhere in the state.
Mike Chamness, ITTF chairman, said the SWMDTs 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’ SWMDT program will make a presentation to The Mitretek Innovations Award in Homeland Security selection committee on September 13 at Harvard University. The winner will be announced this Fall.