GLENVIEW – Recognizing the state’s continuing commitment to protect Illinois citizens from terrorism, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today accepted the prestigious Mitretek Innovations Award in Homeland Security for the State Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams during a ceremony at the Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy (NIPSTA) in Glenview. The national award is the first to recognize the most effective homeland security programs. It’s sponsored by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Mitretek Systems.
“Since I took office, one of my top priorities has been making sure that Illinois has the ability to prevent and deter acts of terror, while at the same time, making sure we have the ability to effectively react and respond to a terrorist attack,” Blagojevich said. “Today’s award is a sign that our hard work is paying off.”
Gowher Rizvi, Director of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance at Harvard University, and Dr. Lydia Thomas, President and CEO of Mitretek Systems, presented the award to the Governor.
Judge William Webster, former head of the CIA and FBI and chairman of the award selection committee, praised Illinois’ homeland security program as a standard for other states to meet.
"The Illinois State Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams won the 2004 Mitretek Innovations award because of their strong, well-led integration of skills and capabilities to provide effective statewide protection and response to emergencies in real time," said Webster. "Other states can and should replicate this program."
Gov. Blagojevich expressed appreciation to members of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF), which developed the state’s homeland security plan to provide seven layers of terrorism response to every part of the state. The SWMDTs represent one of those response layers. Several ITTF members were present for the award ceremony, which followed the task force’s monthly meeting at NIPSTA.
“We’re very honored to receive such a prestigious award that reflects the great partnership forged between law enforcement, fire, emergency management, public health and the other disciplines from throughout the state,” said Mike Chamness, ITTF chairman. “Each of the more than 60 agencies, organizations and groups that comprise the task force should be commended for setting aside any turf issues and working together to develop homeland security programs like the one being recognized here today.”
Following the award presentation, one of the state’s three WMD teams demonstrated their capabilities to quickly set up their decontamination lines and prepare to deploy into a “hot,” or contaminated, zone. They also displayed the team’s state-of-the-art decontamination and detection equipment, including a robot.
The State Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams (SWMDTs) are positioned in the northern, central and southern sections of the state to provide response to a weapons of mass destruction incident anywhere in the state within 60 to 90 minutes of notification.
Over the last three years, the Illinois Terrorism Task Force has developed a series of initiatives to deter and respond to terrorist attacks. These include:
· One of the nation’s leading bio-terrorism response systems
· One of the nation’s best Urban Search and Rescue Teams
· The creation and construction of the State Emergency Operations Center, a state of the art emergency response facility that will house all vital emergency response leaders and functions under one roof.
· Development of one of the nation’s most robust mutual aid networks, including MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) for fire services and ILEAS (Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System) for law enforcement. These networks, which support small communities in times of emergency, are made up of local fire departments, police offices, and sheriff’s offices.
· Distribution of personal protective equipment to every firefighter in Illinois, and a commitment to distributing this equipment to all state law enforcement officials.
The Illinois Terrorism Task Force is also exploring new counter-terrorism initiatives. These include:
· Mutual aid networks for public health and emergency management
· The VACIS System, which uses gamma ray sensors to check cargo in vehicles
· The Bridge Surveillance Program, which will place security cameras at select bridges across the state.
During the summer, representatives of the award selection committee conducted site visits to applicant programs and prepared a report for the committee. On September 8, Illinois was named one of five finalists for the award from a field of over 70 applicants. The following week, officials from the ITTF made a presentation to the selection committee at Harvard University.
Other finalists for the award included the City of Portland, Oregon for a secure information sharing program for first responders and other public safety stakeholders; the U.S. Navy for a hospital disaster preparedness program; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a collaboration of laboratories to detect biological or chemical agents that could be used as terrorist weapons; and Los Angeles County, California for a networked Terrorism Early Warning Group