SPRINGFIELD – An ambitious three-day exercise designed to test the state’s preparedness for handling a major health crisis and simultaneous terrorist attack begins today as state and Chicago-area officials begin dealing with a fictional pandemic flu outbreak (please note: this is an exercise only, designed to improve emergency planning and preparedness). Governor Rod R. Blagojevich ordered this large-scale exercise last fall after Hurricane Katrina revealed major problems with preparedness and emergency response in the Gulf Coast region.
“Illinois’ emergency preparedness and response is recognized as one of the best in the nation and I know we’re well-prepared to handle most disasters,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “If we’re ever faced with a major disaster or simultaneous events, we need to know that all levels of our plan work, such as communications between state and local officials, communications between response organizations, and training and equipment. This aggressive exercise should help us both validate where our plan works and identify areas that need further attention.”
The exercise scenario was initiated last week when exercise participants began receiving messages alerting them to the development of an influenza outbreak in Asia. The full exercise will kick off around 1 p.m. today as the scenario continues to progress. The exercise continues all day tomorrow with the addition of a terrorist attack element, and concludes on Thursday afternoon. Participants will then meet to discuss how the exercise went and begin examining “lessons learned” from the experience.
More than 50 representatives from state and federal agencies and the American Red Cross will report to the State Incident Response Center (SIRC) within the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Springfield to assess the situation and coordinate with the city of Chicago and Cook county on how the state can assist with the pandemic outbreak in the Chicago area. Nearly 2,000 participants are expected to take part in the exercise at several venues.
This week’s exercise is the latest effort by Gov. Blagojevich to improve the state’s preparedness for dealing with major emergencies. Others include:
· On Sunday, Gov. Blagojevich signed two laws focused on improving security at public utilities and railroad terminals. House Bill 4419 requires all public utilities to maintain a security policy and conduct practice exercises annually, and Senate Bill 2489 allows railroads to utilize electric fencing and monitoring equipment at terminals.
· Last week Gov. Blagojevich signed SB 2921, which enables cities or counties with emergency response plans approved by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to enlist volunteer health care professionals to help distribute medications if the Governor has declared a disaster. The change will now allow communities to more efficiently handle health care crises on a local level in coordination with IEMA and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Also last week, Gov. Blagojevich announced that an Illinois Department of Agriculture lab in Galesburg is the first lab in the state to receive certification to perform vital testing for avian influenza. This lab will enable the state to significantly cut down the time it takes to determine whether a suspected case of bird flu may be positive, allowing Illinois to quickly activate the response.