CHICAGO – The state’s large scale three-day exercise continued last evening as the State Weapons of Mass Destruction Team (SWMDT) responded to reports that a fictitious terrorist group was hiding out in an undisclosed location. (Please note: this is an exercise only, designed to improve emergency planning and preparedness.) The scenario is part of an exercise that began Tuesday with a pandemic flu outbreak in the Chicago area and continued Wednesday with a terrorist attack scenario that brought in several special response teams.
As the scenario began last evening, the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) was activated to assist local law enforcement and to provide its regional response team, which has specialized equipment and training capable of responding to a hostage situation. Based on intelligence received through the scenario, the Illinois State Police then asked Governor Rod Blagojevich to deploy the SWMDT.
“Last night’s scenario tested our capabilities and resources to effectively react and respond to acts of terrorism, whether chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threats. We put the system to the test, learned some lessons, and are confident that we will be ready,” said Governor Blagojevich.
The exercise utilized the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which provides a consistent nationwide template to enable all government, private sector, and nongovernmental organizations to work together during domestic incidents.
Illinois’ State Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams can respond to a terrorist incident anywhere in the state within 60 to 90 minutes of notification. The SWMDT also provides all avenues of assistance from the state of Illinois to the local Incident Command and the appropriate federal agencies responsible for the investigation and mitigation of such an incident. Specific functions for the SWMDT include scene stabilization, establishment of an inner perimeter, neutralization of any human threat; initial detection of hazardous materials; decontamination of victims, emergency responders, and all items moving from the “hot zone” to the “cold zone”; crime scene preservation; communication with the Incident Commander and the State Emergency Operations Center; advanced preparation for the Illinois National Guard Civil Support Team (CST); and acting as a liaison with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I’d like to thank all of the public safety agencies who participated in today’s exercise,” said Illinois State Police Director Larry G. Trent. “Should terrorists ever strike our state, exercises such as these ensure our emergency response teams are prepared for such an emergency.”
“The successful take down of the terrorist cell shows the well integrated work of the members of the State Weapons of Mass Destruction Team,” said Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, the Governor’s deputy chief of staff for public safety. “We are prepared.”
In 2004, Gov. Blagojevich accepted the prestigious Mitretek Innovations Award in Homeland Security for the Illinois Terrorism Task Force’s development of the SWMDT. The national award recognizes the most effective homeland security programs and is sponsored by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Mitretek Systems.
The state’s ambitious three-day exercise began Tuesday afternoon with a pandemic flu outbreak scenario in the Chicago area. As state and local officials continued dealing with response to that scenario on Wednesday, they received word of possible fictitious terrorist attacks in the Chicago suburban area. In response, the Governor, as part of the exercise, “ordered” several actions to protect citizens, including calling up Illinois National Guard troops, increasing security at critical infrastructure in the Chicago area and asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a federal disaster declaration.
The exercise is providing the opportunity for state and local response organizations to test their preparedness for dealing with simultaneous major disaster events. Following the close of the exercise on Thursday afternoon, participants will gather to discuss activities and extract “lessons learned” that can be used to further enhance preparedness.