SPRINGFIELD – The state’s major emergency response exercise continues today in the Metro East area as responders tackle scenarios involving mock victims trapped in a collapsed building and a related hazardous materials incident.
“For the second time in three months, we’re aggressively testing the state’s ability to respond to major disasters,” said Governor Rod R. Blagojevich. “It’s impossible to know whether or not emergency response plans work unless you’re willing to seriously stress those plans in a large-scale exercise. This exercise is doing just that.”
Under the scenario, an explosion in a building at the Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois traps dozens of mock victims as the building collapses. Local responders request assistance from the state’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, a team of more than 300 responders trained and equipped to handle collapsed building searches and rescues. About 80 USAR team members with equipment, including motion sensors, listening devices and heat sensory equipment to locate victims, respond to the scene and carefully work to locate and remove mock victims.
Illinois’ USAR team, which meets or exceeds FEMA standards for Urban Search and Rescue, is the same type of team that searched the collapsed World Trade Center buildings after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is the first time the USAR team has participated in an exercise outside the Chicago metropolitan area.
To treat mock injured victims pulled from the building, the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team (IMERT) sets up a field treatment center at the raceway. IMERT is a state trained and equipped team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel that can respond to and assist with emergency medical treatment at mass casualty incidents. In addition, Level-A hazardous materials (hazmat) teams respond to the scene to handle the chemical agents released by the building explosion and collapse. The state has equipped and trained more than 40 Level-A hazmat teams throughout the state for chemical-related incidents.
More than 1,000 federal, state and local responders are participating in the state’s second major emergency response exercise in the past three months. A three-day exercise in May tested Illinois’ ability to respond to simultaneous major emergencies, including a pandemic flu outbreak and a terrorist attack in the Chicago metropolitan area. Last fall, Gov. Blagojevich directed the state to aggressively test the state’s preparedness plans after such plans in the Gulf Coast failed to safeguard people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The exercise began on Friday when a simulated explosion at the Triple Crown facility released a mock chemical plume, triggering the evacuation of residents in north Edwardsville. Buses picked up volunteers posing as evacuees to a shelter at Liberty Middle School in Edwardsville. Representatives from the American Red Cross processed “evacuees” and provided them with food, medical attention and shelter. The Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team (IMERT) was activated to assist with treating victims from the mock chemical explosion, and continued their operations throughout the weekend.
“This was the first time the State of Illinois has tested our mass evacuation and sheltering capabilities on such a large scale,” said Col. Jill Morgenthaler, the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety. “The lessons learned will help us enhance our plans so that we will be better prepared if a mass evacuation is ever needed in Illinois.”
Over the weekend, the state tested its ability to receive, stage and distribute emergency medical supplies from a state central receiving location to a regional distribution center. The supplies were then transported to IMERT’s local field treatment center at Liberty Middle School in Edwardsville.
The Metro East area exercise concludes Tuesday.