SPRINGFIELD – With the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks just days away, Illinois is considerably more prepared today for a catastrophic disaster because the state has focused on a comprehensive statewide strategy that has trained and equipped special response teams, taken an active role in preventing terrorism, and given first responders the tools they need for a variety of emergencies.
“You can’t be too careful and there’s no such thing as being over-prepared. That’s why we’ve built a new Statewide Terrorism Intelligence Center, and a new Emergency Operations Center. It’s why our Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams won Harvard’s award for Innovations in Homeland Security. It’s why we received the highest rating for preparedness for bio-terrorism from the Centers for Disease Control. It’s why we developed the strongest mutual aid system in the nation. We’ve come a long way. But we can never let our guard down,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
Illinois was ahead of most states on September 11th, 2001, having created the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF) in 1999. While funding for new initiatives was limited prior to 9/11, the task force had developed a statewide strategy and begun implementing a few initiatives. This enabled the state to move forward quickly after the attacks, particularly in light of new federal funding made available post-9/11. Today, Illinois has a nationally-recognized homeland security program with many outstanding assets, including:
First national winner of prestigious award for homeland security: In 2004, Illinois received the first-ever Mitretek Award for Innovations in Homeland Security from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Mitretek Corporation. The award recognized the Illinois’ State Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams (SWMDT), specially-trained and equipped forces that can respond during crisis incidents brought on by acts of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and related criminal activities. Three teams cover the northern, central and southern sections of the state.
In addition to the SWMDT, Illinois has many other special response teams positioned throughout the state. Each special team within the following types has been identically trained and equipped so that they can coordinate seamlessly if called to respond together to a large-scale disaster.
- Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team: Illinois has developed this fire service team, which is trained and equipped to locate, rescue and provide initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces. Located in the Chicago metropolitan area, this team can respond to incidents anywhere in Illinois.
- Technical Rescue Teams (TRT): The 39 fire service teams are trained and equipped to perform various levels of confined space and structural collapse operations and extrications.
- Level-A HAZMAT Teams: The 42 fire services teams throughout the state are trained and equipped to work in a “hot zone” to perform offensive actions in response to a hazardous materials or weapons of mass destruction incident.
- Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team (IMERT): Eight volunteer medical teams are trained and equipped to respond to and assist with emergency medical treatment at mass casualty incidents. More than 900 doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) volunteer for IMERT.
- Regional Weapons of Mass Destruction Teams: Ten local law enforcement teams that are trained and equipped to operate as a tactical response team in a contaminated environment.
- Volunteer Management Support Team: Two teams of trained and experienced volunteer managers that can be deployed to assist with an influx of volunteers during large-scale events.
- Illinois Veterinary Emergency Response Team: There are 250 members for teams trained to support local veterinarians during response to actual or potential animal health emergencies and incidents.
- Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT): There currently are approximately 65 CERTs throughout the state, which are trained and equipped to help take care of people in their area during a disaster until first responders can arrive. CERTs are created by Citizen Corps Councils, of which there are presently 81 councils in Illinois
- CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP): The Illinois National Guard CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package responds to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incidents and supports local, state and federal agencies managing the consequences of the event by providing capabilities to conduct casualty/patient decontamination, medical support and casualty search and extraction.
- 5th Civil Support Team: The Illinois National Guard’s 5th Civil Support Team can be activated to help assess chemical and biological hazards and assist with decontamination.
One of only eight states to receive full accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP): The EMAP Commission approved Illinois’ certification in February 2006, following an in-depth assessment of the state’s emergency response capabilities to coordinate personnel, resources and communications from a variety of agencies and disciplines in preparation for and in response to a major disaster. The state had to meet 54 national standards to receive accreditation.
Strongest mutual aid system in the country: Illinois is recognized as having the most robust mutual aid organization in the nation, with systems established for fire, law enforcement, emergency management and public health. While mutual aid in the fire services existed for many years, Gov. Blagojevich encouraged the formation of similar organizations for law enforcement, emergency management and public health. Illinois’ strong mutual aid system was evident last year during the state’s response to Hurricane Katrina, when more than 900 firefighters, 300 law enforcement officers, nearly 20 emergency management professionals and more than 50 medical personnel were sent by the state to assist in the Gulf Coast states.
One of the first states to open a terrorism intelligence fusion center: Soon after taking office, Gov. Blagojevich directed the Illinois Terrorism Task Force to develop the Statewide Terrorism Intelligence Center (STIC), a move that expanded the state’s homeland security efforts from focusing on only response capabilities to include terrorism prevention. STIC analysts receive, analyze and distribute intelligence received from the local, state and federal levels. The center is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Analysts from the FBI recently joined state analysts at the center, further improving the flow of information between state and federal sources.
First state to complete new State Emergency Operations Center under DHS grant program: In 2004, Illinois received $9.3 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under a competitive grant program for state’s to develop new State Emergency Operations Centers (SEOC). The grant, the second largest awarded in the nation, enabled the state to enhance the state’s response capabilities and foster closer cooperation between the State of Illinois Response Center, the STIC, the Radiological Emergency Assessment Center and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s operations staff by bringing them under one roof.
A national leader in interoperable communications: Gov. Blagojevich directed the ITTF to make interoperable communications for first responders a top priority, and in 2006 the task force began placing nine Illinois Transportable Emergency Communications Systems (ITECS) around the state, with a tenth ITECS headquartered with IEMA in Springfield. The ITECS can be taken to a disaster scene anywhere in the state and used to patch together the different radio frequencies used by various response agencies. Nine teams are trained to support the deployment and operation of the ITECS at disaster sites. Other interoperable advances made include distribution of the following:
- STARCOM 21 700/800 MHz radios and digital VHF radios: This equipment has been provided to all response agencies in Illinois to aid in responder communications.
- EMnet: The ITTF provided each county emergency management agency and other public safety agencies with this satellite-based warning and alerting system.
- Medical Emergency Radio System of Illinois (MERCI): The ITTF provided these radios to all hospitals in each county.
- Illinois Radio Emergency Assistance Channel (IREACH): The ITTF provided transmitters and equipment to the approximately 20 counties that did not have this interoperable system, which allows response agencies within that county to talk to each other during disasters.
- Mobile Command Vehicles: In 2006, the ITTF completed delivery of 13 mobile command vehicles around the state. The vehicle provides space for decision makers from various response agencies at an incident scene, as well as a suite of interoperable communications equipment.
First state to conduct a large-scale pandemic flu exercise: In May 2006, Illinois conducted a three-day exercise to test preparedness for a simultaneous pandemic flu outbreak and terrorist attack. This large-scale exercise involved more than 2,000 local, state and federal responders in a test of preparedness for a simultaneous pandemic flu outbreak and terrorist attack. In August, the state conducted a five-day exercise that involved more than 1,000 local, state and federal responders in a test of preparedness to a terrorist scenario, including a mass evacuation and sheltering situation. Each year, IEMA assists with or participates in about 50 exercises each year, ranging from tabletop exercises to large-scale exercises to improve state and local response to natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents, terrorism events, nuclear power plant incidents and more.
One of six states to participate in federal TOPOFF exercises: In May 2003, Illinois participated in the federal government’s second Top Officials exercise, designed to train top officials and first responders from the federal, state and local levels. The TOPOFF exercises, the most comprehensive terrorism response exercises conducted in the nation, aim at developing a coordinated national and international response to weapons of mass destruction terrorist attacks.
Other state assets and advances in homeland security:
- Vehicle and Cargo Inspection Systems (VACIS): In 2005, the state purchased two Vehicle and Cargo Inspection Systems (VACIS). The two units, operated by IDOT, can scan contents of trucks, containers, cargo and passenger vehicles to determine the presence of many types of contraband.
- Bridge Surveillance: Implementation of bridge surveillance in critical areas with cameras and monitoring equipment ensures these spots are monitored during elevated threat levels.
- Expanded membership in the Illinois Terrorism Task Force: Gov. Blagojevich expanded the membership of the ITTF to include all cities with populations of 100,000 or greater. The Governor also urged the ITTF to develop relationships with businesses in the private sector.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): More than 70,000 first responders in Illinois, including fire, police, emergency management and public health, received Personal Protective Equipment masks to protect them from hazardous, biological and radiological hazards during emergency response.