CHICAGO – As the nation prepares to observe the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced the state is creating a mutual aid program that will train 911 operators to handle the huge volume of emergency calls that come in during natural disasters and terrorism events, and then deploy those operators to areas in Illinois when they are needed. The Illinois Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce (IL-TERT) program is expected to be operational by January 1, 2007.
“In times of disaster, communication is critical – not just for the people trying to respond to the emergency, but also for the people caught in the devastation. One of the many lessons learned from September 11 and Hurricane Katrina is that emergency operators can be overwhelmed during an emergency. We need to do everything we can to make sure that if a disaster hits here, people who need help can get through to someone when they call 9-1-1. Through these new teams of emergency operators, we’ll be able to quickly dispatch backup support wherever it’s needed,” Gov. Blagojevich said.
A total of 30 local agencies will initially be involved in IL-TERT, providing 911 operators who will complete a nationally recognized training program paid for by a $300,000 Illinois Terrorism Task Force grant. The grant will also cover equipment for the system. The operators will be instructed how to handle the surge of calls during an emergency that may overwhelm local agencies. They will also be taught to operate from the mobile emergency communication vehicles that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency can send anywhere in the state. In addition, IL-TERT personnel will be able to assist other agencies who want to develop local emergency communication teams.
When an emergency occurs, a community can request assistance and specially trained IL-TERT operators will be dispatched to the area to answer 911 calls, dispatch emergency personnel, and provide any other communications service that local personnel need to handle the emergency. Eight IL-TERT teams will be organized and respond by region to reduce response time. Illinois may also provide IL-TERT assistance to other states in times of crisis.
“The Illinois Terrorism Task Force has acquired an impressive array of interoperable communications equipment, and the IL-TERT program will provide the mechanism to effectively operate the equipment on a sustained basis,” said Doug Edmonds, state coordinator for the program. “I’m grateful to the task force for providing the grant funds to launch this program.”
Today’s IL-TERT announcement expands Illinois’ robust mutual aid system, which has become a model for the rest of the country. That system already includes the fire services, law enforcement, public health and emergency management. The IL-TERT also will further strengthen communications during emergencies, which Gov. Blagojevich has made a top priority. Other recent initiatives to improve communications for first responders and other emergency workers include:
· ITECS: Gov. Blagojevich directed the Illinois Terrorism Task Force to make inter-agency communications for first responders a top priority, and in 2006 the task force began placing nine Illinois Transportable Emergency Communications System (ITECS) around the state, with a tenth ITECS headquartered with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency 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.
· Mobile command vehicles: A total of 13 mobile command vehicles have been delivered around the state, providing space for decision makers from various response agencies at an incident scene, as well as communications gear that can allow these agencies to talk to each other using their own radio frequencies.
· Radios: STARCOM 21 700/800 MHz radios and digital VHF radios have been provided to all response agencies in Illinois to aid in responder communications.
· EMnet: The Illinois Terrorism Task Force provided each county emergency management agency and other public safety agencies with the EMnet satellite-based warning and alert system.
· MERCI: All hospitals in Illinois were provided with Medical Emergency Radio System of Illinois (MERCI) radio units.
· IREACH: Illinois Radio Emergency Assistance Channel (IREACH) transmitters and equipment have been provided to 20 counties that did not have this inter-agency system, which allows response agencies within that county to talk to each other during disasters.