SPRINGFIELD – More than 200 state and local emergency response personnel will test their response capabilities during a large-scale earthquake drill this week in southern Illinois. Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today said the three-day exercise will enhance the state’s earthquake preparedness by allowing participating organizations to test key components of their response plans. The I-Quake exercise begins Tuesday morning with a simulated major earthquake occurrence and will conclude on Thursday.
“The earthquake this past April was a vivid reminder that southern Illinois has a very real earthquake risk,” said Governor Blagojevich. “We must be prepared to quickly respond to a devastating earthquake and handle such issues as difficult rescue missions, medical emergencies, a loss of emergency communications, and more. Our exercise this week is very ambitious because it will simultaneously test several key components of our earthquake response plan.”
On April 19, 2008, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake centered in southeastern Illinois shook much of the state. The earthquake caused only minor damage, but highlighted the fact that southern Illinois lies within the New Madrid and Wabash Valley seismic zones.
Less than a month later, Governor Blagojevich created the Illinois Seismic Safety Task Force to enhance earthquake mitigation measures in the state. The task force, which began meeting in June, will provide the Governor with formal recommendations on ways to protect homeowners and business-owners and ensure buildings and other infrastructure are prepared to withstand seismic activity.
The exercise will kick off Tuesday morning with a simulated earthquake. The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Springfield will be activated and staffed with liaisons from more than a dozen state agencies. Field activities will take place in Marion and other locations in southern Illinois. State agencies participating in field operations include IEMA, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Local participants include the Marion Fire Department, Williamson County Emergency Management Agency and Technical Rescue Teams from the southern divisions of the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS), the fire services mutual aid organization.
Illinois Taskforce 1, a statewide urban search and rescue asset, also will participate in the earthquake exercise. Urban search and rescue involves the location, rescue/extrication and initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces, such as a structural collapse. Illinois Taskforce 1 is staffed by rescuers, medical doctors, structural engineers and other professionals from throughout the state. The team is based in the Chicago area, but responds to incidents anywhere in the state or the nation at the direction of the SEOC.
“This exercise simulates a large-scale disaster that would necessitate a multi-level response from emergency responders from many areas of the state,” said Bruce Boyle, deputy director for Taskforce 1. “The exercise will challenge local, regional and statewide response plans and provide a platform to physically integrate all assets into a large, single, long-term rescue operation.”
Emergency communications is critical to responders during a disaster, and this week’s exercise will test the state’s ability to maintain interoperable communications following an earthquake.
“A major earthquake in southern Illinois likely will damage critical infrastructure, including equipment that supports emergency communications systems,” said IEMA Director Andrew Velasquez III. “The ability for emergency responders to maintain communications with each other is vital, and during this exercise we will test our ability to quickly reestablish emergency communications through the STARCOM21 system.”
As part of the exercise, IDOT will test its Earthquake Response Plan, under which inspectors are dispatched following earthquakes and major aftershocks to assess roads and bridges for possible earthquake-related damage. If damage is discovered, IDOT would coordinate with law enforcement officials to close roads and redirect traffic to safer routes. During the exercise, road closures will be simulated and will not affect the public.
The IDOT plan was implemented twice following the April earthquake, once for the initial earthquake and again following a large aftershock. No damage was found to roads and bridges during either round of inspections.
In conjunction with the earthquake exercise, this past weekend IDPH tested the state’s warehouse operations related to the Strategic National Stockpile. This week, the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team (IMERT) and the Illinois Nurse Volunteer Needs Team (INVENT) will be working with staff from area hospitals to establish an alternate care site, which would be needed if one or more hospitals were severely damaged and unable to assist patients.