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Illinois ahead of the curve in terrorism preparedness

The horrible events of September 11 changed this country in so many ways, and it certainly also had a profound effect on the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) even well beyond the around-the-clock activation of the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) that still is ongoing. Our state's emergency operations plans are designed to respond to any hazard - including terrorism. But like most people, our thoughts were focused more on disasters like tornadoes, floods and even the earthquake zones that threaten the southern portion of our state.

Michael Chamness

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and the ensuing anthrax situation, those thoughts have been trained squarely on preparedness for terrorism. We've taken the all-hazard plans and fine-tuned them for these cowardly attacks on civilians.

The good news is that Illinois already had one of the nation's best disaster response systems, thanks to local first responders and all of the state agencies -State Police, National Guard, Illinois Department of Transporation (IDOT), Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), Nuclear Safety, Red Cross, Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), Agriculture, and Public Health among others - who come together and share resources and expertise in the SEOC during times of disaster.

The other good news is we didn't have to start from scratch regarding the terrorism issue. Governor George Ryan, exhibiting foresight and leadership, created the Illinois Terrorism Task Force (ITTF) by Executive Order back in May of 2000. As Director of IEMA, I chair that task force, which includes 33 separate state, county and municipal agencies as well as associations and organizations from outside of government. All disciplines (law enforcement, fire service, public health, emergency management, agriculture and others) from throughout the state are represented.

The ITTF has achieved some tangible results, each of them incrementally reducing our vulnerability to terrorism. They include:

A first-ever Statewide Fire and Hazardous Materials Mutual Aid Agreement, which was signed on January 16, 2001. This agreement achieved through the teamwork and hard work of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, IEMA and the Office of the State Fire Marshal includes 32 hazardous materials teams and 34 special rescue teams from throughout the state. Those teams can be activated as state assets to respond anywhere in the state to communities that don't have those special resources.

Creation of three State Interagency Response Teams (SIRTs) in northern, central and southern Illinois. These teams are composed of Illinois State Police Tactical Response Team members plus team members from the Illinois Department of Public Health (biological expertise), the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety (radiological), IEPA (chemical), IEMA (consequence management), the Fire Marshals Office and local fire liaisons. These teams are haz mat trained and equipped and will respond anywhere in the state at the request of a local incident commander through IEMA.

Creation by the Illinois Department of Public Health of three Illinois Mobile Emergency Response Teams in northern, central and southern Illinois. These teams are composed of doctors and nurses from around the state and are ready to respond to hospitals in affected areas and at the site of large-scale disasters.

Special Weapons of Mass Destruction training for more than 19,000 local fire fighters and police officers throughout the state.

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The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.


Illinois Commentary
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Purchase of more than $250,000 worth of chemical and biological detection equipment for the states 32 local hazardous materials teams. No one can ever be fully prepared for the sort of devastation we all witnessed on September 11. But Illinois was better prepared than most, and we are striving to become even better prepared with Governor Ryan's appointment of Matt Bettenhausen as Illinois' Homeland Defense Coordinator. As Deputy Governor, Matt already had been deeply involved in the work of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force. He has provided excellent leadership and focus.

Everyone has a role in homeland defense. For the general public those roles include being vigilant, reporting suspicious behavior to local law enforcement authorities, and becoming knowledgeable enough about new threats like anthrax so as not to panic or overreact. IEMA's website ( offers information about family preparedness as well as links to valuable information about all hazards, including bioterrorism. I welcome you to visit our website and offer your comments, questions or suggestions. May God Bless America.

Michael Chamness Director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, was appointed to the cabinet position by Governor Ryan. He also serves as chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and as chairman of the State Emergency Response Commission. He is also vice president for Region V of the National Emergency Management Association. He has worked in the Office of the Secretary of State and before that as a newspaper editor for the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale and the State Journal-Register in Springfield.


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