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Friday, May 9, 2003 02:20 pm

Homeland Insecurity

Illinois began its anti-terrorism program in reaction to the Oklahoma City and first World Trade Center bombings. Traci Moyer evaluates the heartland program that became a model for the nation.


Before the United States was thrown into uncertainty and grief on September 11, 2001, Springfield residents were the target of a terrorist attack.

In the spring of 2001, only months before the World Trade Center tragedy, a group of terrorists were discovered on the Illinois Sate Fairgrounds during a defense department exercise. They were mixing a chemical agent, which they had already loaded into sprayers mounted on the backs of pickup trucks. Several members of their party had already driven around Springfield, spraying indiscriminately. In a shootout, law-enforcement officials killed two of the terrorists. Eyewitnesses told police they saw a couple more fleeing in trucks. That's where our troubles began.

With the terrorists still at large, no one could go into the fairgrounds. Springfield and state police lacked the proper equipment and training to secure the area. The fire department's hazardous material team could not analyze what chemical agent had been used. When the Fifth Civil Support Team from Bartonville arrived with state-of-the art equipment and expertise in all weapons of mass destruction, they were also denied access.

"The answer was military police from other states--nine hours away," says Mike Chamness, head of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force. "In other words, the entire response plan came to a halt for nine hours while we waited for military police to be flown in from somewhere else."

The U.S. Department of Defense had contrived this exercise to certify Illinois' Civil Support Team. At the time, there were ten such teams in the nation, and Congress mandated that they all complete exercises to reveal weaknesses. This test brought Illinois' team to its knees.

"So we said, we have to have a better answer than this," Chamness recalls. "And the answer was, give hazardous-material training and equipment to police officers--specially trained police officers. They already existed with state police tactical teams, which are already SWAT-trained, so we asked them to take on that additional mission and that training."

The specially trained force--called the State Weapons of Mass Destruction team--was expanded shortly afterward with the addition of representatives from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety. The team can now operate in biological, chemical, and radioactive "hot zones."

"We have three teams that are certified and operational," Chamness says. "One is located near Chicago, one near Springfield, and one near Scott Air Force Base in Southern Illinois. That's as close as I'll come to say where they are. They can be anywhere in the state of Illinois within a couple of hours. Before they get there, a Level-A hazardous material team is going to be there, if needed, a technical rescue team, and a law enforcement containment team."

These teams all answer to the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, which officially became a state agency in May of 2000. Chamness says the force was the brainchild of Illinois State Police deputy director Doug Brown, who wanted the state to prepare for any emergency that might endanger citizens after the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the subsequent bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Chamness says the group includes the same departments the Illinois Emergency Management Agency calls upon when responding to such natural disasters as tornadoes and floods.

"Now the crime element of terrorism is a State Police and FBI issue," Chamness says, "but the consequence management response is what IEMA is in charge of. At that point, it doesn't matter if jets knocked the World Trade Center down or an earthquake knocked it down. The consequence-management piece is: you go in, you pull people out, you shelter people, you evacuate, you do the long-term recovery."

Together, the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and IEMA oversee Illinois' homeland security program.

"This is the working group that deals with homeland security issues," Chamness says. "[Illinois Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety Carl] Hawkinson and the Governor oversee it, and I chair it. Homeland Security and Illinois Terrorism Task Force are interchangeable. It's all about domestic preparedness and homeland security. And I frankly think the governor is wise not to create just for namesake a separate agency. He is in the process, if you have been listening to Governor Blagojevich, of streamlining state government. We are already doing the work--there is no sense in creating an additional agency."

Springfield, along with a handful of other Illinois communities, is taking steps to prepare for an emergency. Jim Cimarossa, assistant chief of the Springfield Police Department, was named coordinator of the city's "Hometown Security" program in October of 2001.

"I probably have a bunch of multiple functions here," Cimarossa says. "That'd be the best way I can describe it. My position here is as assistant chief of police. I'm the department's inspector general, I'm the homeland security, hometown security coordinator, and I'm assistant chief over the field support division, and, no, I don't get any extra money with that."

Cimarossa, along with the city's fire and public-health departments, formulated a comprehensive emergency plan for the city and its first responders--the men and women in uniform that will be the first on the scene after a natural or manmade disaster.

"What we did is, we looked at the plan from a disaster point of view," Cimarossa says. "Not a terrorist point of view. And the reason why was because we felt that the city was already well-prepared for a natural disaster. But what we wanted to do is make sure we included other disasters, which we would term extraordinary events. Terrorism would be an example of an extraordinary event."

After discussing several possible terrorist scenarios with Cimarossa, one thing became clear: If a catastrophic event occurs in Springfield, there aren't many options available. The public, Cimarossa says, will either be evacuated or quarantined, which is sometimes called "sheltering in place" (in other words, break out the duct tape).

"What I want you to understand is that the plan is designed for natural disasters, and extraordinary events fall in within that plan," Cimarossa says. "So if it is exposed around the entire city, we are going to have to have evacuation routes and things like that so we can evacuate. Same thing would occur if you have a virus. You probably wouldn't know that right off the bat. It would probably be after the fact before you realized that it was a breakout. Clean-up is done after everyone is evacuated, and the fire department or IEMA or the federal government is in charge of that.

"I don't ever want to say there is nothing you can do," Cimarossa continues. "I don't know realistically if there is anything you can do after everyone has been exposed. At that point, everyone is gone."

"You either evacuate, or you tell people to shelter in place," says Chamness. "Close your windows, stay in your homes, what have you, and it all fits together with what I'm talking about. It then becomes the state's issue to deliver to the city of Springfield the medications and antidotes that would be needed in case of a chemical or biological attack. That's the way the plan works, and Springfield's plan fits together with our plan."

Chamness says several sites in Springfield could be targeted by terrorists.

"Would the Lincoln [Presidential] Library be a symbolic target for a terrorist?" he asks. "Well, maybe not Middle Eastern terrorists. But if you go back to the type of terrorist that blew up the Oklahoma City building, the Murrah Building, or someone that is racist by nature, Lincoln may be that symbolic target. You have to protect all of those places to the best of your ability, because terrorists strike symbolic targets as well as targets where they can get a high causality count. So I'm not comfortable crossing anything off the list in Illinois."

Chamness and Cimarossa say their plans don't include the use of existing fallout shelters.

"They really aren't a part of the plan," Chamness says. "I'm sure they still exist because you see those old yellow-and-black diamonds that signify fallout shelters. With the weapons we are talking about today--chemical, biological--you are looking at the people in the immediate area being affected, not everybody hunkering down in a bomb shelter because another country is raining missiles on our heads. It's a different thing. We talk more about evacuation procedures if there is an attack, treatment, the antibiotics and antidotes we need to get to people if there is a certain type of attack. Those are more of the planning efforts than hunkering down in a basement somewhere."

If terrorists decided to target one of Illinois' eleven nuclear reactors in its six active nuclear-power plants--more than any other state--we might be subjected to radioactive contamination. A year ago the U.S. government offered Illinois a free supply of potassium iodine pills--which offset the effects of radiation--but Governor George Ryan refused the pills because they're potentially dangerous if misused. Of the 34 states with nuclear reactors, only five accepted the government's offer.

In May another scenario will take place like the one staged two years ago at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. This time the exercise will be conducted near Chicago, and Chamness thinks Illinois will do better.

"We are going to test our ability to detect a covert biological attack, identify what the agent is, and request the national pharmaceutical stockpile from the federal government," Chamness says. "We are going to test all of our systems. It's going to involve pretty much the whole state, but really the collar counties in Chicago. The lessons learned will be shared with the whole country and the rest of the state of Illinois."

To date, Congress has appropriated $17.8 million through the Department of Justice to pay for Illinois' terrorism preparedness program. The funds were doled out by the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and IEMA, and here's how the money was spent:

• $4.4 million to create three State Weapons of Mass Destruction teams;

• $2.3 million to equip and train 35 Level-A hazardous materials teams;

• $2 million to establish a statewide law-enforcement mutual-aid program and equip 15 regional containment teams;

• $2 million to build an urban search-and-rescue team;

• $1.5 million to equip and train up to 35 technical rescue teams;

• $2 million for communications systems among departments;

• $2 million for terrorism training programs;

• $1.6 million to counties and cities for equipment and training.

Springfield's Hometown Security program doesn't have a budget. The cost of training and equipment is absorbed by individual city departments (police, fire, and public health) or paid by federal and local grants. Exact figures are unavailable for how much money has been spent so far, though the fire department has received $15,000 from Sangamon County, $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, and $100,000 from the state's Illinois FIRST program. Cimarossa wants to eventually see a separate staff created for Hometown Security, which he believes should have its own budget.

"What we would do right now, though, is utilize the resources we presently have in the agency if we had to," Cimarossa says. "The fire department has received additional equipment: their hazardous material unit has received additional money to equip them a lot more effectively. We have not received any funds for [equipment or training] yet."

Chamness says the Illinois Terrorism Task Force will receive another $18 million in federal funds in 2003. He says $7 million of that will be set aside for personal protective equipment, which is currently his agency's top priority.

"Each of these communities have their own needs budget-wise," Chamness says. "But the primary one now is to get personal protective equipment to every police officer and every firefighter in the state, and we are going to get, this calendar year, about half of that done. To me, it's a moral and ethical commitment we have to make to first responders.

"You can build all the programs you want, and Illinois has, I think, one of the very best systems in the country now for domestic preparedness, and it still falls on the shoulders of the local first responders to be the first on the scene and contain that incident. We have to give them the personal protection they need."

Chamness says another priority is to start educating the public about terrorism and safety. He says he wants to implement an education program through the public schools--one that's similar to fire safety programs.

He advocates each household having a "preparedness package": A kit with "72 hours of bottled water, nonperishable food, battery-operated radio, flashlights, extra batteries, and medications, something to take care of you and your family for three days if you are sheltered in place at your home and the government can't get to you."

He says having a stash of water, food, and a radio has been stressed for years by IEMA in case of severe weather. Chamness also recommends a communications plan. When phone circuits are busy, people may only be able to call out-of-state. Chamness says every family should designate an out-of-state contact person to be called if members get separated.

"And then simply be informed," Chamness says. "If we are talking about biological agents, inform people about what's true and what's not true about certain biological agents like smallpox, like anthrax. So you don't have to be scared of things you shouldn't be scared of. What we found is, if you do that with the kids, and they take those materials home, the parents end up reading those materials and the parents become educated as well."

He says the education plan would help children and their parents avoid rushing to the hospital unnecessarily.

"People just need to become aware of the biological, the chemical, the nuclear agents, and what it means if you're exposed," he says. "What the symptoms are and what you do."

But that is as far as Chamness wants to go in educating the public. He refuses to say where to go for antidotes or vaccines during an emergency.

"That information will be shared with people at the time it's necessary to do that," Chamness says. "There is a plan for all regions of the state. I won't disclose the locations because, there again, that's information I don't want the bad guys to have. We have a public information plan to get that information out.

"That's why we suggest what I said about a supply kit," he says. "A supply kit includes a battery-operated radio. So even if you lose electricity you can listen to your radio. The Emergency Alert System in the state of Illinois allows for us to break into the radio stations throughout the state and TV stations to give public information to people. It is a system that is not knocked out at all by a chemical or biological attack.

"But telling people 'here are the distribution sites in case of a biological attack' in advance is not a smart thing to do. We want to first secure those sites and have them completely secured with police and law enforcement before we take medications there and open the doors to people. We have the ability to deliver that message through redundant means, radio and television being prime among them."

Some have questioned Chamness's ability to head Illinois' agency against terrorism. Prior to his appointment by George Ryan, Chamness was the director of drivers' license services during the licenses-for-bribes scandal. Before that, he worked as a sports reporter and editor. He admits to having no training in anti-terrorism tactics or law enforcement.

"I have never done anything wrong," Chamness says. "I've never been accused of doing anything wrong, and that's the bottom line. I would respectfully submit to any critics that I am the best-qualified person for what I do. I'll let my record stand on its own.

"I will tell you this, if somebody had raised the issue of my background for emergency management four-and-a-half-years ago it would have been legitimate. Four-and-a-half-years later, it's not."

Federal Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge has praised Illinois' program, and the state's security standards are being used as a benchmark for other programs.

Grundy County Sheriff Jim Olson, president of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, says Chamness was on the ground floor of homeland security, pulling together several existing agencies to further public safety.

"We are in much better shape than other states," Olson says. "They are in the planning stage. We are past that--we are in the operational stage--and Mike has been at the front of that."

Pete Smith is the chairman of the Anti-terrorism Committee for the Illinois Chiefs of Police. He says Chamness has a natural ability to build consensus.

"Whatever background he brought with him serves the state of Illinois and homeland security very well," Smith says. "Mike is excellent at bringing people together to accomplish a common goal."

Tom Faulkner is the coordinator for the Springfield Fire and Rescue Hazardous Material Team. He says managers can be effective simply by hiring the right people to provide direction and advice.

"Sometimes a position like that is more dealing with people and organizing," Faulkner says. "He's been good to us and he seems fairly knowledgeable. I didn't know anything about his background. I just met him a couple years ago, and every instance of dealing with him has been very good."

On Saturday Faulkner was joined by Buddy Neighbours and John Kulek. Along with 21 others on the city's hazardous-material unit, they'll be the first responders to a "hot zone" in Springfield. The three have been firefighters for a combined 49 years. No longer just firefighters, they now view their jobs with a mixture of courage and trepidation.

"I guess after 9/11 everything has changed," Kulek says.

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