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Thursday, July 28, 2005 09:44 pm

Target Springfield

They hated America and wanted to make a point by killing Americans. Too bad they got hungry, because, had police reacted in time, one of the hostages might still be alive.

Illinois State Police Capt. Rob Haley struggled to explain the tragedy:

“On the delivery of some of their demands, which turned out to be food, communications broke down, they didn’t get their way, and they executed a hostage.”

Another captive, who secretly contacted police, was tossed from a roof by the terrorists.

The toll: two hostages killed, a police officer fatally wounded, and a bomb detonated in a school.

That’s how part of the war on terror played out in Springfield last week.

Fortunately, it was only a drill.

For five days last week, the capital city was the scene of a major anti-terrorism disaster-training exercise that involved more than 850 participants from nearly 40 agencies. The drill — which included bomb threats, chemical- and biological-weapons training, shootouts, and hostage negotiations — was designed to test and prepare local law-enforcement officials for events that have no precedent in this city of 113,000 people.

Springfield is no London or New York City, but local officials insist that that’s no reason not to be vigilant.

After all, Springfield is the seat of government for the nation’s fifth most populous state, sits a stone’s throw from more nuclear reactors than any other city in the United States, and is the internationally recognized home of an American icon.

And, as the bombing in 1995 of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City proved, terrorism doesn’t just happen in large cities.

Understandably, nobody wants an attack on his watch, which might explain the thinking for last week’s supersophisticated scavenger hunt that at times played out like an amalgam of the Die Hard movies.

Last week’s drill cost an estimated $800,000, according to City Hall spokesman Ernie Slottag, including overtime pay for the participants and the cost to build various sets, such as a “chemical lab” on the ninth floor of the Major Byrd Hi-Rise.

That’s a lot of dough for a city the size of Springfield.

Back in March, City Council members battled over whether to fund the city’s Office of Homeland Security at all, and the budget passed only after Mayor Tim Davlin broke a 5-5 tie.

Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards led the fight against funding. The discouraging thing, Edwards says, is that anti-terrorism efforts are new, open-ended ways for cities and other groups to get their hands on taxpayers’ money.

“If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it twice on City Council: ‘Hey, we can get that [paid] through [the U.S. Department of] Homeland Security . . . ’ Well, that’s our money, guys. And I understand the thing that if we don’t get it, some other city will — but people need to understand, those are our tax dollars and that’s the new trick word right now, ‘homeland security.’ ”

Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz says that he has no problem with the drill as long as state, not city, money was used to fund it. However, he adds:

“I’m not real concerned [about terrorism in Springfield] — never was. I doubt if Osama bin Laden, or anyone else, is sitting in their cave saying, ‘Let’s kick the s*** of Springfield.”

Let’s say that Kunz is wrong and terrorists do strike Springfield.

What would they hit? The Capitol is an obvious target. Though the city of Springfield would provide some support, as would the Illinois State Police and other agencies, depending on the nature of the threat, the Secretary of State Police or Federal Bureau of Investigation (which has primary jurisdiction over all terrorism matters) would be in charge.

The Paul Findley Federal Building? The Springfield police and fire departments would respond to the scene, but the FBI would call the shots.

Though an attack on the City, Water, Light & Power plant could be devastating and is probably more plausible, can the city of Springfield keep us safe from international terrorism?

“There’s a feeling that many people have that this is a federal responsibility or a state responsibility, and they’re partly right, of course,” says John Allen Williams, an expert in civil-military relations at Loyola University Chicago, “because there are aspects of this that can only be done at that level. But the first responders — wherever this is, whether it’s Springfield, Ill., or Springfield, Mass., or anywhere else — are going to be local, and so they need to be highly trained in what kinds of threats they face and how to deal with them.

“Police in Springfield don’t need to know where Osama bin Laden is, and they don’t need to know all the intelligence information,” Williams adds. “What they do need to know is whether there is an increased likelihood of some kind of attack and what is known about its nature and timing.”

Training for terrorist attacks really isn’t different than training for large-scale disasters, Williams adds.

“A chemical attack can look very much like a rail car exploding, another kind of thing local responders have to be able to deal with. These kinds of attacks aren’t so much different from the kinds of things local responders have to be prepared for all the time.”

Springfield’s anti-terrorism efforts aren’t new. In October 2001, then-Mayor Karen Hasara appointed assistant chief of police Jim Cimarossa to coordinate the city’s hometown security planning.

Cimarossa, along with then-Fire Chief Frank Edwards and public-health director Ray Cooke, traveled to Washington, D.C., for a conference dealing with some of the issues that arose in the aftermath of 9/11.

When they returned from the trip, Cimarossa began putting together Springfield’s first emergency-operations plan, which involved infrastructure security — city agencies doing their parts to develop plans to prevent and respond to terrorist attack. Cimarossa says that he then arranged some citywide training with postal inspectors during the anthrax scare of 2001 and developed some new city policies — all without spending an extra dime.

After Tim Davlin succeeded Hasara as mayor in 2003, Cimarossa was asked to step down; assistant police chief Ralph Caldwell was eventually tapped as part-time director of homeland security.

As assistant chief, Caldwell reports to Chief Don Kliment; as director of homeland security, he reports directly to Davlin.

Creating a single emergency-operations plan was one of Caldwell’s top priorities when he took over.

“We got together as a citywide approach on rewriting our emergency-operations plan. We had an old plan that we dusted off; it was outdated. So I go and get that copy, and then I find out we had a couple of people working out of Chief Cimarossa’s office and they’re working on a terrorism annex plan — and now I’ve got three plans.

“I put them on a table. I’m flipping through them. They contradict each other, and I’m, like, ‘No, this isn’t gonna work. We need one plan for the city of Springfield.’ ”

Two weeks ago, the city released its new emergency-operations plan, which Caldwell says was eight months in the making, to key city officials and aldermen.

“We’re now trying to train the entire city on it. In the police department, we’ve trained each one of our sworn officers on it, and each city director was advised that they have to train their employees.

“In the past, it would be one entity, like, the police department coming up with a citywide approach. This is the first time we got every department to work together on a citywide approach because things are bigger and better than they were when I first joined the police department with the 9/11 attacks and the separate attacks in London. Crime scenes are a lot bigger, and the devastation is a lot more than we’re used to.”

Cimarossa, now retired and teaching at MacMurray College, doesn’t have a problem with Caldwell’s having a budget.

“I don’t want to sound like this is a crybaby thing, ‘They have it and I didn’t,’ ” he says, “but I got a pretty good idea what they’re doing now versus what we were doing back then, and, frankly, no difference.”

He continues: “They’re coordinating, they’re meeting, they’re doing infrastructure security, they’re creating plans the city with other city employees and other city agencies. We did all that.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has spent close to $10 billion for anti-terrorism efforts since 9/11. Right now, Congress is considering the latest homeland-security appropriations bill of around $30 billion in discretionary funding. The DHS then appropriates funds to states, which in turn divide it among local governments.

As it stands, the formula is population-based, so Illinois gets more money than 45 other states.

Here, the job of doling out federal homeland-security dollars belongs to the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, created in 2003 by Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s executive order.

According to task-force chairman Michael Chamness, 80 percent of the federal funds his department receives must go directly to municipal governments. In the 2005 federal fiscal year, Illinois got $102 million, with almost half of that earmarked for Chicago and Cook County, according to their 2004 annual report.

Chamness says that outside Chicago, federal homeland-security money is fairly evenly distributed across the state in such areas as Peoria, Rockford, Urbana-Champaign, Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, and the Quad Cities.

That the state purchased 70,000 gas masks for every cop and firefighter in Illinois notwithstanding, Illinois is doing a good job of using the money responsibly; in fact, the Land of Lincoln was recognized by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as exemplary in this regard.

 “The politically expedient thing to do would be to give everybody a check,” Chamness says, but that isn’t how it works. Though Chamness reports to Blagojevich and Carl Hawkinson, deputy chief of staff for public safety, all homeland-security funding requests go through Chamness and eventually must be approved by the governor.

Although the checks and balances are tight, Chamness admits that it is possible to circumvent them by manipulating the language in a grant request.

No sooner than the feds had started handing out homeland-security checks, cities found ways to blow the money — on Segways (two-wheeled motorized scooters), air-conditioned garbage trucks, chemical suits, traffic cones, bulletproof vests for dogs.

The Illinois Policy Institute monitors pork-barrel government spending and recently put out its 2005 Illinois Piglet Book. Though the report doesn’t address homeland-security waste specifically, Greg Blankenship, executive director of the Springfield-based institute, says there’s a fine line between making sure governments have the tools they need to fight terrorism and simply throwing away money.

“Whenever you’re doing national-security analysis, you’re looking at two things, capability and intentions; then you start to prioritize what you have to defend against. Local government’s responsibility is to mind the store. In that sense, I’d be a proponent of states’ stepping in to make sure we’re more secure,” Blankenship says.

“Policy-makers are going to have gauge threat,” he says, “We have all these al-Qaeda-like organizations running around, but it’s more likely that somebody will shoot up Springfield High School.”

That being the case, doesn’t it make sense for small cities to get, or spend, as much money on protecting themselves as larger cities do?

“Frankly, no,” says Loyola Chicago’s Williams.

“It has occurred to every terrorist in America that they would like to fly a plane into the Sears Tower. They probably don’t know what the tallest building is in Springfield and wouldn’t aim for it they did.

“This is one on those things where pork-barrel politics don’t work well. Now, because under the rubric of terrorism, people are pushing their own agendas — whether it’s civil liberties, on one side or the other, or something they want to sell the government, or some foreign-policy thing. So, yeah, people seize on whatever’s out there to try to benefit their own situation.”

To pay for last week’s practice drill, the city of Springfield will receive grants from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Caldwell says that it will take several more weeks to get final numbers.

IEMA will reimburse the city for as much as $130,000 worth of overtime costs. Additionally, the Fifth Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team gave $95,000 to help build the sets where the exercises were carried out. The remaining $775,000 is the estimated cost that outside agencies involved in the drill will incur.

This year Springfield set aside $98,051 for its homeland-security office. Much of this money went into the emergency-operations center, of which Caldwell is especially proud, in the basement of the Springfield Police Department headquarters, on Monroe Street. The appropriation, which doesn’t include Caldwell’s $89,894 police salary, pays for a secretary, printing, computers, software, renovations, filing cabinets, and a tent.

He got permission from Kliment to take up part of the squad room, knock out a wall, and enlarge the emergency-operations center to fit some furniture in it.

“What I had to do from there,” Caldwell says, “I had no computer hook-ups down there, no electrical hook-ups, so we pretty much had to dig through the concrete with saws. We had to hire people to come in and do that to actually run wires and conduit.” Caldwell says he now has hook-ups for 20 to 30 computers. He’s also been able to buy several computers with a block grant and software to track the city’s resources, and he’s made some cosmetic improvements to the center: “I bought new carpet, had the old tile down there that was peeling up, so I ended up carpeting the entire room. It deadened the sound in the room, because it [previously] had tile down there and it was like a big echo chamber.”

Caldwell says he still wishes he had the funding to do more, and that’s the sort of thing that gets to folks such as Edwards, the alderman, who notes that the state already has two emergency-operation centers in Springfield. Agencies, he says, should talk to each other and say, “‘Look, we got an EOC. Can we borrow it? Can we share it?’ That’s the way it was, and we’re slowly moving away from that, where everybody says, ‘We gotta have one of those.’ ”

But Caldwell says that the state emergency-operations center is off-limits and, even if there were an extraordinary event, it would be too small to support all of the personnel who would be needed in that situation.

It does seem a little strange that this small Midwestern city has a separate function for anti-terrorism planning. In St. Louis, for example, those duties are shared by the chief of police and the directors of public safety and emergency management.

For anybody who thinks that funding for homeland security is wasted in Springfield, Caldwell notes that $40,000 of his budget pays for a full-time secretary with benefits, leaving him $60,000 to protect the city from terrorism. He considers his office an insurance policy:

“Do you need it? Probably not. Is it nice to have? Absolutely. It all depends on what level of protection you want.

“I’m hoping we wasted every dime in that emergency-operations center; I hope we wasted this week of training. I pray we did. But you know what? If we didn’t, we’re a lot more prepared to fight these disasters and protect the city.”

Williams, the Loyola professor, endorses that sort of measured response:

Being prepared doesn’t mean sacrificing other worthwhile local efforts.

“Resources are limited, so you have to be sensible,” he says, “and no one can ever be completely prepared.”

Drill bits
A week that won't live in infamy

Springfield’s first full-scale disaster drill cost almost $1 million (the city’s portion, roughly $130,000, will be covered by grant), involved 857 people, and sure seemed like a lot of fun.

This is how the week played out, more or less:

Day 1 (Monday, July 18). It’s a quiet July morning in Springfield until terrorists from the fictional Cortina Liberation Front lay siege to the vacant Major Byrd Hi-Rise on the East Side, capturing two dozen hostages. Officers responding to the scene are met with “simmunition” (simulated ammunition); two feign injury.

Cops nab one of the bad hombres, who says there’s a bomb in a school. Police locate the device in a truck outside Franklin Middle School and take it apart.

Also in the truck is a box containing what the city describes as smallpox vaccine. Officers are able to remove the vaccine without incident. Inside the school, a pipe bomb explodes in the library. No one is hurt, nor are there any casualties.

Heavy downpours halt the action momentarily for safety reasons.

According to a press release from City Hall spokesman Ernie Slottag, at about 1 p.m. a tank “explodes” at the City Water, Light & Power plant. How many people are hurt is unclear. “A tally of victims revealed there were 8 casualties and 12 injuries, 5 of them seriously,” the release says.

Day 2 (Tuesday, July 19). Overnight, a hostage is killed when takeout food doesn’t arrive on time; another is pushed from the roof for using the phone to call police. We also learn from police that three hostages have been released.

“Upon interrogation of those released has revealed the group has claimed responsibility for the explosion yesterday at CWLP and for planting the bombs at Franklin Middle School,” officials announce in a press release.

Later, the CFL terrorists release a group of balloons, presumably in an attempt to identify wind currents and direction of travel. Police move their mobile-command vehicle to avoid being downwind from Major Byrd.

When negotiations deadlock, cops decide to storm the high-rise. One Illinois State Police SWAT member plays dead, as do six of the terrorists.

Days 3 and 4 (Wednesday and Thursday, July 20 and 21). The games continue. A meth lab, ostensibly used to fund international terrorism, is discovered in a home in Pawnee. Also, a police captain is kidnapped and his hair pulled by a terrorist.

At the Major Byrd Hi-Rise, it’s determined that anthrax may have been released in balloons earlier in the week. A press release claims that a media alert was sent instructing anyone who finds a green balloon to notify authorities. (Illinois Times never receives the alert.) Four “die” after being exposed to anthrax.

Day 5 (Friday, July 22). Mercifully, the drill ends with two news conferences — one real, one just for practice.

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