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August 4, 2006

State disaster exercise to test emergency response capabilities underway in Metro East area
Mass evacuation and sheltering preparedness tested Friday

METRO EAST – Illinois’ ability to evacuate large numbers of people and provide adequate shelter for evacuees will be put to the test today as the state begins a large-scale emergency response exercise in the Metro East area. Last fall, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich directed the state to conduct a mass evacuation and sheltering exercise after preparedness plans in the Gulf Coast failed to safeguard people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“Hurricane Katrina taught us an important lesson – we need to make sure we’re able to evacuate and shelter thousands of people if widespread disaster ever hits here in Illinois,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “But, it’s not enough just to craft a plan on paper – you have to put those plans to the test. This exercise will teach us what we do well, and what part of our plan needs work so, if disaster strikes, we’re ready.”

The exercise scenario got underway early Friday morning with local emergency response agencies receiving notification of a simulated explosion at the Triple Crown facility in Edwardsville involving a hazardous materials release. As the situation escalates, local responders request assistance from the state to support ongoing efforts with evacuation and mass sheltering efforts. In response, the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Springfield will be fully activated to coordinate state assistance to local response organizations. The state will dispatch staff and equipment to the scene, including a new Unified Area Command vehicle, which provides meeting space, office equipment and communications capability to facilitate coordination between multiple emergency response organizations at a disaster scene.

Liberty Middle School in Edwardsville is serving as the mass shelter location. Volunteers posing as evacuees will arrive by car or bus throughout the day and be assisted by representatives from the American Red Cross. The mock evacuees will be registered at the shelter, offered food and provided personal care items, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste. The shelter will also have nurses and mental health professionals available. It is expected that up to 1,000 “evacuees” will be processed at the facility on Friday.

In addition, the state’s Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team (IMERT) will set up an alternate treatment facility on the grounds of Liberty Middle School to augment local medical capacity during the simulated crisis. IMERT, a volunteer organization of doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel, is trained and equipped to respond to and assist with emergency medical treatment at mass casualty incidents. Following Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Blagojevich sent 50 IMERT members to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they helped establish a field hospital and attended to thousands of evacuees from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.

While responders deal with Friday’s simulated emergency situation, other components of the exercise scenario will begin unfolding that will lead into activities next Monday and Tuesday.

The Metro East exercise, known as “Prairie Thunder,” is the state’s second significant emergency response exercise within the past three months. In May, the state conducted a three-day exercise that tested Illinois’ ability to respond to simultaneous major emergencies, which included a pandemic flu outbreak and a terrorist attack in the Chicago metropolitan area. More than 1,000 participants from federal, state and local agencies are involved in the Prairie Thunder exercise


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