ST. CHARLES, Ill. – The recent terrorist attack in London is a reminder that tragedy can strike anytime and anywhere. The Illinois Department of Public Health wants to ensure emergency personnel, hospitals, emergency response agencies, local public health departments and others are prepared, if and when, disaster hits the state.
To that end, the Department and the Illinois Public Health Association (IPHA) have joined forces to co-sponsor, beginning today, the three-day Bioterrorism Summit 2005 – “Staying Strong and Vigilant in the Heartland” in St. Charles. It is designed to give participants the opportunity to share ideas and learn how to best prepare for natural disasters, environmental health accidents, terrorist attacks or disease outbreaks.
“Bioterrorism preparedness is one of the state’s top priorities and we are committed to ensure our partners at the local health departments and beyond have the knowledge and the tools they need to keep their communities safe during a crisis,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director.
More than 700 participants from the Department, Illinois Emergency Management Agency, local health departments, police and fire departments, and hospital personnel throughout the state are expected to attend the fourth annual summit, which is paid for by a grant from the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).
The keynote speakers include:
- Joel M. Montgomery, CDC epidemiologist and a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service. He has been involved in at least 10 domestic and international outbreak and field investigations, including those for hantavirus, West Nile virus, SARS and monkeypox. Montgomery will address the issue of investigating emerging viral outbreaks.
- Dr. Griffin Trotter, M.D., PhD, an associate professor in the Center for Health Care Ethics at St. Louis University and a board certified emergency physician. Dr. Trotter’s research focuses on clinical ethics, especially as it pertains to the medical response to terrorism.
- David Gruber, commander, U.S. Navy (retired); and an assistant commissioner for health emergency preparedness and response, New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Gruber served 21 years in the Navy as a pilot, intelligence officer and chemical/biological warfare specialist.
- Jerome M. Hauer, senior vice president and co-chair of the homeland practice at Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations in Washington D.C. Hauer served as senior advisor to the secretary for National Security and Emergency Management during the events of September 11, 2001 and the nation’s anthrax crisis. His speech will focus on bioterrorism planning, specifically with respect to the special needs populations.
“The bioterrorism summit provides IPHA members with an opportunity to partner with other state and local agencies to strengthen the emergency preparedness and response system in Illinois,” said James Nelson, executive director, Illinois Public Health Association.
A variety of workshops, exercises and roundtable discussions will take place during the summit and cover such topics as preparing for a smallpox outbreak, responding to agricultural terrorism and weaponized anthrax, handling disease outbreaks and planning for dispensing medicines and supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in the event of a bioterrorist attack.
Representatives from South Carolina will discuss how emergency personnel and hospital staff responded in January 2005 to a train derailment in Graniteville, South Carolina that resulted in the release of hazardous chemicals that killed nine and sickened hundreds.
Some of the highlights of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s emergency preparedness plan include the following:
- Last year, Illinois retained the nation's highest rating ("Green") from the (CDC) to manage the (SNS) during an act of bioterrorism or other mass casualty event. Illinois is one of only six states to achieve this preparedness rating.
- In March 2004,Gov. Blagojevich implemented the Illinois-National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (I-NEDSS), a secure, Web-based system for hospitals, doctors and other health care providers to electronically report infectious diseases. The system allows medical professionals and public health officials to effectively respond to public health emergencies immediately. I-NEDSS is part of a nation-wide system linking state and local public health departments with the CDC.
- In March 2004, the administration launched a Web-based version of the hospital bypass system that provides the state with up-to-the-minute information from more than 200 hospitals in Illinois on the availability of beds and other critical health care services necessary to guide the response to an act of terrorism or other public health emergencies.
- Under the Blagojevich administration, the Illinois Emergency Medical Response Team (IMERT) has expanded to 12 teams and 900 participants. IMERT responds and assists with emergency medical treatment of mass casualty incidents when activated by the Director of Public Health. Each team consists of a physician, nurse, paramedic and an EMT that volunteer their time. The state continues to recruit more volunteers to participate in this effort.
- The Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI) is a partnership with Chicago, St. Louis and neighboring states, which focuses on conducting readiness exercises between large metropolitan areas and states and how the different entities can work together on preparedness.
- The state created the Illinois Public Health Mutual Aid System (IPHMAS) last year to strengthen the preparedness of the public health system in Illinois. Gov. Blagojevich called on all the local health departments throughout the state to sign on to the project, which provides for the sharing of resources in the event of a bioterrorist attack or other emergency. All 95 local health departments in the state heeded the governor’s call to action and signed on to participate in the system. The pact provides personnel, equipment, and supplies assistance to a stricken area by local health departments.
- The Chem-Pack project is an initiative geared toward raising preparedness efforts related to responding to chemical or nerve agent terrorist attacks. Illinois distributed the chem-packs last fall to hospitals around the state to protect against a nerve agent attack. The packs contain medicine to treat nerve agent exposure.
- The State Weapons of Mass Destruction (SWMD) Team is a multi-agency effort including the Illinois State Police, Secretary of State Police, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The team is trained to respond to a biological, chemical or radiological agent attack. Specially trained individuals determine what type of agent has been used and how to respond.