State steps forward to help Gulf Coast region

CHICAGO—Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich ordered all state agencies to respond in a coordinated manner to help both the recovery and cleanup efforts in the Gulf Coast, and the victims coming into Illinois.

Illinois’ efforts to date include the following:

Blagojevich has set up a hotline to provide Hurricane Katrina victims with immediate assistance regarding social services offered by the State of Illinois, including health care, crisis counseling, food stamps, K-12 public school registration, and services for veterans, seniors and people with disabilities. The number, 1-800-843-6154, is staffed by the Department of Human Services.

Blagojevich announced the deployment of nearly 1,100 more Illinoisans to help Louisiana respond to the devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina. The latest deployments include nearly 600 firefighters who left Sept. 5, and 500 National Guard troops that were to depart for Louisiana Sept. 7. This latest deployment brings to 800 the number of Illinois National Guard troops sent to Louisiana.

One-hundred thirty-four highly trained law enforcement officers from state and local agencies were deployed to Louisiana. These include Weapons of Mass Destruction teams, Tactical Response teams, Underwater Dive teams, a mobile command post, various all terrain vehicles, boats and trucks. The Illinois Department of Transportation contributed 500 yards of fencing and 500 stakes on two lowboys pulled by two semis that will be in the law enforcement convoy.

The governor dispatched 52 members of the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Teams (IMERT) to Louisiana to assist with care of the massive number of sick and injured victims from Hurricane Katrina.

Blagojevich dispatched an 11-member Incident Management Team to George County, Mississippi, to assist local emergency managers during the crisis.

The governor ordered the state’s public schools to waive residency requirements and enroll any child displaced by Hurricane Katrina who relocates to live with family, friends or in a shelter in Illinois.

The state’s public universities have also responded to the governor’s call to provide accommodations for college students displaced by the hurricane. The state’s 39 community colleges will accommodate any Illinois resident displaced from higher education studies because of the hurricane, while Illinois’ 12 public universities will also take in students affected by the destruction along the Gulf Coast. Students are encouraged to contact admissions offices at each university to being an expedited process to enroll in the institution and to access university services such as financial aid.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency are offering free camping, and have removed length of stay requirements for hurricane victims at all state parks and historic sites that offer camping.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has waived certain transportation rules to allow standard-sized semis carrying supplies and materials to Louisiana to be overweight by up to 15,000 pounds when they travel on Illinois roads. Currently, a standard-sized semi is only allowed to weigh 80,000 pounds when traveling through Illinois. IDOT will also grant emergency permits to companies that need to move oversized equipment to the impacted area.

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) is making available various items through IEMA’s emergency procurement system, including 256,000 half pints of water, 8,500 blankets, 18,300 clothing items, and 2,900 dozen packages of cleaning supplies. IDOC has also delivered 3,000 bedrolls to the Red Cross in Hillside.

The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs has sent toiletries and food to the Tinley Park facility and, in collaboration with several other federal and private agencies, will send food to the Gulf Coast states.

The Department of Central Management Services has made available its Bureau of Communication and Computer Services (BCCS) to help provide communications assistance to devastated areas. Using broadband services, including high speed data transmission to remote areas under-served by local carriers, BCCS can provide relief command centers with uplinks for phone and Internet access, and also links to shelters so displaced individuals can call loved ones.

The Department of Human Services has sent staff skilled in processing food stamps to help the United States Department of Agriculture implement a Disaster Food Stamp program in 25 Louisiana counties.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has made available to the Illinois State Police the Expo Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds as a staging area to consolidate personnel, equipment and supplies in preparation for deployment. The building could be used for several days, providing a secure, easily accessible location for supplies and vehicles of all sizes.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health have dispatched 12 specialists to Louisiana. The specialists are members of four environmental health strike teams being sent by the state at the request of the Louisiana Emergency Management Agency. Their expertise includes drinking water, sewage, food safety and food salvage. In addition, two IEPA trucks stocked with emergency response equipment and two IPDH vehicles have been deployed.

The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) continues to be fully activated with representatives of more than a dozen state agencies, and IEMA personnel who are assessing assets their agencies could provide to assist disaster response and recovery efforts. SEOC is in continual contact with the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) officials in the affected states to coordinate requests for assistance with assets Illinois can offer.

From the Sept. 14-20, 2005, issue

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