By DIANE TURNER-HURNS
Journal & Topics Reporter
It was all hands on deck as 85 full-time and 75 part-time Rosemont Public Safety workers, Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) staff, 30 municipal agencies, 400 first responders and 300 volunteer role players held an “active threat” exercise involving simulated bombings and active shooter situations.
The exercise, which officials described as the largest ever held in the state, took place at Rosemont’s Ballpark, the Fashion Outlets Mall and other areas from Sunday night, Oct. 2 into early Monday morning.
It involved a mock scenario with a dozen “terrorists” infiltrating public spaces around Rosemont. They pretended to use guns and bombs to inflict as much damage as possible, including a truck bomb. A triage area was set up and victims were transferred to area hospitals.
Due to safety reasons, media was only allowed to view the training session from a corner of the parking lot across from The Ballpark, 5600 Pearl St. Most of the action took place inside the stadium and at the mall.
The drill was set up to be similar to the Nov. 13, 2015 terrorist rampage in Paris at a soccer stadium, concert, restaurants and streets leaving 130 people dead and hundreds more injured.
Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens told the crowd at the 8 p.m. Sunday opening of the exercise, “I am pleased that Rosemont is serving as host for this very vital exercise.
“Rosemont is a vibrant community -- we welcome thousands of professionals, consumers and families, both from the surrounding area and also from around the world every single day,” Stephens said. “People visit our entertainment and sports venues, our shopping and convention centers.
“We owe it to our residents and guests to be as prepared as we can be if something should happen,” he said. “Tonight we are doing just that and helping other communities become better prepared as well. Rosemont has always been a safe community and I know that with the commitment and training of our first responders we will continue to be a secure place for residents and visitors.”
Stephens was joined at the podium by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and DHSE Executive Director Ernest Brown.
After opening remarks, focus turned to the large green municipal truck parked outside The Ballpark. Sparks flew and clouds of smoke billowed as the exercise began and the truck appeared to crash into The Ballpark where fake bombs went off inside.
Within seconds, a Rosemont squad car drove up with four officers who exited in full gear and carrying rifles to investigate the smoldering truck. A fire engine followed along with other first responders to assess the park and truck situation and to help the “victims.”
An estimated 50 volunteer actors stumbled out of The Ballpark, yelling for help through the light haze. They were led by first responders to the triage area where they would receive medical help.
Leading up to the exercise, rain pelted the area, but around 8 p.m. had stopped.
Traffic in the area was light, but Rosemont took nothing for granted making sure motorists were aware of the exercise. Information was displayed on blinking traffic warning signs. Uniformed officers were posted at key intersections managing traffic flow.
DHSE Executive Director Ernest Brown said Sunday, “During tonight’s mock scenario you will see ambulances and fire trucks, what you won’t see is the work of the dispatchers and incident commanders behind the scenes managing the incident, figuring out how many ambulances and engines to send in and where to send them, appropriately allocating resources.”
The “theatre area” where several fire engines, squad cars and personnel awaited instructions to move to simulated exercise areas, was at the corner of Balmoral and Pearl.
In addition to Rosemont Public Safety, participating in the massive exercise were police departments from Chicago, Des Plaines, Elmwood, Harwood Heights, Norridge, Park Ridge and River Grove. Fire departments participating included those from Berkeley, Chicago, Northlake, Schiller Park, Bensenville, Broadview, Elmwood, Franklin Park, HIllside and Stone Park.
Local American Red Cross, FEMA, FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff and volunteers participated as did personnel from Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm Systems, Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Division 20, Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Cook County Sheriff’s Police, Forest Preserve Police and Illinois State Police. All played major roles in the Rosemont exercise.
Prior to the exercise, hundreds of volunteers checked in at various locations including The Dome at Rosemont, next to The Ballpark, and were given numbers and their “story”, such as whether they were innocent bystanders or injured victims.
“Part of the exercise is for the volunteers to rate the first responders,” Cook County spokesperson Natalia Derevyanny told the Journal. “Those ratings are for internal use and are to be used to enhance our efforts.”
Preckwinkle said, “The past year has brought us events in Paris, Brussels, Nice and right here at home in San Bernardino, Orlando, New York and Minnesota. While we hope and pray we won’t see incidents like these, here it is essential we train and prepare for that possibility.”
“This exercise is needed. As the Boy Scouts always say, ‘be prepared’,” Mayor Stephens said. “As for costs, it is priceless. We need to always be proactive.”
Rosemont officials said personnel and other costs for the exercise would be reimbursed by Cook County. County officials said they are tabulating the cost of the exercise and that most of the funding would come from federal grants.
“I thank Rosemont for their partnership. The way our first responder organizations work together for the safety and security of our residents showcases the best of what government does,” Brown said Sunday night.