Satellites connect Illinois health

EMnet

Illinois officials are deploying a satellite-based alert and warning system to link hospitals and public health offices statewide.

Illinois was the site of a biological attack in the TopOff2 exercise, which is a simulation run by the Homeland Security Department. In the simulation, the attack spread nationwide and then worldwide. More than 130 hospitals were involved in the exercise, which demonstrated that public health officials struggle with nearly every aspect of communications, said Thomas Mefferd, director of the DuPage County, Ill., Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"We are installing, as we speak, a satellite-based communications system that will link our primary command with hospitals statewide," he told the House Select Committee on Homeland Security Thursday.

Illinois, like most other states, participates in the various public health information sharing programs funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials also felt they needed a specific system for providing high-reliability alerts and warnings, Mefferd said after the hearing. They chose Florida-based Communications Laboratories Inc.'s EMnet system, which officials in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and several other states also use.

The EMnet system starts with the state's 12 regional hospitals. Counties can expand capabilities to other hospitals in the area, Mefferd said. DuPage County officials are putting it in all of the hospitals.

The EMnet system also links into the state's other communications systems, including an Internet-based system that officials at the Illinois Public Health Department are implementing "to share patient information across the board, so as we look at hospital capability, bed capability, so on and so forth, that can be rapidly transmitted to our state and public health center in Springfield," Mefferd said.

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