I-Team Report: Rescue Club

September 9, 2009 From fires to floods and terrorism to tornadoes, they are the first responders to public disasters. So what were some of them doing holding a golf outing on the first day of their training conference?

It is 11am in Springfield. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) kicks off its 2009 conference with seminars on biological and nuclear hazards, storm spotting and first aid. At the same moment a few miles away, dozens of conference registrants are heading out to play in a golf outing sponsored by the same state agency that is holding the training conference.

Many of them arrive at the golf tournament in government vehicles, driven from Chicago, Cook County and several suburban counties; from Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Northlake and Plainfield, from Minnesota and St. Louis.

GOUDIE: "I'm talking to people about how you justify missing the first day of the conference to play golf.
"Oh, how could you not? It's a great day, what else to say? Last year it was a little bit humid but it's a great time to get out there and meet some people, do some networking," said Anna Giacomini, St. Louis Emergency Management.

Back at the conference, their colleagues are dressed for the first of three days of expert workshops, most paid for by their local or state government employer.

While at the Lincoln Green's golf course many of the 88 golfers are decked out in fancy soft spike shoes, madras shorts and floral shirts.

"What a wonderful day to play golf, 80 degrees, sunny, no precipitation in the sky, perfect day for a golf outing," said Jared Owen, IEMA.

Logan County emergency director Dan Fulscher is in charge of the golf outing.

"When you meet somebody here relaxed with the golf outing that's going on, you get to see somebody, when they're really where they're at relaxed. When you're at the golf outing, you make a friend, you make an acquaintance, somebody that's going to have your back when the disaster comes," said Fulscher.

According to the brochure, the event is co-sponsored by a not-for-profit group of Illinois emergency managers. The $70 entry fee includes golf, prizes, lunch, dinner, two beers or other drinks and there is additional beer available on the course.

Among the golfers is Michael Chamness, the longtime chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and a past director the state emergency management agency. But when the I-Team tries to speak with Illinois' top anti-terrorism official, Chamness is whisked away and abruptly quits playing, even though his group is only on the 15th hole.

A state spokeswoman told the I-Team that Illinois' terrorism chairman doesn't feel the need to talk to media on a vacation day.

All day, top experts and attendees continue to arrive for training sessions at the Crowne Plaza hotel that is rented, according to a state contract, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $100,000.

The question then: why would Illinois' Emergency Management Agency even be involved in a golf outing at the same time?

"This was an oversight on my part, I take full responsibility for it," said Andrew Velazquez, IEMA director.

Andrew Velazquez, former head of Chicago's 911 center, was appointed by Governor Blagojevich to run the state emergency agency.

Velazquez says his new boss, Governor Pat Quinn, called him after learning of the outing.

"The governor contacted me and was not pleased at all with the fact that our name was associated with the golf outing and so he made that very clear to me and I apologized to him and assured him that it would not happen again," said Velazquez.

Governor Quinn has released a statement calling the golf outing, "an unfortunate situation that will not occur again. While no taxpayer money was used to pay for this golf outing, the IEMA should never have used signage and promotional materials giving the impression the agency was hosting the event. Going forward, no state agency reporting to the governor's office will have a direct or indirect association with such events." Cilck here to read the entire news release

Illinois Emergency Management Agency 2009 Conference Web site: www.state.il.us/iema/training/Conference/default.asp

Illinois Emergency Services Management Association: www.iesma.org/default.aspx

Illinois Emergency Services Management Association Golf Outing Entry Form: www.iesma.org/Lists/Announcements/Attachments

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