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AP | September 5, 2006

CHICAGO City officials Tuesday announced the streets that will be affected during a voluntary evacuation drill for a section of downtown in order to better prepare city officials and residents in the event of a major emergency.

Mayor Richard Daley said the drill, which is scheduled to take place Thursday, is part of events and exercises the city has scheduled in conjunction with September being designated National Preparedness Month by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

City officials confirmed that starting at 9:30 a.m., Des Plaines Street will be closed between Madison and Adams Streets. The eastbound lanes of Madison -- from Halsted Street to Des Plaines -- will be closed, along with the Kennedy Expressway exit ramps at Monroe Street and Madison.

At 3:30 p.m., Wacker Drive between Madison and Adams Streets, and Monroe Street between Franklin and Halsted Streets will both be closed.

Two southbound bus routes -- the Number 121 and 123 -- will be rerouted during the day.

The streets are expected to reopen by about 7:00 p.m.

An e-mail addressed to tenants in one of the affected buildings and obtained by The Associated Press last week indicated the drill involves four properties located at the intersection of Monroe Street and Wacker Drive, including the building in which the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is located.

The note from Equity Office Properties Trust, a building owner and manager, said tenants can choose to participate or not in the drill, scheduled for 4 p.m.

Because the focus of the exercise is to assess how an evacuation would be handled at street level, participating employees will be able to use elevators to evacuate their buildings.

But once they reach ground level, the participants will be asked to follow the instructions of "emergency teams" routing them to an assessment area on Des Plaines Avenue -- about five blocks to the west.

After participants check in at that area, they can either return to work or head home, according to the Equity Office e-mail.

Equity Office confirmed one of their properties -- located on Wacker Drive between Monroe Street and Madison Avenue -- is included in the targeted evacuation area, but referred all other questions to property manager Cindy Schulz, who was out of the office Monday.

Daley's news conference was held in conjunction with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who discussed his proposal to allow cities and states to access additional federal grants for evacuation planning and exercises.

Durbin said he included the language in the Senate's version of a post-Katrina emergency preparedness bill.

In additional to the voluntary evacuation drill, Daley said other city efforts planned for September include presentations at senior centers and schools along with public service announcements concerning emergency preparedness.

"As we've seen time and again, people have a much greater chance of escaping death or serious injury when they're prepared for a disaster. Our police and fire departments do a great job, but they can't be everywhere at once," he said. "You have to look out for yourselves, your family and of course your loved ones."

Cortez Trotter, chief emergency officer for Chicago, said the exercise will be recorded and placed on DVD for future training.

He said he hopes one of the messages that results from the drill will be that once participants reach ground level, they must listen to emergency officials for directions because in the event of a real emergency, pre-arranged emergency routes could be impracticable or even dangerous.

It was not immediately clear how many employees work in the properties in the area targeted for evacuation, but the buildings are high-rises.

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