G. Kemble Bennett On The Record

The following are excerpts from the CBS News interview with G. Kemble Bennett, director of the Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center and associate vice chancellor for engineering at the Texas A&M University system.
Regarding the threat of terrorism to our communities:

"Most of the experts will tell you it's just a question of when."

"We train everyone. Primarily, though, what we focus on is the local, what we call the local. They'll be the ones who in the communities that have responsibility if an incident hits. They'll be the first on the scene. And when all the help is gone, they're still on the scene. So the local communities are what we're concentrating on and trying to get them prepared."

"Primarily the groups we're concentrating on are your firefighter, police officers, emergency medical people, your medical people in the community and also you've got to think about your leadership. You've got to look at your fire chiefs, police chiefs, even your public works people. They play a big role in this, your public works behind the scene in a city."

Who do they train?

"Everyone from the top officials at the mayor's level all the way down to that first responder on the scene; that would be your police, your fire and your emergency medical people."

"In a weapons of mass destruction-type event, there's going to be a lot of panic, a lot of unknown; people are not going to know what's going on. So how do you handle it? How to you control it? How to you get people decontaminated in a panic situation?"

"People go into battle and they'll say: What's acceptable casualties in this big battle we're going into. We may lose 20 percent, and they'll lose 50 percent so therefore we may win. Well, I think when you go into local communities (the number of) really acceptable casualties is zero."

Regarding the scariest types of attacks:

"The biological (threat) is always a scary one because that's one you won't see; you won't have a bunch of casualties running from the scene. There won't be an explosion. You won't see people falling down. It'll hit - probably be two or three days later - probably your hospitals will think (we've) got a flu epidemic or something going on."

"And then later on it starts coming together. People get on airplanes, travel to other places. You see pockets of this happening, and you think it's a flu spreading. It might take a while before everybody to narrow down, 'Hey, we may have a serious incident here.'"

"And that's to me the scary scenario because it reaches out everywhere; it's not confined. The chemical type event would be pretty well-defined to where the plume is blowing after the chemical is disbursed and get(s) everybody in the area. That's where you see people start to go down, and where that plume moves and drops its chemicals in the area they'll be greatly affected."

Regarding chemical weapons:

"You can oviously hit lots and lots, hundreds of thousands of people by that. But it'll be a kind of confined type of scenario."

"Then there's the nuclear arms we hear about that we haven't found, warheads and materials and so forth from when Russia broke apart. There's a lot of nervousness there, too. Where did they go? Whose hands did they end up in? How might they be used in a...it doesn't have to be a nuclear explosion, it could be a radiation-type event again causing a lot of damage and sickness. They kind of all scare you when you think about it."

Type of incident most likely?

"Explosives are still the most likely weapon, weapon of choice."

"The first people who arrive on the scene today are going to be thinking, well, it could have been a chemical agent so they'll probably be suiting up because they don't want to go running in there and find out later there's a chemical agent and go down."

Regarding concern, apathy:

"People say it won't happen here. But it does. It does happen.
So you never know."

"The important thing is what do we need to do? (What) we need to do is to have these people in these communities realize that it could happen there. Your civic leaders have got to know what questions they need to ask their police chiefs, their fire chiefs, their hospital people: Are you prepared? Have you been trained? Do you know what to do? Do you have a plan? Are you ready for this?"

"We need to train more, we need to exercise more, we need more funding, and we need more awareness by the city officials. You can't afford to take a chance here. You can't afford - it's a high risk. It's too high of a risk. And it could happen in your back yard."

"My hunch, yeah, it will happen someday. I hope it's (a) long, long away. Unfortunately, I don't believe it is."