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Patterson School Helping Kentucky Prepare for the Worst

by Jeff Worley

How prepared is Kentucky for a terrorist attack?

This is a question that faculty at the UK Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce have been working to answer, and their fieldwork started long before September 11.

"In 1998 Mike Desch headed up a group that focused on weapons of mass destruction, domestic preparedness and the Kentucky National Guard," says John Stempel, director of the Patterson School. "So this has been a major area of focus for us for over three years." Desch, associate director of the Patterson School, is a national security scholar who came to UK from Harvard University in 1998.

"Four of us from Patterson and five others with expertise in nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare met with top officers of the state's National Guard to discuss potential threats to the commonwealth and suggest how the state can deal with those threats," says Desch. He explains that though most conventional military weapons, from 2,000-pound bombs to assault rifles, can cause large numbers of casualties and widespread destruction, the term "weapons of mass destruction" specifically refers to three classes of weapons: chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

The Patterson School's 50-page report that followed included several recommendations: more communication and integration among the several state agencies (the National Guard and the Kentucky Department of Emergency Management, for example), especially during the initial stages of an emergency; a plan for coping with hoaxes; and upgrading the Guard's chemical weapons capabilities.

After this report was released in April of 1999, two members of the Patterson School security research group took an even broader approach to the problem. Robert Pringle and Clifford Tsuboi, along with half a dozen Patterson School students, began an ambitious project to meet with government officials in all 120 Kentucky counties to discuss potential terrorist threats.

"Cliff and I took a contract financed by the U.S. Department of Justice to look at vulnerabilities and capabilities of Kentucky to deal with a weapons of mass destruction attack," says Pringle, a retired CIA officer who came to UK in 1999 [see also "Bringing New Intelligence to the University"].

"I focused mostly on the question of just how concerned various parts of the state should be about a terrorist attack—by either a homegrown organization or a foreign-based group—and what forms an attack might take. I went to every county courthouse in the state, meeting with state police, the FBI, and firefighters. We talked about the most probable scenarios, who is most likely to cause those problems, and the best ways to respond. The idea was to look closely at vulnerabilities."

In this outreach project Tsuboi played a complementary role, focusing on the state's public health emergency preparedness. "I contacted public health officials in counties and districts all over Kentucky to assess the capabilities of local public health centers to respond to biological, chemical, and radiological emergencies," says Tsuboi, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who has a doctorate in biopharmaceutics from UK and who specializes in biogenetic warfare and bioterrorism.

This assessment comes in the form of a 57-page questionnaire from the Centers of Disease Control in Washington, D.C., which is sponsoring this nationwide study. "So far eight states have completed their assessment, Kentucky included. What we're going to do is eventually enter all this information into the Department of Justice database, then try to develop a clear overall picture of what we have to do to address problems throughout the U.S.," Tsuboi says.

Pringle adds that once the data are crunched and the responses evaluated by several levels of government, Kentucky is going to have to make a hard decision: Where do you put the most money in order to try to assure the safety of the most people?

"We're especially concerned about how to protect what we call the 'first responder' in a terrorist attack. If you're a state trooper and at 3 a.m. see a small convoy of white panel trucks full of men wearing army fatigues roll past on the highway, and you think of stopping them, what do you do to avoid being killed in that situation? One thing I've talked about around the state is how to prepare the rural police for just such a scenario."

Pringle adds that despite the "impossible workloads" of state and local authorities, he was generously received wherever he went. "We need to underscore the fact that we aren't out there in the state trying to make people feel uncomfortable. But one of our goals is to let people know that they have some expertise to tap into here at the Patterson School if they need to."