Abilene — State and local agencies lack the equipment, training and funding to effectively prevent and respond to a terrorist attack, officials told a congressional subcommittee.
At the invitation of Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., brought the Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations to Abilene to hear the concerns of state and local emergency preparedness, law enforcement and medical officials.
"We want to know what the federal government can do to help," Horn told local and state officials to open the hearing at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene.
In response, they gave Horn specific suggestions, including how they could use money from the federal government.
Raymond Williams, chief executive officer of Sumner Regional Medical Center in Wellington, said rural hospitals urgently need federal funding to purchase water purification equipment, to build facilities to effectively isolate patients infected with contagious biological agents, and to purchase protective suits and equipment for its front-line workers.
George Teagarden, the state livestock commissioner, said the federal government should fund research to develop a field test that could be used to authoritatively diagnose foot-and-mouth disease at feedlots and sale barns.
"The introduction of a foreign animal disease would wreck our country," he said, noting that the $10.6 billion livestock industry is as much a mainstay of the Kansas economy as the aircraft industry.
Teagarden also said he disagrees with those who think that an attack on the Kansas cattle industry is a remote possibility.
"If they want to cause big-time damage, that is where they will come," he said.
Controlling an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would be a logistical nightmare, said Terry Knowles, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
If tests last March had revealed that some cattle in Holton suspected of having the disease were infected, Knowles said it would have taken 12 roadblocks staffed by 96 officers a day for a minimum of 60 days to enforce a quarantine.
"Even though the Kansas National Guard would assist law enforcement in handling this quarantine and stopping the movement of livestock, the manpower requirement for state and local law enforcement would have been overwhelming," Knowles said in written testimony. "Simply stated, an outbreak of foreign animal disease would bankrupt law enforcement resources."
Horn asked several panel members whether the inability of various agencies to maintain radio contact because of differing frequencies would cause problems coordinating a response to an attack. All acknowledged that it would be a major problem.
Maj. Gen. Greg Gardner, the state's adjutant general, said fixing the communications problem is a priority of emergency preparedness and medical officials across the country. But he said a solution is likely to be expensive.
"That's a big dollar bill," Gardner said. "It's a tough problem."
Abilene was one of 50 stops the U.S. House subcommittee will make before reporting to the full Committee on Government Reform.
Moran said it was useful to bring policy-makers to Kansas, "to let them see and hear folks that I represent, to hear the issues that are unique to us."