SecDef Rumsfeld on Avian Flu
HH: In 1918, the pandemic really hit the American military hard, killed a lot of soldiers coming back from the war, etc. Is the Department of Defense prepared for the Bird Flu, if it in fact becomes transmissable, human to human?
DR: Well, you know, you never know, because you never know how widespread it would be, and how rapidly it would hit. But the commander of our northern command, and our senior civilian medical personnel, have been working closely with the other departments and agencies of the federal government, as well as with state and local governments. And we have stockpiled various types of things that would be helpful in helping to manage a pandemic of that nature. Our first order of business, obviously, is the force protection for our own people and their families and dependents. And then it’s conceivable the Department of Defense could be called in to play a role of one nature or another, depending on the severity of the pandemic.
HH: That’s what happened in Katrina. Obviously, it ended up being your problem, or the Pentagon’s problem. Do you expect the same thing would happen with an Avian Flu epidemic?
DR: Well, of course, it would depend again on the magnitude of it. We ended up, within a matter of days and weeks, with something like 22,000 active forces and 50,000 reserve and guard forces in Louisiana and Mississippi, in very rapid order, with a lot of equipment and helicopters and trucks and medical facilities and the like. There isn’t another institution that can put that much assistance on a particular problem in that short a time, so you’ve got to know that it is not our responsibility, and we’re not a first responder. The state and local governments are. We’re not in the disaster position of being the first federal agency called. Indeed, we don’t have a first line responsibility. It is only when something gets so bad that there’s no one else that can handle it, first responders are gone, the other agencies don’t have the resources that we do, and then we get the call and asked to help. And then of course, we respond as rapidly as possible.