Aggie Dean Heads Advisory Body for Disaster Response

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In the aftermath of the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, the National Advisory Council for FEMA was commissioned to look into how the nation response in times of need.

That council's chair is an Aggieland product.

At the last Texas A&M System Board of Regents meeting, Kem Bennett was present in his role as head of A&M's engineering education.

His other role, is on quite the larger scale.

"It was an honor to be asked, and I felt the honor, and then later on, I thought about what I had accepted and gotten myself into, and I realized the awesome responsibility," Bennett said.

That task is as chairman of the National Advisory Council, more than two dozen experts nationwide examining how the nation responds to major disasters.

It was a week-and-a-half ago that the Department of Homeland Security released its National Response Framework, the self-described guiding principals for all partners in an emergency response. The work comes in response to a reactive and poorly communicated response to Hurricane Katrina that has been documented and analyzed.

Since then, Bennett says things have changed.

"What you see is you see this proactive sense of, if there's an emergency someplace, communications are going to start right now, and we're going to have people getting ready," Bennett said, "and I think that is the major change we are seeing now, is the response getting quicker."

That was evident, Bennett says, in the response to Hurricane Dean, a storm that didn't pack a punch for Texas, but one for which the state made a major mobilization in advance.

Though costly, Bennett says they'd rather pay up front for a non-event than on the tail end for a disaster.

"There's a lot of human service elements that weren't thought through that are now thought through," Bennett said. "We're having to look at, too, how it's bet to do this, and how to handle the children when we have them in shelters and provide for them and keep them engaged and entertained and keep them comfortable."

It's still a work in progress. The framework's release this week is just the beginning.

"I'm not saying that we have all the answers yet," Bennett said. "The most important thing is most of the problems are being identified, and most of them are being worked very, very diligently on."