10:41. Will gathers all of the various agency spokespeople together to let them know he'll be the point person for information. I only know that from watching this scene a few times, because he's interrupted immediately and asked if he has an update. Thank goodness -- we get a concise description. "Radioactive steam's been spilling into the containment building, so much of it they've had to pump it into another building. The other building can only hold 50 pounds of pressure per inch; it's now at 38. We may have to vent radiation into the atmosphere to avoid the big bang." He's bombarded with questions, but interrupts to tell them that though each of their agencies is involved, none of them is to go to the press -- he will be the only contact. Everyone is sort of annoyed and baffled, but Will assures them that everyone calling them is calling the White House too, and he'll handle it. One representative, Bleiden, looking for a way around this, asks what they will do if it turns out to be the administration's fault. "We can't withhold information from the public," he says in a suave, condescending tone. Will assures them that they won't withhold anything, but they need to do this to keep the public calm. "So there will be one voice, the dulcet tones of Will Bailey, get your souvenir programs in the lobby." At this point, someone brings up Vinick's pro-nuclear stance, but Will interrupts and lays the smack DOWN. I mean, he politely but firmly states, "There will be one briefer, and I won't be answering political questions."
Kate, meanwhile, briefs Bartlet on the Kazakhstan situation. The polls are opening soon, and the U.S. has election monitors in the country, to help show the Chinese that it's a true democracy, and not that the Russians are controlling the government. They have lined up troops on the border, and if they think that the election is set by the Russians, they'll attack. Which -- the Russians aren't known for just sitting back and welcoming an attack. She'll keep him posted.
He enters the sit room to meet with FEMA and C.J. They don't have much time left to keep pumping steam into the auxiliary building, and only a third of the people are evacuated. It seems that being upfront about the situation caused the very panic they were trying to avoid. (Come ON, folks, it's just a little radioactive steam. And it's windy!) The highways are all jammed with at least 700,000 vehicles, and there also seem to be not enough buses and vans to get out the elderly and the disabled. I've got to say, I'm starting to see why bomb shelters were all the rage a few decades earlier. The governor asked for military support, which Bartlet immediately grants. C.J. reports how they are going to fly a helicopter over to test releasing the steam to make sure it's within the EPA standards -- 500 millirems. Bartlet is looking sick with worry, and quietly asks if there is any way to wait until the military can arrive to help evacuate. "I don't like the idea of the elderly and disabled taking the brunt of this." While you're noble, Jed, that apparently just ups the chance of an explosion. Harry adds, "and God knows how much radiation shooting into the atmosphere," with some special emphasis on "shooting." Jed replies, "Vent it now." After giving the order, he paces in silence. What do we mean by "acceptable dosage," anyway? Harry answers, "It's the amount the body can safely absorb through direct exposure. But radiation also enters the surface layers of the soil, where it's absorbed by plants and insects, and enters the food supply. It seeps into water sources. When it does enter the body, sometimes it kills cells instantly. Sometimes it forms damaged cells." "Cancer," Bartlet concludes. "Yes, sir." A report comes over the speaker that the level is at 1200. Bartlet exclaims, but C.J. jumps in quickly to say that's inside the building, and it will disperse once it's out. Everyone waits in silence, until they get the report of 569 millirems. After a beat, Bartlet says they must announce it. Harry jumps in to warn him that it will complicate the evacuation even more, but Bartlet holds firm -- because it's above their safe level, they have to let the public know. Ideas are thrown around -- one being to make the freeways one-way. However, the winds could shift, meaning everyone could suddenly be driving into the problem instead of away from it. Understandably, Bartlet is getting frustrated. "We're spilling radiation into the sky, people are jamming the freeways, and we don't know what direction they should drive? Tell Will to announce the number."