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Get set for National Preparedness Month. BYO duct tape
Block News Alliance


August 26, 2005

WASHINGTON - As we prepare to celebrate September Is National Preparedness Month, shame on you if you threw out the plastic sheeting and duct tape. And don't forget to stock up on water and batteries.

Nearly four years after the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans still are expected to rely on those infamous shades of yellow, orange and red for a sense of how active the terrorists may be on any given day. But the government is trying to make more sense as to what we should do to prepare for the unexpected.

Two and a half years after then-homeland security chief Tom Ridge caused a run on plastic sheeting and duct tape - vaguely telling Americans to have it on hand in case of a biological or chemical attack, but not much beyond that - we're back to basics.

Essentially, say the experts, we're supposed to use common sense, have a family disaster plan, prepare an emergency kit with three days' worth of food and water, and figure out how to stay informed about what's happening.

The new head of the vast Department of Homeland Security, the gaunt, buff, former judge Michael Chertoff, seems bemused by the question of what he and his family have done to prepare.

"We keep emergency supplies on hand. It's nothing dramatic. Ever since we had a flood back in New Jersey, we have bottled water, crank radios and batteries. You can laugh about all this - and I'm probably like the shoemaker whose children go shoeless - but anybody who lived through 9/11 or a natural disaster knows if people are wise, they'll do something to be ready."

Bottom line, he says with some sheepishness, is that his wife is the one who pays attention to that sort of thing.

Marsha Evans, the perfectly coiffed chief of the American Red Cross, says that she and her family have a disaster supply kit at home and a communications plan to follow if family members are separated, and that her husband has had CPR training. She said that in every disaster those who can stay calm and know first aid prove invaluable.

Evans says that when walking among victims of hurricanes, she was struck by how much better off were those people who had stocked up on food, water and other essentials such as medicines and first-aid supplies than those who hadn't prepared. She found the difference "staggering."

So what should an emergency kit contain?

Not missing a trick, the Red Cross sells such kits.

The $19 model has absorbent compresses, 25 adhesive bandages, adhesive cloth tape, five antibiotic-ointment packets, five antiseptic wipes, two packets of aspirin, a blanket, a breathing barrier with a one-way valve, an instant cold compress, two pairs of non-latex gloves, hydrocortisone ointment, scissors, roller bandages, sterile gauze, an oral thermometer, two triangular bandages, tweezers and a first-aid instruction book.

The "deluxe" version is $65. Its items include a backpack, a battery-powered flashlight, a battery-powered radio, a blanket, calorie-rich food bars, one pair of work gloves, six towelettes, a breathing mask, a 10-foot-square plastic sheet, a rain poncho, a personal first-aid kit, a roll of duct tape, 2 quarts of water, a 2.5-gallon water container, a whistle and the ever-popular first-aid book.

The Department of Homeland Security, which combined 22 agencies into one, reports that the most frequent questions it gets in these times of heightened terrorism concerns are from entrepreneurs who want to sell the government something and job seekers.

Through a fluke of the law that is supposedly being remedied, Chertoff is not in the line of succession to be president in the event of a catastrophe, even though he is a Cabinet secretary. But he says that one of his goals is to make sure Americans can trust that the workplace and schools have good emergency-management plans in place.

Ridge and Chertoff, to name two, predict that another attack is a question of "when," not "if." In the spirit of preparation, the government has gone into "don't be scared, be ready" mode by establishing a Citizen Corps and a Web site,

The site has such advice as making sure you don't forget about Fido; urging patience if telephone lines are busy; recommending that you learn how to shut off gas, electricity and water mains; talking to neighbors about their plans, and telling you to use common sense in deciding whether to stay home or leave.

Oh, yes. It finally shows us how to seal a room with plastic sheeting and duct tape.


Ann McFeatters is Washington bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
and The Toledo Blade. E-mail amcfeatters(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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