Homeland security chief: be prepared but don't panic

By JOHN J. LUMPKIN, Associated Press Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) - Telling Americans to be ready for terrorist attacks, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge launched a public-relations campaign Wednesday that offers families a few basic steps to prepare for the worst.
The message: Have a communications plan so the family can get in touch during an emergency; put together a disaster kit with a few days of critical supplies, and know where to turn for information during a crisis.
"We will not be afraid. We will be ready," said Homeland
Security Secretary Tom Ridge at the American Red Cross chapter here. He traveled to Cincinnati to announce the program and meet with local safety and emergency workers. "Make a kit; have a plan; get informed."
Homeland Security officials said the campaign launch has been a year in the making and not tied to the orange -- "High" -- terrorism alert that began more than a week ago.
Officials said they crafted the campaign to avoid scaring people while providing some commonsense ideas that will help families find and care for each other when normal government and emergency services aren't available.
Many of these steps are worth taking to prepare for natural
disasters, as well, officials said.
This includes stashing a three-day supply of water, food and medicine, Ridge said. Among other things, the
government-recommended "kit" also includes duct tape and plastic sheeting Ridge said could be used to seal off a room in the event of a chemical or biological release.
"Stash away the duct tape -- don't use it!" Ridge said.
With shades of the duck-and-cover campaigns of the Cold War, the Homeland Security blitz will include television public-service announcements and fliers that will be distributed with Yellow Pages phone directories.
Brochures can be obtained at post offices or by calling
(800) BE-READY. Also, a new Web site (link "On Action News Now", above) is online.
The television spots will feature Ridge prominently, along with some New York City firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers.
The trip to Ohio marks Ridge's second public engagement outside of Washington since taking over the nascent Homeland Security department. The previous trip was to Florida, another key electoral state.
The Ad Council -- the nonprofit group that came up with Smokey Bear's "Only you can prevent forest fires" and McGruff the crime dog's "Take a bite of crime" -- helped put together the campaign.
The ads don't seem to have a single catch phrase, although most of them include the words, "Be ready."
The Martin Agency, an advertising firm in Richmond, Va.,
developed the multimedia campaign pro bono, according to Homeland Security officials.
Those responsible for homeland security in Cincinnati and
surrounding communities say they need more training, more equipment and more money to do the job.
"I can write you the best emergency response plan in the
world," said Edward Dadosky, the district fire chief in charge of the city's terrorism response planning. "But without money and equipment, it doesn't matter."
Communities across the country are grappling with the same
problem as they try to figure out not only what resources they need to combat terrorism, but also how much they can afford.
And as more time passes without an attack in America, the
willingness to spend more federal dollars on homeland security seems to be fading, officials say.
"The further we get from 9-11, the tougher job I have in getting support," said Ken Morckel, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)