CINCINNATI – Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Wednesday launched the "Ready Campaign" — a citizen preparedness effort aimed at teaching Americans what they can do to protect themselves in case of a terror attack, most specifically, he recommended, by being informed.
Ridge gave American families several suggestions and advice in order to be prepared, which he said is the best defense against a terrorist attack.
"Our message is this: We cannot always predict an attack. We can always prepare. There are simple things you and your family can do to prepare for the unlikely but possible terrorist incident, namely make a kit, make a plan, and be informed," he said at Cincinnati's American Red Cross chapter.
Among Ridge's recommendations: prepare a disaster supply kit with a flashlight, batteries, first aid materials and medicines; have a communications plan with family members; stock up on three days worth of nonperishable food and water; and know the different types of responses to different attacks.
"An emergency is not the time to plan, it's the time to react. So be informed. Different types of attacks require different responses. The actions you would take in a conventional attack may be counterproductive if you took them in response to a different kind of attack," he said.
The Homeland Security Department is also advising people to be aware of their surroundings, particularly since an attack often comes after little warning; be careful when traveling since Americans could be targets of terror; move or leave an area if something seems strange or uncomfortable; know emergency exit routes; and know how to use emergency equipment like fire extinguishers that are often found at peoples' work places.
A government official said the campaign goes beyond duct tape and plastic sheets, and all of it can be learned through public service announcements, a toll-free 1-800-BEREADY information line, the Web site www.ready.gov, and brochures. Several private sector partners have also donated advertising services.
But, Ridge said, don't scoff at the duct tape.
"Oh, and, yes, I have to say: stash away the duct tape. Don't use it, stash it away, and that pre-measured plastic sheeting for future — and I emphasize future use. Experts tell us that a safe room inside your house or inside your apartment can help protect you from airborne contaminants for several hours, and that could be just enough time for that chemical agent to be blown away," he said.
The campaign and its recommendations come as Ridge and other homeland security officials consider whether to lower the nation's code orange status back down to yellow — from high to elevated alert status.
The nation has been under code orange — the second highest terror alert level — for more than a week and a half after authorities said they were hearing increasing chatter among suspected terrorists they were keeping tabs on and from recent information given by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
However, one of the detainees was deemed unreliable after he failed a lie detector test. Still authorities said they had information from multiple sources that something was being planned around the time of the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ridge said the general public shouldn't be as concerned about the threat level as they have been.
"The professionals take a look at that national threat warning and it's a sign to them that they may have to vary or enhance security or preventive measures. The national threat warning is really [for] the security personnel and the law enforcement personnel in this country. But regardless of the threat level, once an individual or family has been prepared, you can be assured you've done everything the country wants you to do regardless of the threat level," he said.
A poll of Washington residents conducted by The Washington Post revealed that six in 10 are residents took some type of precautionary measures after the terror alert level rose to code orange, or high alter status. Three in four said they are worried about an attack somewhere in the region and nearly half fear they will personally be a victim.
Ridge, however, has said the code would be lowered soon, perhaps relieving some of that anxiety.