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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Duck & Cover Redux 

We were pleased to learn from the "Home and Garden" section of the S.F. Chronicle that the Department of Homeland Security, in collaboration with the "Homeownership Alliance," has issued an Emergency Preparedness Guide explaining how best to endure the next terrorist attack, whatever form it may take -- unless, of course, it takes one of those maddeningly ingenious forms that no one, including the former National Security Advisor, could possibly predict. (N.B.: the following notes are addressed specifically to homeowners, who had the good sense to get in on the ground floor of the Ownership Society when the getting was good. Renters, on the other hand, dawdled around and now they're fucked and it serves them right):

Congratulations on the purchase of your new home! It is one of the most important investments you will ever make. You will want to do everything you can to protect this asset now and into the future. This guide outlines steps you can take to safeguard your home, but more importantly, keep your family safe in the event of an emergency, whether it be a natural disaster or some other threat to safety and security. That’s why we have created this guide, so that all Americans can learn more about potential threats and be better prepared to react during an emergency. While there is no way to predict what will happen, or what your personal circumstances will be, there are simple things you can do now to prepare your home, yourself and your loved ones in the event of an emergency . . . .

Special Items: Think about your family’s unique needs. Pack diapers, formula, bottles, prescription medications, pet food, comfort items, books, paper, pens, a deck of cards or other forms of entertainment . . . .

Clean Air: Many potential terrorist attacks could send tiny microscopic “junk” into the air. For example, an explosion may release very fi ne debris that can cause lung damage. A biological attack may release germs that can make you sick if inhaled or absorbed through open cuts. Many of these agents can only hurt you if they get into your body, so think about creating a barrier between yourself and any contamination. Be prepared to improvise with what you have on hand to protect your nose, mouth, eyes and cuts in your skin. Anything that fits snugly over your nose and mouth, including any dense-weave cotton material, can help filter contaminants in an emergency. It is very important that most of the air you breathe comes through the mask or cloth, not around it. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children. There are also a variety of facemasks readily available in hardware stores that are rated based on how small a particle they can filter in an industrial setting. Given the different types of attacks that could occur, there is not one solution for masking. For instance, simple cloth facemasks can fi lter some of the airborne “junk” or germs you might breathe into your body, but will probably not protect you from chemical gases. Still, something over your nose and mouth in an emergency is better than nothing.

Have heavyweight garbage bags or plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors in your kit. You can use these things to tape up windows, doors and air vents if you need to seal off a room from outside contamination. Sealing the room is a temporary protective measure to create a barrier between you and contaminated air. Consider precutting and labeling these materials. Anything you can do in advance will save time when it counts. Visit www.ready.gov to learn more . . . .

Chemical Threat: A chemical attack is the deliberate release of a toxic gas, liquid or solid that can poison people and the environment. Watch for signs of a chemical attack such as many people suffering from watery eyes, twitching, choking, having trouble breathing or losing coordination. Many sick or dead birds, fish or small animals are also cause for suspicion . . . .

Nuclear Blast: A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water and ground surfaces for miles around. While experts may predict at this time that a nuclear attack is less likely than others, terrorism is inherently unpredictable. If there is a flash or fireball, take cover immediately, below ground if possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave. In order to limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to, think about shielding, distance and time. If you have a thick shield between yourself and the radioactive materials it will absorb more of the radiation, and you will be exposed to less. Similarly, the farther away you are from the blast and the fallout the lower your exposure. Finally, minimizing time spent exposed will also reduce your risk.

Luckily, we still have our fallout shelter from the cold war. But we are frankly loath to use it unless someone can tell us how to get rid of the stink of cat pee.

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