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Ridge: Make Your Plans Now

In a photo made Oct. 20, 2009, a "sold" sign is shown in front of a home in Carmel, Ind.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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, who 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 1-800-Be-Ready. Also, a new web site, www.ready.gov, is online.

Among other tips, the web site suggests:

  • that families store a gallon of water per person per day;

  • that the food stored require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water;

  • that when making an emergency contact plan, families bear in mind that, "it may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-state contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members."

    The television spots will feature Ridge prominently, along with some New York City firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers.

    The announcement comes after two weeks of increased anxiety about a possible terrorist strike.

    Anxiety peaked after the United States increased the nation's terror alert status from "elevated" to "high," and CIA director George Tenet warned that al Qaeda might have planned a strike — possibly involving a "dirty" radiation bomb — for the end of the Muslim pilgrimage, or hajj, last Thursday.

    Worry increased when a new recording apparently featuring al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden surfaced, calling for retaliation for any American action against Iraq.

    The upgraded alert led to the deployment of air defense systems around Washington. New York City police stopped and searched trucks. Officials at Boston Logan Airport evacuated a plane because of a suspicious package.

    Ridge has tried to reduce public worries about a possible imminent attack, reflected in a run on duct tape and plastic sheeting as people prepared to seal their homes from chemical and biological weapons.

    Ridge said Sunday he thought the current terrorism threat level would likely be lowered from the high-risk orange level, but wouldn't say when.

    In a related development, the European Union and United States announced agreement Wednesday on a plan for sharing passenger information on trans-Atlantic flights that satisfies U.S. anti-terrorism laws without violating strict EU data privacy rules.

    The deal, which has eluded both sides for months, was reached after two days of talks this week in Brussels.

    It will require all airlines — European and U.S.-based — to provide passenger data to U.S. authorities starting March 5 for all flights from EU countries to the United States, officials said.

    In return, Washington gave assurances about the "appropriate handling" of the records, which include not only names but also the passenger's itinerary, contact phone number and other details, such as credit card numbers.

    Under the November 2001 law, air carriers must submit passenger data within 15 minutes after the plane departs for the United States. Before it lands, the data is checked against a combined federal law enforcement database, which includes Customs, Immigration, the State Department and the FBI.

    Fines of $10,000 per flight were threatened a year ago but suspended while both sides worked out legal and technical problems.