Magazine article The New Yorker

READY OR NOT HERE IN THE HOMELAND Series: 4/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

READY OR NOT HERE IN THE HOMELAND Series: 4/5

Article excerpt

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, was at the Fire Museum in SoHo last week, at a breakfast meeting to promote his department's new antiterrorism public-information campaign, which is called Ready. The program consists of television spots, brochures to be distributed to libraries and post offices, placements in the Yellow Pages, and an elaborate Web site that explains the difference between a chemical attack and a biological one, and includes a handy glossary of terrorism-related terminology. The site, Ready.gov, urges Americans to stock up on three days' worth of food and water, invest in flashlights, keep the car's tank at least half full of gas at all times, decide on the best routes out of town, and develop a "family communications plan," so that, if disaster should strike, everyone can congregate and go where the food, water, flashlights, gas, and nearest uncongested freeways might be.

Attending the breakfast along with Secretary Ridge were editors from such publications as Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, and Parenting, who had been selected to convey the government's readiness message to the public because, as Susan Neely, Ridge's assistant secretary for public affairs, explained, "Mothers are two-thirds more likely to be making preparedness plans." Ridge, who was looking much more tanned and relaxed than he does in the sober television spots produced for the Ready campaign by the Ad Council, sought common ground with the editors by chatting about his own children. "I used to coach my daughter's softball team when I was governor," he said. "She's very competitive. I don't know where she gets that. She gets very frustrated when she doesn't play well. I remember my son saying to her after one game, 'Sissy, breathe in; breathe out.' "

Advice of quite a different kind is to be found on the Ready.gov Web site: there, Americans are urged to make face masks out of towels or T-shirts for all family members to wear in the event of an unspecified attack that may release into the air what the site demotically if vaguely refers to as "junk." Ridge said that on the evening of September 11, 2001, he faced the task of telling his kids not what had happened but why it had happened. "It is going to be a changed world for my children," he said. "I am fifty-seven years old, and the time I've been alive has probably been the best time ever to be an American citizen. There was Vietnam--that blip on the scene that caused some social unrest--but there was prosperity, and we didn't have to worry about international terrorism." He told his audience that his wife, Michele, had stocked the Ridge household in Maryland with sufficient water and provisions for three days, although he did not mention the fact, later provided by his press office, that there were also sufficient supplies for the family's three Labradors. …

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