For months, Bush administration critics have been beating up on the president for not telling the American people what they can do to help protect themselves in the war against terrorism. Then, when the government finally comes out with a list of things to do, it's widely belittled.
The president's foes seem to have him in a game of "heads they win, tails he loses."
Admittedly, some of the advice coming out of the newly created Department of Homeland Security is kind of silly. For instance, purchasing duct tape and plastic to cover windows and doors in the event of a chemical or biological attack makes little sense, say experts, because you won't know to put up the protection until you've been exposed to the poison - and by then it's too late.
Much of the rest of the advice is just good common sense. You can take it or leave it, depending on how secure it makes you feel. One key suggestion calls for creating an emergency communication plan of your own. Why? Because if terrorists strike your region, local phone lines could be overloaded with calls or even knocked out of commission.
So choose someone out of the area for family members to contact by cell-phone or e-mail and make sure every household member has the contact's number and e-mail address.
Here are some other suggestions we don't think should be belittled:
Build a disaster supply kit. Store enough food and water for the family for at least three days, plus "special needs" items like prescriptions, baby formulas and first aid kits. Extra clothes, essential documents and important family memorabilia should also be included.
Keep on hand a battery-powered radio or TV set. This will enable you to follow events and hear instructions from emergency officials.
If there's an attack, stay home unless authorities advise you otherwise. Trying to "get out" could expose you to dangerous agents or tie you up in traffic for hours or even days.
Find out what schools' emergency plans are if you have children. If the plans are vague, then work with the schools to get more explicit instructions. In an emergency, you may not be able to be with your kids, but you should at least be assured the schools are doing everything possible to keep them safe.
These are important, practical steps to take if your community comes under terrorist attack. If you can take care of yourself and your family during a crisis, it frees up emergency responders to go where they are needed the most and can do the most good.