Thursday, February 20, 2003

Time to get ready, Ridge tells nation



By Cindi Andrews
and Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge unveils the Ready Campaign Wednesday at the Red Cross' Cincinnati headquarters.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
Get ready to see and hear a lot of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in coming months.

Through television, radio and newspapers, he'll be urging Americans to take a few simple measures to protect themselves in case of terrorist attack.

It's the Ready Campaign, and Ridge kicked it off Wednesday in Cincinnati.

"Terrorists force us to make a choice," he said. "We can be afraid or we can be ready. Americans aren't afraid, and we will be ready."

Ridge spoke to an audience of more than 200 local emergency and elected officials, as well as national and local media, at the American Red Cross building on Sycamore Street downtown.

"After September 11, many of you wrote a check, volunteered or raised the flag," Ridge said. "Now we're asking you to write an emergency plan, buy supplies and hang a list of contact numbers on the wall."

WATCH WCPO VIDEO
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of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in Cincinnati Wednesday
INFOGRAPHIC
Spreading the word about terrorism
No one can assume their city won't be a target, he said. "The next attack could happen in any community at any time."

That's why the Ready Campaign asks everyone to:

• Make a kit. An emergency kit should include a three-day supply of food and water, a flashlight and a battery-operated radio.

"Oh, and yes, I have to say, stash away the duct tape," he added, to laughter. "Don't use it. Stash it away."

The recommendation to use duct tape to seal off a safe place in an emergency has become a national punch line for comics who consider the safeguard absurd.

• Make a plan. Families, schools and communities should have a plan for who's in charge and how to keep in touch in case of an emergency, Ridge said.

• Be informed. The Department of Homeland Security debuted a Web site - www.ready.gov - and phone number - 1-800-BE-READY - for citizens to get information and tips on preparedness.

Once individuals have done these things, Ridge said, they should stop worrying about terror attacks and get on with their lives. The color-coded warning system is intended for public safety officials, not for citizens. The country is at an orange alert, the second-highest level.

"If you are prepared ... you have done what the country has asked you to do," he said. "At that point, it's basically irrelevant whether the threat level is yellow or orange or red."

Ridge returned to Cincinnati to unveil his Ready Campaign, he said, because the community is a model "as to the way we hope things can be done around the country."

Before speaking, he attended a roundtable discussion with about two dozen emergency officials and leaders of the community's infrastructure, such as roads and the water supply.

They urged him to press for more federal money to pay for more equipment, training and personnel.

Some officials were disappointed after hearing Ridge's speech, which steered clear of money issues.

"This is duct tape, a can of tuna and a PSA," said Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, referring to Ridge's public service announcements urging ordinary citizens to keep supplies on hand in case of attack. "We need more than lip service."

A growing number of public officials in Hamilton County and across the country have raised concerns in recent months about what they see as a lack of financial support from Washington.

Cincinnati Fire Chief Robert Wright also raised the issue during a turn at the microphone after Ridge's speech.

"As you know, fire departments are not flush with cash," Wright said. "We're counting on this funding so we can do a better job for our public."

Ridge assured Wright there is money in the Homeland Security Department's $3.5 billion budget for training and equipment. But he didn't say how much of that money might trickle down to Hamilton County or Cincinnati.

But some local officials praised the Ready Campaign.

"If a community doesn't let the fear factor take over, it makes our job much easier," said William "B.J." Jetter, chairman of the Hamilton County Urban Search and Rescue's executive committee.

The campaign is a joint effort with the American Red Cross, the Ad Council, the Sloan Foundation, and other public and private agencies. Cincinnati-based CBD Media will be publishing a two-page insert on citizen preparedness that'll appear in new Yellow Pages directories across the country.

U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the ads strike just the right balance, informing Americans without unnecessarily frightening them.

He also said it was smart to work closely with the private sector to produce and air public service announcements at little or no cost to taxpayers.

"This is a quintessentially American approach, which means it will work," Portman said. "This campaign is exactly what we need right now."

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com or dhorn@enquirer.com




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