by Lyric Wallwork Winik

Originally published in Parade Magazine
August 29, 2004

Renewed fears of a terrorist strike are raising a hard issue: If something terrible happens, many citizens would likely be on their own. If an explosion hit, would you know how to protect yourself from everything from asbestos to radiation? do you know what a biological attack is and how to respond?  And what should be in your family plan and disaster kit?  A ground breaking new national initiative can help. The America Prepared Campaign - led by Steven Brill who founded Court TV - is a nonprofit, nonpartisan effort designed to help Americans prepare for disaster, with a focus on terrorism. The campaign aims to give citizens useful information and tools for preparing their homes and families.

Emergency preparedness seminars, cosponsored by Starbucks and the American Red Cross, are coming to major cities starting next month. Nationwide, classrooms will receive special materials to help students and their families put together a disaster kit, make a plan and stay informed. There also will be special Web sits and public-service information. The special quiz that follows is designed to let you check your own preparedness. (the questions and their answers contain valuable advice.)  It doesn't matter how you score - taking this quiz may help save your life:

Visit http://www.americaprepared.org  for tips on how to create a disaster plan and an emergency kit for your family. You'll also find other advice and information on how to recognize the various threats.


1: True or false?  You're near an explosion. You should cover your nose and mouth with a cotton T-shirt or dust mask right away.

Answer; True: Covering your nose and mouth can help avoid exposure to toxic particles or radioactive dust.

2:  Which best describes a 'dirty bomb'?

A. A miniature nuclear device.
B. An explosive device that releases chemicals.
C. An explosive device that releases a biological agent.
D. An explosive device that spread radioactive materials over a specific area.

Answer: D. A dirty bomb spreads radioactive materials.

3. True or false? A dirty bomb will kill everyone within 5 miles and make buildings uninhabitable for years.

Answer: False. As with any bomb, people will likely be killed by the initial blast, and some will develop radiation sickness, but how dangerous the bomb is and whether buildings are contaminated depends on how much radioactive material was used.

4. If there is an explosion that may be a dirty bomb or other radiological incident, or if authorities warn of a radiation release nearby, where is the best shelter?

A. High up in a building.
B. Low down in a basement or cellar.

Answer: B. Being sheltered by a thick wall and being blow ground offers more protection. Your best option is window-less room you can seal off, with enough air for several hours.

NOTE: Don't seal the room so tight that you die from lack of oxygen.

5. The warning signs of chemical attack include people suddenly becoming violently ill, choking or passing out. If you see this, what's the first thing to do?

A. Leave the area as fast as possible.
B. Cover your mouth and nose with fabric, then run away.
C. Head for a basement and seal all doors and windows.
D. Cover your nose and mouth and wait for emergency personnel to arrive to be decontaminated.

Answer: A. Unlike in an explosion with debris, dust masks or cotton T-shirts won't protect you in a chemical attack.

6. In the event of a biological attack, which is 'not' true?

A. A biological attack may not immediately be obvious.
B. During a biological attack, germs or other substances that can make you sick are released.
C. You can become sick by inhaling, eating or touching a biological agent.
D. All biological agents create contagious diseases.

Answer: D. Some of the scariest biological agents, such as anthrax, are not contagious.

7. Unlike an explosion, a biological attack may not be immediately obvious. If you see signs of unusual illness, or a biological attack is reported on the radio or TV, where is the safest place to seek shelter.

A. High up in a building.
B. Low down in a basement or cellar.

Answer: A. Biological agents will settle on the ground - so the higher up you can get, the better.

8. In the event of an explosion (or a natural disaster, such as a tornado or a hurricane), you may become trapped under debris. Which of the following steps is the worst one you can take to alert rescuers?

A. Tap on a pipe or a wall.
B. Use a flashlight.
C. Shout.

Answer: C. Shout only as a last resort. You can inhale dangerous dust. Instead, you should try to keep your nose and mouth covered.

9. Which statement is false about sheltering during an emergency?

A. You may need to create our own shelter in your home or workplace.
B. Shelters must accept pets.
C. When evacuating to a community shelter, bring a disaster supply kit.
D. You may be instructed to shelter where you are during a chemical attack, even if you are in the area of the chemical release.

Answer: B. Pets are not permitted in emergency shelters for health reasons. a hotel or motel that accepts pets may be an alternative. Be sure to have copies of all pet health records, a secure pet carrier or leash, ID tags, and enough food, water and medicine for at least three days for your pet.

10. How can you find or create safe drinking water?

A. Boil water for 3 to 5 minutes.
B. Add 16 drops of bleach per gallon.
C. Use water from a radiator.
D. Use water from the hot-water heater, if undamaged.

Answer: A, B, and D. Radiators are NEVER a safe source of drinking water. Boiling is the safest method. Adding 1/8 teaspoon of unscented bleach can treat a gallon of water but won't kill parasites.

11. Have you prepared a family communications disaster plan that includes a meeting place away from your home, work, or school, a family contact person in another city or town, and a list of phone numbers for each family member?

A. Yes
B. No

If you haven't, you have work to do. A good disaster plan should be flexible, with many different ways of communicating. Local phone lines may be over-whelmed, s it can help to have an out-of-town person you can call to check in with and who can relay messages. You should have a child's school phone number and know what the school disaster plan is - some schools may keep kids on school grounds. Establishing two family meeting sites, a primary and a backup and deciding who will be responsible for locating which children in advance also can help if all communications go down. Visit www.america.prepared.org  and click on "Make a Plan" for more information and an easy-to-use family communications plan template.

12. What should you have in an emergency kit?

A. Food.
B. Water
C. First-aid kit
D. Battery-powered radio
E. Flashlight and extra batteries
F. Other essentials, such as prescription medications.

Answer: All of the above. These items should be easily accessible if you have to shelter in your own house or leave suddenly to evacuate in case of an emergency. You don't need to stockpile antibiotics - misuse can cause serious health problems.

Go to www.americaprepared.org and click on "Get a Kit" for a full list of what you should have on hand in the event of a disaster.