When I was in high school, one of my favorite social studies teachers told a story about her own childhood in the 1950s.
After she heard an estimate of how long it would take for fallout from a bomb -- if one hit a nearby city -- to reach her home, she developed her own emergency preparedness test.
Starting at her school, she would run like the wind toward her house and compare the time it took with the estimated time the fallout would reach the same area.
She realized she could never make it in time.
Twenty years later, she would attempt to impart to her students the depth of the fear that realization brought upon her. She must have done a good job, because it's been more than 20 years since she told me the story, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
I also remember having trouble imagining what it would be like to live with that type of threat. Although I grew up during the Vietnam War, for me it was merely something you saw on the evening news, something that made "peace signs" a fashion statement.
Unfortunately, my daughter would have little trouble relating to the type of fear that made my teacher do test runs from school to home. She was 6 when terrorists hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- and when reports of war in Iraq come on our television screen, she stands and watches with a look that pierces my heart.
Mostly, right now, she wants to be reassured that nothing's going to happen to her. That she and her family are safe. Which would be much easier for parents if not for 9-11.
In 1991, when last we went to war against Iraq, I joked with a friend who teaches swimming classes that her winter session lasted longer than the war. Then, although contemporaries of mine served in the Gulf, we were in the pre-9-11 innocence -- we thought we were safe at home.
Now, as we begin Operation Iraqi Freedom, we have a a Level Orange Terror Threat -- the second-highest level of alarm set up by the Homeland Security Administration.
It means, we are told, that we should be prepared for "disruptions and delays of normal activities." It means, according to the Threat Level Guidelines, that we should use caution when traveling, be prepared to work at alternate sites and should "take additional precautions at special events." For businesses and for those who work in public safety, precautions and preparations called for at Level Orange are more numerous than for individuals.
I would urge everyone to check out the Threat Level Guidelines on the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) web site.
What you'll find is not only that Level Orange is a particularly sobering place to be, but Level Green -- the lowest level on the terror chart -- isn't exactly the 100-Acre Wood. There, at Level Green, is where you'll see the first references to preparing disaster kits with food, water and emergency supplies and coordinating meeting places and communication plans with family and neighbors.
Even in DEMA's Family Emergency Preparedness Brochure, terrorism falls in with hurricanes and floods as events that we need to prepare for. The DEMA web site contains information on everything from what to put in your family's disaster kit to how to talk to your kids about terrorism. Sobering, yes, but these are the times we live in.
It's very hard to read those guidelines and not want to get in your car and go to the grocery store and stock up on water, non-perishable food, duct tape and batteries. Most of us laughed at those who stocked up for Y2K calamities that never occured. Now, we find ourselves gathering those same supplies.
When the first Level Orange alert was posted in early February, Delaware's public safety secretary, James L. Ford Jr., said "people should not think they must alter their lives or curtail activities. Rather, they should increase their own security and that of the nation by being as informed as possible."
Of course, all our lives have already been altered. How we proceed from here is up to us. I would urge everyone to at least read the preparedness information provided by DEMA. Then you can make your own decisions on what steps you need to take to meet your own comfort levels.
Preparing for terrorism may seem silly, and it may seem like simply an exercise in pointlessness. But unlike the efforts of that little girl who ran home from school, it's more likely to bring comfort than to increase fear levels.
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