On October 8, 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the stolid, George Reeves-y Tom Ridge was sworn in as the first Office of Homeland Security Advisor. At the request of President George W. Bush, Ridge resigned as Governor of Pennsylvania to take the position. On March 12, 2002 Ridge introduced the most iconic symbol thus far of the War on Terror: The Homeland Security Advisory System (aka the Terror Alert Level, aka that color coded chart thing).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed November 25, 2002 by the Homeland Security Act and Ridge became the first Secretary of the enormous new government agency on January 24, 2003. Less than a month later an ambitious focus-grouped 1.2 million dollar public relations campaign dubbed "Ready" was unveiled. This media strategy included a website (, television spots and a good old fashioned government pamphlet entitled Preparing Makes Sense. Get Ready Now.

Long after the War on Terror is over we will be left with a few or more tangible souvenirs from this potentially very lengthy period in history. CONELRAD is already collecting these items in the event that science allows our editors to achieve immortality.

One such War on Terror keepsake is the DHS Preparing Makes Sense booklet. It doesn't quite have the overheated pizazz of many similar Cold War era civil defense publications. In fact, on a Boredom Alert scale, we'd have to rate it a borderline Vanilla. This is mainly due to the discreet use of illustrations in the booklet. Most of the Cold War preparedness pamphlets had alarming, over-the-top graphics of mushroom clouds and people trapped under radioactive rubble. The most dramatic thing you can find in Preparing Makes Sense is a photo of a guy passively looking at the website.

Page five of the booklet is significant because it features that much maligned government recommendation of "plastic sheeting, duct tape." Remember those crazy lines at Home Depot? What nostalgia! Page 9 offers repeated advice to think about "shielding, distance and time" when confronting a nuclear blast or a "dirty bomb." As in this passage found under the heading "Nuclear Blast":

If there is a flash or fireball, take cover immediately, below ground if possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave. In order to limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to, think about shielding distance and time. If you have a thick shield between yourself and the radioactive materials, it will absorb more of the radiation and you will be exposed to less. Similarly, the farther away you are from the blast and fallout, the lower your exposure. Finally, minimizing time spent exposed will also reduce your risk.

The civil defense propaganda of the War on Terror may be different in tone and approach from the "educational" material presented to the public during the Cold War, but somehow we have the feeling that the net effect is the same: If the Bomb does go off, we're all screwed!

For more DHS fun, see CONELRAD's review of the Ready Kids Activity Book.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
February 2003


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