Civil Defense Leaders Urge Preparedness

People should prepare, not panic.

That's the advice from emergency officials as America remains on high terrorist alert.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Robert Latham says families should develop and review a family disaster plan.

That plan should include an evacuation route, a communication plan and a disaster supply kit. Latham says that kit should include enough supplies to survive seven days without power or water. And you should have a battery powered television or radio.

Latham says people should also be prepared to seal off a room with tape and plastic sheeting.

Civil defense officials say preparing for possible terrorism is a lot like planning for a hurricane. The big difference is the uncertainty. Weather radar provides advance warning about hurricanes. But a possible terrorist attack is nearly impossible to predict.

Jackson County civil defense director, Todd Adams, says the surprise nature of a terrorist attack certainly raises the anxiety level for feeling safe and secure at home. But the best advice is to prepare and not panic.

"We preach this year round. I don't care if it's a hurricane or tornado or hazardous material incident from the highway. You always have to be prepared and have these things ready to go in place, whether it's a family disaster supply kit or learning how to shelter in place," said Adams.

He says staying safe from terrorist threats such as chemical attacks means relying on some basics of civil defense.

"Shelter in place means to keep the good air in and the bad air out. That's the bottom line," Adams explained.

The civil defense director created a video for hazardous chemical spills, but it's advice also applies to chemical threats.

Seeking shelter indoors with clean air means closing all doors and windows, turning off the heater and air conditioner, and sealing off all other air vents, like the flue on a fireplace.

"We in emergency management deal with the consequence of terrorism. We deal with the consequence of natural disasters all the time. And it's pretty much the same thing. Get some supplies that you can sustain on for at least three or four days," said Adams.

Those old enough to remember will recall an earlier time when America was vigilant about a possible nuclear attack. There's a worn out yet stark reminder of those days just outside the Jackson County sheriff's office: a fallout shelter sign. The orange and black civil defense signs were a common sight in the 50's and 60'.

The government even sponsored a civil defense cartoon featuring Burt the turtle. It's message was to "Duck and Cover", which was also the name of the animated video.

The warning dealt with the threat of nuclear attack.

"Duck and Cover" is not today's message, but the warning to be prepared is much the same.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd recently received top security clearance from the F-B-I. He'll share necessary information with police and the public.

"Certainly we've had no indication at this point that we have anything to be concerned about. But you never know. You never actually know where they will strike. We do have some potential areas that could be targets. Therefore we have beefed up security at those places," said Sheriff Byrd.