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Out of harm's way: For terrorists or tornados, precautions are the same

Monday, March 10, 2003

SIKESTON - Whether the threat is from terrorists or natural disasters, government officials at all levels from federal to local are urging readiness.

"Preparation for disasters basically follow the same guidelines," said Joe Burton, E-911 administrator for Scott County.

Kits, supplies and emergency plans prepared for an earthquake, for example, should serve just as well in the event of a tornado. "If you are prepared for a major disaster, then you're pretty much prepared for anything," Burton said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security readiness campaign site advises citizens to ''Make a Kit. Make a Plan. Be Informed.'' and recent news stories on duct tape and plastic sheeting have brought the concept of "sheltering in place" to the forefront.

Many people are still confused on the particulars, however - when and where to take shelter, how to get emergency information, what supplies to have on hand, and how to properly use the duct tape and plastic sheeting.

"In-place sheltering is something I think people should be aware of and ready to do," said Burton. "It's for more than just terrorist events. It's done for several reasons - and it's important for people to know what to do."

Although he believes this area is "low down on the list" for terrorist attacks, Burton wants to make it clear that he is not saying a terrorist attack can't happen here, "because it can."

Major pipelines and communications lines running through this area could be potential targets, Burton said, "but natural disasters are more imminent to us in this particular area. We're approaching our tornado season right now. That will pose more of a threat locally than other things going on around the world."

Sheltering in place is different from taking shelter in severe weather, however, as it is intended for short periods of time only.

If a dangerous chemical or biological agent is released into the environment - intentionally or accidentally - local authorities may recommend taking refuge in a sealed, interior room in the home for a few hours until the hazardous material dissipates.

"It may keep you alive a bit longer - maybe until help gets there or the germs or chemicals blow away," Burton said.

Authorities advised that the basement may not be the best choice. Some chemicals are heavier than air and may seep into basements first, so choose an interior room without windows that is at or above ground level.

The Red Cross offers complete instructions on how to safely shelter in place, including the following:

* Close and lock all windows and exterior doors.

* Turn off all fans, heaters, air conditioners and hot water heaters and close fireplace dampers.

* Gather your family, your disaster supply kit and your pets along with additional food and water supplies for them.

* Use duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal cracks around the doors and vents into the room.

* Keep listening to your radio or television until you are told it is safe to leave your shelter.

According to experts, a tightly-sealed 10-by-10-foot room will have enough oxygen to last one person for about five hours.

As planning ahead is crucial to safely sheltering in place, the American Red Cross recommends families should prepare a communications plan and a disaster supply kit ahead of time with items such as food, water, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, first aid kit and any necessary prescription medications.

If local emergency officials determine sheltering in place is necessary, instructions will be broadcast via television, radio and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios, which can sound an alert and broadcast emergency information not only when there is severe weather in an area but also in other types of emergencies such as hazardous material incidents.

For more information on sheltering in place, visit www.redcross.org/services/disaster/bepre... or call the Red Cross national preparedness information hotline at 1-866-GET INFO.

On the Net: U.S. Department of Homeland Security readiness campaign site: http://www.ready.gov/

Or call 1-800-BE-READY