2006.03.29 There's tuna under the bed

Written by David Green.


Whatever happened to the good old days of terror threats? We used to bop around from Yellow to Orange because of “credible evidence,” and specific parts of the country would even go to Red on occasion.

It seems as though changes came about every month or so back in 2004 leading into the presidential election. Now it’s just a bland Yellow day after day. At least I think it is. Let me take a brief visit to the Ohio state government website where it’s always posted.

There we are: Yellow—elevated, a significant risk of terrorist attack. Endless fear. I’ve read that the threat level has never dropped below Yellow and it’s also been pointed out that the colors are out of order. To match the R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. scheme of the rainbow spectrum, green should appear above blue.

Tom Ridge was in charge of Homeland Security back in the old days of fear in 2004. That’s when everyone was supposed to buy plastic and duct tape and prepare to seal themselves into a room with a case of baked beans while waiting for the poisoned air outside the house to clear up. Air inside the room was quite another matter.

We don’t hear so much about anthrax attacks anymore. The threat now comes from chickens and other birds through avian flu. This time it’s Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt offering suggestions for survival.

Leavitt spoke in Wyoming earlier this month about a potential flu pandemic that could sweep the nation like in 1918 when millions of people died. Leavitt’s talk wasn’t all that comforting. He thinks the possibility of the Big One looms large and he says that no one in the world is prepared for it.

In other words, don’t expect much help from Washington, although there are some very specific plans to quarantine entire cities, shut down air service, etc., in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.

Preparation for the pandemic lies at the local level and here’s Leavitt’s suggestion:

When you go to the store and buy three cans of tuna fish, buy a fourth and put it under the bed. When you go to the store to buy some milk, pick up a box of powdered milk. Put it under the bed. When you do that for a period of four to six months, you are going to have a couple of weeks of food, and that’s what we’re talking about.

You’re going to have a couple weeks of milk and tuna, anyway. I’d rather go with Tom Ridge’s baked beans, but unfortunately, this family didn’t heed his warning and we still don’t have our supply of terror food.

It’s easy to joke about milk and tuna, but you have to admit, there’s nothing wrong with preparing for an emergency. That goes for the federal government, too. Billions of dollars have been spent somehow on bioterror preparation. But if it’s up to local communities to prepare, then why does funding for public health get sliced with every new budget? Big tax cuts+weak economy+war=well, something’s got to go.  

If I can make my way through the 260-page reference guide for media I received from Mr. Leavitt a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be better prepared to report on the next flu pandemic or ebola outbreak.

I’m learning many interesting facts. I’m twice as likely to die by suicide than by criminal homicide. If our water supply is found to contain one part per trillion of a poisonous agent, that’s the same as having one drop of vermouth in a pool of gin covering the area of a football field 43 feet deep. Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States have all worked on anthrax and botulinum weaponry. Plague-infected corpses and fleas have been used as weapons in the past.

There’s a deep purple section of the book called “Self-Care for Media.” Here I learn that some newsrooms have purchased “escape hoods” for reporters; that I should carry my will, immunization records, etc. in a waterproof container; that symbolic actions can sometimes be helpful, such as flying the flag.

Sitting in a dark room can relieve headaches and meditation can clear the mind, Mr. Leavitt’s book tells me, but what I really want to know is how he’s preparing for the worst. More than anything, I want to know how many cans of tuna are under his bed.

  – March 29, 2006
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