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Dear Mr. Ridge
February 25, 2003
By Tygrbright

Dear Mr. Ridge,

Although you and I have profound ideological, philosophical, and political differences, I believe we share at least one very important thing: We both care deeply about keeping our fellow-citizens safe, and protecting ourselves from an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world. Because of this, I am willing to put aside my differences with you, and offer you some advice that I hope you will find helpful. I know that, insulated as you must necessarily be by the absorbing concerns of each day's problems; isolated as you are from the rest of us by a wall of bureaucrats and political appointees, you do not always have a chance to hear what your fellow-citizens really want, need, and care about.

You are clearly trying. And I give you and your colleagues credit for a sincere desire to balance the needs of security (not giving terrorists any information that might help them perpetrate their heinous acts,) and safety (helping us protect ourselves from those acts.) But I have to tell you, Mr. Ridge, that honestly, from my viewpoint, you're not hitting the bulls-eye. In fact, you're not even on the target. So here, to help you correct your aim a little, is a list of what is, and is not, helpful to me as a citizen trying to protect myself and my household:

IS NOT HELPFUL
IS (OR WOULD BE) HELPFUL
Orange, Yellow, Green, Red, Pink, Tuquoise, Mauve, etc., alert system. I have no idea what it means or what the hell I'm supposed to do about it. Knowing exactly how I would hear about a real, imminent threat. Something along the lines of the old Civil Defense Broadcasting System would be nice. I'd like to know that all the radio stations and TV stations in my area would quickly inform me, that a certain kind of siren or whistle would blow, etc. And I'd like to know exactly what that meant, what to do immediately, how/when I could get more information, and what would tell me that the danger is past.
Duct Tape and Plastic Sheeting Alerts. Really, Mr. Ridge, this raises more fears and questions than it addresses. Suppose, in the event of an "incident," I go ahead and plastic-and-tape a "safe room" in my house. If I do a seal tight enough to exclude all chemical and biological agents, how long will I be able to breathe in there before it gets a little close? Give me chapter and verse on just how and why this is helpful. I'd like to be able to stop by at my local fire station, town hall, community center, police station, elementary school, etc., and pick up an emergency response kit. The kit would include things that are not readily available in grocery stores, like an effective filter mask, quick-action antidotes for chemical exposure, etc. And a clear, illustrated instruction booklet on how and when to apply these things. And a list of things I can obtain easily for myself and what to do with them. I'd be happy to donate a little cash to pay for this kit, Mr. Ridge. But I want it to be free, because I know there are many, many people in my community who could not afford to donate or pay. And I want to know they have the chance for protection, too.
Hundreds of vague and contradictory communications from official, semi-official, and unofficial sources about what's going on and how to protect myself and my family. I'd like to have a clear, credible, and trustworthy authority charged with the responsibility of keeping everyone informed. I'd like to know that my state and local officials and emergency personnel have a clear channel of communication and a coordinated plan for dealing with contingencies at all levels. I'd like to have a regular program of public education, including school programs, television shows, websites, free computer CDs, etc., that gave consistent, clear, sensible preparedness directions to everyone.
Local officials with no resources for contingency planning or coordinated action in the event of an emergency. I'd feel better if I knew that you were sending my state and local officials the resources they need to make, and communicate to me, clear emergency plans. I'd feel better if I knew they had the resources to recruit, train, and equip emergency response networks of public safety and health workers, and citizens volunteering to supplement those workers. And to communicate with those networks, keep them up to date, hold drills and make sure they are ready to deal with anything. And I'd like to know that they have adequate, accessible stockpiles of the pharmaceuticals and medical supplies they might need, clear evacuation routes and plans communicated to me, emergency shelters and stockpiles of supplies to deal with them.
Spending my tax dollars on a case-by-case effort to police these terrible weapons from a network of states, terrorist organizations, and criminals that are as easy to track and cope with as a whack-a-mole game on steroids. I want at least some of that money to be spent on massive research programs to create ways to decontaminate large areas of land and bodies of water quickly, restore arable acreage, effectively destroy or render harmless toxic agents, develop new treatments and vaccines, and other ways to clean up when the incident does happen. Because I don't believe we're good enough whack-a-mole players to nail every terrorist, every nutball dictator, every well-financed criminal, every time.

And yes, Mr. Ridge, I know these things will take time. You may even be trying to do some of them already. I'm well aware that you're not getting the help and cooperation you need from Congress, and you're welcome to share my letter with them. They will be hearing from me, too. But it would make me feel much better if I heard from you that these things are in the process of becoming real. Show me the folks working to make it happen. Let me hear from credible scientists, planners, and leaders about the progress toward these goals on a regular basis. Give me a timeline. Make me believe. Don't underestimate my intelligence. Don't overestimate my capacity to do too much of this on my own.

And no, Mr. Ridge, I do not ignore or underestimate the cost of all this. I'm willing to pay for it. Please don't cut my taxes-use them to pay for this. And if you still need more money, get in touch with me. I have a list of things my tax dollars are currently paying for that I think I could manage to do without. Let's go over the Federal budget together. I think I can really be helpful, here.

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