On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release announcing that it had updated its citizen preparedness web site, Ready.gov, with “special preparedness information for pet owners, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities and special needs,” and “increased state and local information.” Through a meticulous comparison of the new Ready.gov to a version archived by FAS in early June, we found that the changes are largely cosmetic.
The Good News
The revised site includes valuable information for seniors and pet owners, a constructive change from the nominal details previously available. The state and local information is more comprehensive, which is good news since familiarity with community response plans is essential to preparedness. Summaries of FEMA’s information on preparedness and response for 12 natural disasters have also been added to Ready.gov. Changes to layout make the site significantly easier to navigate; however, there are still many problems.
The Bad News
Even though DHS claims that its disabilities information is revised, a simple comparison to a 2003 version of Ready.gov demonstrates that not a single word has changed in the past three years. This remains a serious issue because the advice is too broad and does not answer important questions about special considerations to make when developing an evacuation plan or how to create a support network to help you, as the National Organization on Disability suggests. DHS has also failed to rectify inaccurate information on other pages of its site, such as a recommendation to get out of the area if possible during an outdoor chemical attack. Experts at RAND have declared that evacuation should never be considered as a response to this kind of attack. Instead you should go to the upper floor of the closest building and seal yourself into a room (see the RAND study).
Almost all of the material on the “new” site was copied verbatim from the previous version, which means that unnecessarily lengthy descriptions and obvious advice have not been edited out. For example, “Quickly assess the situation,” the first instruction for responding to a nuclear attack, is an innate response that does not need to be dictated to concerned citizens. DHS has made some beneficial first steps with its updates. However, if Ready.gov really aims to prepare the American public for natural disasters and terrorist attacks, more than updating a few pages and changing the color scheme needs to be done. According to DHS the site had 23 million unique visitors from February 2003 to March 2006. People who visit the site deserve accurate and useful information. The revised site is better, but not adequate.