Ready or Not: Gets a Facelift

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release announcing that it had updated its citizen preparedness web site,, 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 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 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 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 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.

3 thoughts on “Ready or Not: Gets a Facelift

  1. We don’t need… why can’t Americans be self-sufficient and figure out what they need? You know what, I bet DHS spent millions on contractors to get up.

    The information on won’t exactly help to protect you, it’ll just make you feel safer because “it’s what the government says.”

  2. Does this mean the “duck and cover” method has been dropped as an official best practice? ;) Golly! Why not drop the “don’t look directly at the sun… or nuclear explosions” section while we’re at it!?

  3. i think is for more than just ‘duck and cover’ … it’s a way to have people cover their asses in case the power goes out, and you become homesteaders involuntarily.

    i give ‘em kudos for tactfully not scaring the hell out of you with doomsday scenarios.

    how tough is it to throw a buncha stuff in a rubbermaid container and tuck it away???

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