Tom Ridge PSAs Stress Civil Defense Reality

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Client: Department of Homeland Security
Agency: Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.
Star Rating: 3

Want to protect yourself against terror? Take a roll of duct tape -- by now you probably have plenty of that -- and cut it carefully into eight 19-inch strips. Take those

New Homeland Security PSA features a folksy Tom Ridge.
strips and cover the screen of your TV.

Civil defense makes a comeback
Not since the early '60s, when America contemplated the ethics of shooting the next-door neighbor and other potential fallout-shelter trespassers, have the media been so awash in dire warnings. Civil liberties are out the window, but civil defense is suddenly making a big comeback.

At the moment, the U.S. is poised at Code Orange, which translates approximately to "Don't Say We Didn't Warn You." That's one level above Code Yellow ("Do Not Use Near Open Flame") and just one below the maximum Code Red ("Allahu Akbar!") Every morning the AdReview staff rises, walks right past the newspapers and consults the latest Internet headlines, just to make sure we're not already dead.

Tom Ridge, pitchman
So now comes a series of public-service announcements directing us to a Web site -- www.ready.gov -- which sounds like a stuttering cockney taxi driver but in fact is a detailed clearing house for what to do when the anthrax hits the fan. Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge looks soothingly relaxed and folksy in telling us to prepare or else. With his gentle delivery and warm smile, he's half Bill Ford trying to sell you a pickup truck and half Jerry Falwell, just after he's informed you you're going to burn in hell.

"We asking America to be ready," he grins, in the work from Martin Agency, Richmond, Va. "And we will be ready."

Or not, because this readiness effort is about 17 months late. A

succession of frantic false alarms have made Ridge the Boy Who Cried Anthrax. But what's a Secretary of Homeland Security to do?

Protecting its citizens
It's easy to scold the administration for fomenting needless anxiety, especially with vague alerts about imminent catastrophe, we know not what, we know not where. On the other hand, the government has the duty to protect its citizens, and guidelines for planning ahead for non-specific but certain calamity do not constitute fear mongering. They constitute common sense. If a big snowfall denudes the supermarket shelves of water and milk, as it did along the northeast corridor a week ago, imagine what civil chaos an earthquake will set off in our complacent society, much less a dirty bomb.

The new Web site and the Ad Council campaign to promote it show the first signs that the Bush administration understands how to use the media to defend the citizenry, as opposed to terrifying it. Those little colored warning flags do nobody any good, but the dispensing of real information is the first line of civil defense.

That and the duct tape -- which won't protect you from bioterrorism, maybe, but is handy to have around. Instant carpentry, auto repair, binding and gagging shoe bombers, whatever.