Do-it-yourself Homeland Security

As it is widely known, the U.S. federal government recently advised Americans to be prepared for a possible biological or chemical terrorist attack. How does one defend against such insidious weapons of mass destruction? Apparently, with a roll of duct tape and some plastic sheeting.

You, the vigilant do-it-yourselfer, can convert any small room into a bio-shelter in one evening. And, while I doubt we’ll be seeing this renovation project on an episode of Trading Spaces anytime soon, millions of Americans are already making their own “panic rooms.”

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar, like something you might have heard about in history class? It should, because this isn’t the first time the American people have worried about imminent attack with weapons of mass destruction. There are a few differences; but substitute al Qaeda for Comintern, bin Laden for Kruschev, “War on Terror” for “Cold War,” and Anthrax for Atom bomb, and the situation today is not that far removed from the 1950s.

So what was the response to the threat of attack in the 1950s? Duck and cover. The public were told that in case of a nuclear attack, they could protect themselves by ducking under a desk or a table. Of course, back then, the American people didn’t really understand the sheer destructive force of the Atomic bomb, or they would have realized that “Duck and Cover” was nothing more than a government ploy to reassure an anxious populace.

Today, the American government realizes that even the average person knows they’re screwed if somebody drops the bomb. So instead the promise has been made that National Missile Defense will keep the bombs from reaching their targets. But here’s the catch: NMD is years away from being effective, while North Korea has nuclear weapons and the missiles to carry them to the west coast of the U.S. today.

Rather than get people panicked about that possibility, the government is keeping them panicked about al Qaeda and their biological or chemical weapons. But a panicked nation is still a panicked nation, so they need to be reassured, to be told that they can somehow protect themselves from such an attack, preferably by using cheap, American-made, readily available household products. Hence, duct tape and plastic sheeting. The duct-tape scheme is reminiscent of “Duck and Cover” in many ways, including the similar name, the fact that it seems ridiculously easy to foil the attack, and the fact that it won’t do you much good.

Duct-taped, airtight panic rooms will almost all fail, for one of two reasons: either they will be airtight, or they won’t. Most likely, the duct-tape method will not achieve an airtight seal, because the home’s ventilation won’t be covered. It will then fail to protect the inhabitants because household furnace filters, oddly enough, aren’t designed to filter out mustard gas or smallpox. And besides, most people don’t change or clean the filters every six months as they are supposed to. However, if the homeowner covers the ventilation, making a small airtight room, then the people in the room will die of asphyxiation in relatively short order, unless they happen to have an oxygen supply on hand.

This is where the new scheme truly distinguishes itself from the old one: nobody ever died from a “Duck and Cover” false alert.

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