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Are you ready?

Emergency preparedness at home

By Henry Schuster

Editor's Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat them. Henry Schuster is away; the column will return in November.







Emergency Planning
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

(CNN) -- We can't seem to shake hurricane season.

And by the time we're done with that, the winter storm season will be upon us.

We've just seen a massive killer earthquake in Asia and a bad case of the terrorism security jitters in two U.S. cities targeted on 9/11. In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, we've spent a lot of time asking if the government is ready.

But here's a slightly different question. Are you ready?

If you are old enough to remember what a fallout shelter is, then you are probably old enough to make fun of them. And most of us tend to scoff or be wary of survivalists who stockpile months or years worth of food and talk about living off the grid.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't have your own emergency kit.

As I was leaving to cover Hurricane Katrina, my oldest son handed me his Boy Scout merit badge book on emergency preparedness.

It is a handy guide and just one of several places you can find out what you need.

Be prepared

If you are not a Boy Scout, a good first stop is, the Web site run by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS got a lot of bad press in 2003 when it recommended that Americans prepare for a terrorist attack by having plenty of duct tape, plastic sheeting and three days worth of food and water on hand, along with a battery-powered radio and an emergency kit.

The recommendations came from David Paulison, who these days happens to be the acting director of FEMA. (Full story)

You can still find the recommendation for duct tape and plastic sheeting in the section on a chemical terrorist attack, but you will find more, including some handy tips in the event there is a dirty bomb or biological attack.

Before you get there, you will find an overview along with sections titled "Get a Plan," "Make a Kit," and "Be Informed." There is a lot of useful information in each category, including tips on how to purify water using household bleach and what to include in your personal or family first aid kit.

You can learn about the best sort of foods to keep on hand (hint: the ones that you don't need to cook and can give you the sort of nutrition you will need) and there's a reminder to make sure you have a manual can opener.

The rule of thumb when it comes to water is a gallon per family member per day, more if you are in a hot climate. That's enough to keep you hydrated and to let you clean up. But printing out all this information isn't necessarily easy or efficient.

Disaster Prep 101

Another option is to get a book like Disaster Prep 101external link by Paul Purcell. Purcell is not a former or present disaster relief professional, and he argues that makes his work more valuable.

"I was never in a box, so I can think outside the box," he says. Disaster Prep 101 is a self-published book, several hundred pages long, complete with a couple of CD-ROMs.

Purcell describes it as more like an encyclopedia of disaster. There are instructions and checklists, some of them the same sort you can find at FEMA's Web site, but all in one place.

There are sections on all sorts of disasters, from hurricanes to earthquakes to terrorist attacks, and there are useful checklists and forms. If you evacuate, for instance, you want to have a Postal Service change-of-address form handy.

A form that you should have filled out for your insurance company that provides a household inventory is another must-have. Purcell's book isn't slick, and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, yet you will find what you need in there.

As for Purcell, he has what he calls a small "bug-out" kit ready to go, including a pack and a little rolling suitcase. And he also has portable carrying cages for his cats and his dog, because if he ever needs to evacuate, he doesn't plan on leaving without his pets (something that became a huge issue in New Orleans).

Earn your merit badge

By the way, my son set up our emergency preparedness stockpile in the basement, according to the Boy Scout recommendations. It includes a lot of the same things I take with me to cover hurricanes, or even when we go on assignments in rough places.

The flashlight, radio, dried food, plenty of water and first aid kit are there. He didn't forget the extra batteries or the can opener. He got his merit badge. Now it is your turn to go shopping and get prepared.

Al-Zawahiri revisited

Al Qaeda's No. 2 weighed in on the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan. In a videotape that found its way to al Jazeera, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Muslims "to go to Pakistan and assist their Pakistani brothers. They should try to outdo one another in this."

The tape is interesting for several reasons: First, al-Zawahiri said he was speaking the day after the earthquake, which would have meant it was recorded on October 9.

It appeared on the Al-Jazeera Arabic-language television network two weeks later, on October 23. That's one of the quickest times between when a tape was recorded and when it was broadcast, an indication that al Qaeda's network in Pakistan remains strong.

Second, al-Zawahiri made it clear, of course, that he survived, but alluded to certain other members of al Qaeda (and quite possibly the Taliban) who did not: "We pray to Allah that he will place our brothers killed in the earthquake alongside the martyrs and the righteous."

No word on Osama bin Laden, but one can presume he would have been mentioned if he had died.

The third reason is al-Zawahiri's political acumen in trying to exploit the crisis for al Qaeda's gain. He castigated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government as "a branch of the CIA" and attacked the Americans for their war on Islamic charities (not mentioning their connection to terrorism), but still urged Muslims to help out.

Al-Zawahiri's insistence on playing the political angle echoes the purported letter from him to al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that we discussed last week (Full story)

Verifying the videotape is of course much easier than the letter.

Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit and the author of "Imperial Hubris," weighs in on why he thinks the letter is the real thing:

"It was clearly a personal letter and not one meant as a public declaration. The other so-called experts who are running it down clearly suffer from limited experience in reading what OBL and Zawahiri say. The content is pure AQ. I of course never say never, but I would be greatly surprised if this is a forgery."

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