Are “safe rooms” a good idea?

I recently watched a report on the evening news describing how to build a “safe room” in your home to prepare your family for a biological attack. Is it really a good idea for people

I recently watched a report on the evening news describing how to build a “safe room” in your home to prepare your family for a biological attack. Is it really a good idea for people to be building safe rooms, or did this news story do more to inspire panic?

Americans are prone to obsess over private security whenever there is a national threat. During the early Cold War, people built bomb shelters in their back yards and learned to duck-and-cover. During the Y2K scare, people stocked their homes with canned foods, flashlights, blankets and electric generators. With this latest threat, people are beginning to outfit their homes against biological warfare.

Building a safe room in your home is no more effective or necessary than ducking and covering during a nuclear explosion. The suggested safe room supplies include enough food to last a family only three days.

Supposedly, within those three days, either an all-clear announcement will be made over the radio, or officials will come and rescue people from their homes.

That is a nice plan, but is it reasonable to expect it to work? If the government’s response to the recent spread of anthrax is any indication, the government will not go door-to-door rescuing people and probably will not be able to give an all-clear signal in just three days. If you happen to be a high-ranking government official you will be taken care of, but the average citizen will not receive the same quick and decisive care.

Anyone who does build a safe room should be ready for a very long wait. However, even a safe room stocked with a month’s worth of food and supplies would probably not be effective in an actual emergency. The average citizen does not have the equipment to ensure a filtered air supply or to treat the effects of a biological agent.

Instead of focusing on private security, the government, media and citizens should be focusing on other, more effective, ways to deal with a possible biological or terrorist attack. Communities should make sure they have enough emergency resources to handle any situation, and every community should have at least one emergency shelter.

Many communities still have remnants of the nationwide system of fallout shelters that was created after World War II. This pre-existing system should be updated to handle the current population, be stocked with food and medical supplies, and be fitted with detoxification equipment for defense against biological agents. Procedures for evacuating to these shelters should be publicized in the media.

We should also vaccinate everyone against anthrax and smallpox. These vaccines already exist, although they have not been widely distributed in recent years. It would make much more sense for the government to invest in vaccinations and prevent the spread of these diseases, rather than invest in Cypro to treat people after they have become infected.

Americans would do well not to buy into this latest self-survival frenzy. Before stores become cluttered with repackaged Y2K survival kits, we need to plan emergency resources that will be effective when called upon. Recommending safe rooms for private security is a more effective advertisement for survival gear than it is an actual survival method. It would be much better for government, media and citizens to work together to ensure our common survival.

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