Volume XI, Issue 9 ~ February 27- March 5, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Hold on, Osama: My Safe Room’s Not Quite Ready

It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.
—Aesop: “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” 550bc

Let’s forget about thrift for the moment, and put it this way: Is it wise to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow? Or, I might ask, is it worthwhile?

What I’m getting to, of course, is the latest bump in the road on the war against terrorism. “Be Prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts, and now our government suggests it be everyone’s motto, which of course makes the purveyors of duct tape, bottled water and plastic sheeting very happy.

And obviously very rich.
If there is any silver lining in the recent blizzard, it is that it for a time took the attention of the citizenry hereabouts off preparing a safe room and focused them instead on stocking up on snow shovels, cigarettes, milk, bread and toilet paper. Those last three, I might suggest, would also be appropriate in a safe room in the event of biological or chemical attacks by terrorists.

We wouldn’t need a snow shovel if Osama bin Laden’s sidekicks got nasty. Cigarettes (even my pipe) is the last thing one would want in a sealed-off room, seeing that lighting up would only deplete the oxygen supply that much faster.

The Home Front
For a week before the Blizzard of ’03, each morning before departing to her office wife Lois waved in front of me a list of necessities to prepare for attack at the homestead on the banks of Stoney Creek in North County. When she returned each evening, there was evidence of displeasure when I had to admit I didn’t buy a battery radio, bottled water, duct tape and plastic sheeting.

At 178 Park Road, you’d have thought the bin Laden Clan was living up to the freshly designated Orange Alert, which coincidentally television personalities (it’s erroneous to call ’em newsmen any more) were pushing hard — for both viewer ratings and sponsors marketing duct tape, plastic sheeting and bottled water.

Truth is, we already have an assortment of small portable battery-operated radios, leftovers from when I daily took long, healthy walks while listening to classical music. But being a pack rat of the highest order, I would have to hunt to locate them. As for duct tape, I probably have in the basement as many rolls as a country hardware store. And why wouldn’t the drop cloths of plastic used when painting be sufficient to make a room airtight?

Lois and Granddaughter Jenny are into the bottled water thing, so we have enough in the fridge and on the back porch to satisfy the thirst (even baths, if need be) for the three of us, not to mention for our cats 2-E and Karla, who would share our bunker if the time ever came.

So I wasn’t very enthusiastic about making preparations for a safe room, which I admit contradicts my early rank as Life Scout in the Boy Scouts of America.

Uncle Brush’s A-Bomb Shelter
This water thing got to me. Uncle Larry Brush was big into preparedness during the Cold War — though he lived in Vermont, considered at the time one of the safest places to be. He picked a corner of the basement for the family bunker and had it well provisioned. But the wet stuff wasn’t what came from a store in a fancy and outlandishly priced bottle.

Uncle Brush, being a Yankee, was of the frugal type and read a lot, enough that he came across info on how to preserve water, which after a long spell can get rancid. The secret was this. Once a container of laundry bleach was emptied, it was to be turned upside down to drain briefly; then without rinsing, refilled with water from the faucet. There would be enough bleach left within to keep the water from going bad.

Curious, I once tasted some of the H20 Uncle Brush had stowed away probably a year before, and it was drinkable. Had I not known its background, I probably wouldn’t have detected the difference. But in the interest of family harmony, I didn’t suggest that path to Lois and Jenny, who like their Lotsa Natural Spring Water.

A Room? Which Room?
A few other things get to me in all this hoopla about preparedness. How do you pick a room? A bathroom would be convenient, the tub could be filled with water to solve that problem — and there is another big and obvious advantage — but bathrooms are small. If they were completely sealed off with duct tape and plastic sheeting, how long could two adults and a teenager plus two cats get enough oxygen to survive?

Pick a big room and there are not only big windows but duct work that brings heat and air conditioning, which means more duct-taping of plastic sheeting. And speaking of duct-taping plastic, did you ever try to duct-tape plastic sheeting around anything larger than a porthole in normal times, never mind when in a frantic rush? Like once you learn the fumes are headed your way?

With the sheeting, you’d have to get the room completely airtight; it’s not like keeping paint from splattering on the carpet or window. Try doing that in a life-and-death hurry. Duct tape sticks to anything it touches, and plastic sheeting curls and wrinkles. Put the two together and try to create an airtight compartment. At the very best, you’d have a room that Martha Stewart wouldn’t enter if the fumes were just a whiff away.

If somehow you manage to get the room airtight, how long would you be imprisoned? In all the chatter I’ve heard and read, I’ve picked up no clues to a reasonable answer — other than the notice that 10 square feet per person is the minimum air space for each person per five hours in a sealed-off room.

Will it be safe to leave after five hours? The announcer on the radio station dishing out advice could be 20 or more miles away, as could the monitor or live person making the all-clear decision. Wind direction, I presume, would play a role in timing — and are you obliged to depart via window to get directly to hopefully fresh air seeing that without sufficient ventilation, chances aren’t likely that the remainder of the house will be cleared of all the deadly fumes.

Decisions, Decisions
Okay, so we know that so-called safe room should be stocked with duct tape, battery radio, plastic sheeting and water. But what else? How much food? Blankets? Certainly no candles to consume oxygen, but how many batteries for the flashlight? Should there be a phone in the room? Gas masks? An oxygen supply? Chamber pot? Litter box? Your medication and who knows what else?

How much time will one have to duct-tape a room? And what if you’re not home? Can you drive fast enough to keep ahead of the fumes? And if you can, which direction do you go? Can you count on the guy (or gal) who’s broadcasting the May Day alert to stick around the microphone long enough to get you through all of this?

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Mine is just go on living as usual and have faith in the Lord and our security forces. If that isn’t enough, I hope Lois and Jenny will let 2-E, Karla and me join them at the moment of truth. After all, I’ve had a lot of experience with duct tape …



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Last updated February 27, 2003 @ 2:13am