- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security has locked horns with a group of scientists over which is providing accurate and helpful information on how to be ready for a natural disaster or terrorist attack — the federal government or a summer intern.

The fledgling department in February 2003 created Ready.gov as an emergency preparedness Web site that has since been viewed by more than 23 million daily visitors.

The Federation of American Scientists now has its own version — ReallyReady.org — which states that “unfortunately for these visitors, Ready.gov contains information that is both inaccurate and incomplete.”

Ivan Oelrich, director of the federation’s strategic security project, acknowledges their Web site was researched and constructed by a University of Virginia sophomore, and brags that she was able to put a better preparedness guide together in two months than “a bunch of experts” did for the federal government in three years.

September is National Preparedness Month, and the goal of the competing site is to push Homeland Security officials to make corrections to its preparedness campaign, Mr. Oelrich says. The federation was formed in 1945 by scientists on the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb, to educate and guide ethics in science.

ReallyReady.org lists numerous examples of erroneous information on Ready.gov, including an escape route under a “nuclear threat” graphic, that depicts “you are here” next to a nuclear blast. Ready.gov recommends running around the block to escape the danger.

“I’ll tell you where the escape route is,” says Mr. Oelrich, who holds a doctorate in nuclear physics. “It’s directly north at mach 5 with no two atoms stuck together. That is the direction you will be going.”

In that situation, Ready.gov also recommends that one “quickly assess the situation.” ReallyReady.org says “this advice could be replaced by a more useful recommendation, since an individual who sees a mile or more of their downtown disappear will automatically assess their surroundings.”

Joanna Gonzales, Homeland Security spokeswoman, says the agency used experts in the emergency preparedness community and other government agencies as well as partners such as the American Red Cross and Chamber of Commerce to write the content.

“All of the information on Ready.gov was actually based on established standards in the emergency preparedness community,” Miss Gonzales says.

Mr. Oelrich was unimpressed, saying, “They might be experts; they’re just the wrong experts.”

ReallyReady.org also questioned linking a natural global outbreak of a deadly flu strain or some other fatal disease and the deliberate release by terrorists of germs or other weaponized biological agents.

Advice on “sheltering in place” is also questionable and not effective for nuclear or indoor chemical attacks, says ReallyReady.org.

Miss Gonzales says Ready.gov was updated a few months ago, however ReallyReady.org says incorrect information and other issues remain — such as generic advice, unnecessarily lengthy descriptions and repetitive details.

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