The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday introduced an animated
family of mountain lions to lead a public service campaign aimed at getting
families to prepare for natural disasters or terror attacks.
In a cheerier version of the "duck and cover" 1950s-era classroom
drills that advised schoolchildren to dive under their desks in the event of
nuclear attack, Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff outlined
the "Ready Kids" campaign at a Chicago elementary school library.
Mindful of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and natural disasters like storms or
earthquakes, Ready Kids is an offshoot of emergency response campaigns targeted
at businesses and the general public.
"We're going to be talking about things during the course of this campaign
like having emergency supply kits for families, having family plans about where
to go and where to meet in case of emergency," Chertoff told some 75 schoolchildren,
their parents and journalists at Andrew Jackson Language Academy.
"We're working with (educators and) the American Psychological Association
to make sure our lessons are age-appropriate, helpful, not anxiety-provoking,
but get the message across," Chertoff said.
Advice is dispensed by an animated mountain lion named Rex -- a talking cat
sporting a flashlight and a grin -- his cartoon family and hummingbird friend
through public service advertisements and a Web site, http://www.ready.gov.
Written materials featuring the mascots have been sent to 135,000 teachers
to explain how families should collect water, food, a radio, a flashlight, batteries,
books, games and other supplies to last three days.
Chertoff and other administration officials were sharply criticized in a report
released on Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' watchdog
agency, for not designating a single person to take charge of the federal response
to Hurricane Katrina, resulting in lack of decisive action and confusion after
"You have to plan together as a family," said Dawn Hendon, a parent
of 11- and 13-year-old children who attend the school. "It's good to have
a little direction."
Hendon said her children were aware of terror attacks when reported in the
news, but were more concerned about "bad people in the neighborhood"
and fears of a tsunami-like wave emerging from nearby Lake Michigan.