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Officials Urge Public Precautions Against Potential Terrorist Attack

By John Mintz

Top federal officials on Monday issued their most pointed advice since Sept. 11, 2001, on precautions the public should take against terrorist attacks, warning that every home should be stocked with three days worth of water and food in case of a strike with chemical, biological or radiological weapons.

They also recommended that families consider designating a room where they will gather in the event of such an attack and have on hand duct tape and heavy plastic sheeting to seal it, as well as scissors, a manual can opener, blankets, flashlights, radios and spare batteries. The officials said they believe the al-Qaida terrorist network is particularly targeting New York and Washington.

Ranking officials of the Department of Homeland Security told reporters at a briefing that Americans must take some personal responsibility for protecting themselves, but stressed that people should not feel panicked or abandoned by government.

“We see information on citizen preparedness as prudent planning,” said Gordon Johndroe, the department’s spokesman. But given al-Qaida’s interest in obtaining weapons of mass destruction, he added, “it’s appropriate for citizens to be informed about how to respond to a terrorist attack, much as people have prepared for years to be ready for tornadoes, hurricanes or floods.”

“You have to talk to your family, and plan how you’re going to communicate with each other” after a devastating terrorist attack, said David Paulison, the U.S. Fire Administrator, who is a top civil defense planner for the new department. For example, he said, families could designate a third party with whom telephone messages can be left.

While much of the information in Monday’s briefing has been previously offered to the public on government Web sites, the news conference was an effort to emphasize it.