The Department of Homeland Security released its citizen preparedness website, Ready.gov, in February 2003 and completed a large-scale update in July 2006. The Federation of American Scientists compared the new site to an archive of the previous version and carefully evaluated the content for accuracy, completeness, comprehensibility, and applicability.
This analysis exposes numerous inadequacies in Ready.gov. The Federation of American Scientists recommends that the information on Ready.gov be updated as soon as possible with the assistance of scientific, military, and emergency response experts.
We found incorrect information throughout the site in addition to several other common problems, including:
These problems were identified on many pages, particularly:
- Disabled and Special Needs
- Biological Threat
- Chemical Threat
- Influenza Pandemic
- Nuclear Threat
- Radiation Threat
These issues were still present after the July 2006 update of Ready.gov, although valuable information was added including:
- Information for seniors and pet owners
- More state and local information
- Summaries of information for twelve natural disasters
- Changes to color and layout, making the site significantly easier to navigate
- Many recommendations provided by the Ready campaign guidelines are not applicable to specific scenarios.
- These instructions are useful but do not tell you when creating a barrier between yourself and contaminated air would be the best decision: “sheltering in place” is not effective for nuclear or indoor chemical attacks.
- Unnecessarily lengthy descriptions make informed decision making difficult.
- Many pages could be greatly condensed, for example:
After one or two lines, it becomes difficult to focus on and remember the information, especially when reading it from a computer screen. Below is the same information, modified for the internet:
- Snugly cover your nose and mouth with a face mask, available in any hardware store (an N95 rating is best)
- Make the best fit possible for both children and adults to ensure that air comes through the mask or cloth and not around it
- It is also important to protect your eyes and cuts in your skin
- You may need to improvise with anything that fits your face snugly, such as dense-weave cotton material
- Something over your nose and mouth in an emergency is better than nothing
This format is easier to skim and easier to remember.
- Multiple pages contain the same information verbatim, making it hard to determine where and in what order to look.
“If planning does not embrace the value that everyone should survive, they will not.” - National Council on Disability
There are only twenty-one lines of generic information describing how to prepare for an emergency if you are disabled.
- Questions like these are not answered:
- How do you plan to evacuate a multi-story building in an emergency if you have a mobility disability?
- How will you know to evacuate a building if you are unable to hear an alarm?
- The same amount of information available for preparing your pet for an emergency is available for preparing yourself and your family if you have a disability:
- Specific information and instructions catered to special needs, including how to create a support network to help in an emergency or what special considerations to make when developing evacuation plans, is necessary for adequate preparation.
- The Department of Homeland Security has made invalid claims that this kind of detailed information is accessible.
- In 2004 and 2006, DHS announced that Ready.gov had new and updated information for individuals with disabilities
- This is a misleading claim: a comparison of a 2003 archive of Ready.gov and the new page indicates that the only updated information related to individuals with disabilities is a single link at the bottom of the page
- It is important to ensure that equivalent information is available for individuals with disabilities since 19.3% of the American population over 5 has a disability.
- The first three paragraphs in Biological Threat are lengthy and could easily be condensed to two or three bullet points.
- There is obvious advice, such as “if a family member becomes sick, it is important to be suspicious” or “use common sense to determine if there is immediate danger.”
- An entire page devoted to symptoms and hygiene warns, “If a family member develops any of the symptoms below, keep them separated from others if possible…”
- The symptoms include headache, sore throat, cough, and other indicators of the common cold.
- This could cause more anxiety than providing information.
- The following advice is incorrect: “If you can't get out of the building [under chemical attack] or find clean air without passing through the area where you see signs of a chemical attack, it may be better to move as far away as possible and ‘shelter-in-place.'"
- This response is appropriate for outdoor chemical attacks, but not for chemical attacks inside. Sealing a room and “sheltering-in-place” could trap you with poisonous chemicals.
- Other advice in this section is misleading, such as “many sick or dead birds, fish or small animals are also cause for suspicion,” which could cause needless alarm since it is not uncommon to see a dead animal.
- The page also instructs: “quickly try to define the impacted area or where the chemical is coming from, if possible.” This is confusing advice that undermines the urgency in responding to a chemical attack.
- It is not essential to “define the impacted area” when the most important thing is to find clean air as quickly as possible, which Ready.gov does effectively emphasize.
- This advice is both confusing and inaccurate: “If you are outside, quickly decide what is the fastest way to find clean air. Consider if you can get out of the area or if you should go inside the closest building and ‘shelter-in-place.’”
- Attempting to get away from a chemical cloud could take you into harm’s way, since it may be impossible to determine the direction the cloud is moving.
- There should be specific details about how to respond, including answers to questions like: “Should you expect to stay at home?,” “Should you go out and purchase masks?,” and “Is a vaccine available?”.
- Phrases like “the federal government, states, communities, and industry are taking steps to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic” do not describe a pandemic flu and how an individual or business can act to prepare for it.
- Ready.gov instructs concerned citizens to “Take cover immediately, as far below ground as possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave”
- An individual likely won’t have sufficient time to do this.
- This page undermines the urgency of the situation and leaves it to an individual to ‘consider if you can get out of the area; or if it would be better to go inside a building and follow your plan to “shelter-in-place.'"
- The visual guide for nuclear attacks understates the effects of a nuclear bomb, which would have a radius of destruction of at least a mile. A graphic, shown below, depicts “you are here” next to a nuclear blast, and recommends running around the corner.
- The first piece of advice given in the Ready.gov guidelines instructs “quickly assess the situation,” which 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.
- Ready.gov recommends, “If you are already inside check to see if your building has been damaged. If your building is stable, stay where you are.”
- Later on the same page, Ready.gov instructs citizens to “think about shielding, distance, and time,” where the farther away from the blast you are, the lower your exposure.
- This advice is contradictory and based on emergency response for laboratories handling radioactive materials. In an attack situation, the most important thing to do is avoid radioactive dust.