DHS' Ready.gov: Hold the duct tape, grab the umbrella

The Homeland Security Department has revamped its emergency preparedness advertising campaign with a Web site makeover that sends messages of confidence and highlights natural rather than terrorism risks.

The retooled Ready.gov site reflects the department's philosophy gained in experiences with hurricanes and other disasters that a well-prepared citizenry can dramatically lighten the burden on first responders.

The improved DHS disaster advice also reflects an evolving approach to advising the public on emergency preparedness. This approach contrasts with some hasty foul-ups early in the department's history, symbolized for the public by former secretary Tom Ridge's advice to stock up on duct tape. In addition, the new Web site appears to minimize or eliminate Ridge's color-coded national alert system, which spawned confusion, criticism and mockery.

The opening page of the new Web site has a newly tuned emotional message. It features models portraying a unified, confident and strong nuclear family posing on the back steps of their home.

Dad, brush-cut and brawny, is wearing an olive drab T-shirt. Mother fits the "soccer Mom" demographic. The two DHS kids, sister and brother, look like a real brother and sister, possibly fraternal twins. The four models in the photo portray family members posed to suggest closeness and communication.

"All Americans have a responsibility to take steps now to be prepared for emergencies, whether they are caused by nature or by man," DHS undersecretary for preparedness George W. Foresman said in the accompanying message. "At Ready.gov, individuals can find information and resources that detail some of the basic things they can do to keep their family safe for emergencies large and small."

The department's announcement of the Web site changes emphasized emergencies such as tornadoes, flooding and wildfires rather than to terrorist attacks, in a nod to DHS' morphing mission. The Web site update forms part of the department's Ready advertising campaign to promote public awareness of emergency preparedness, which dates back to 2003.

DHS has progressively tailored the Ready campaign's content to the most likely threat outlook. The Web site offers practical advice about emergency supply kits, disaster planning, likely local crises and government agency planning.

The site includes information appropriate for various types of emergencies as well as various types of visitors, including business executives, children, seniors and pet owners, among others. DHS is promoting the site in the run-up to National Preparedness Month in September. DHS worked with the advertising industry's Ad Council to develop the campaign.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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