Can you see the orange through the smoke and mirrors?

Since unveiling the color-coded threat-o-meter 11 months back, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has searched for his purpose in this administration, and at present, it seems that color-coding fear will be Ridge’s political epitaph.

What does it mean, though? Being in a state of “high alert” for terrorist activity – are we supposed to do anything differently?

According to Ridge, Ashcroft, et al., no. Just go about your normal daily existence. But be prepared in case something happens.

Be prepared how? Is it like rain, but instead of having an umbrella handy, I should have a gas mask in my pocket or Potassium Iodide pills ready to down? No, they didn’t say that; they did, however, warn everyone to speak with their families and create a disaster plan – just in case something bad does happen. Sketch out a “where we will all meet” plan, so as to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for.

So for those of us away at college, we can do . nothing. Comforting. Truly.

We’re told that this state of orange is not intended to frighten. Well if it’s not meant to scare us, and not meant to make us do something, why on Earth do we have it? Well, it gives SNBC another graphic for the television screen.

Indeed, I think the most novel way of incorporating the current threat has been on the part of the cable news networks. Now, in addition to knowing the time, the state of the stock market, as well as the topic that night on “Donahue,” one can also reflect on the “current threat level.”

Reflect, though, is about all one can do. It’s not like we know what to do on a blue day that we wouldn’t do on a (dare I say?) red day. Granted, the effort on behalf of the government to keep its citizenry informed as to the state of potential terrorism is admirable, but let us not mistake it for anything more than what it is: a political insurance policy.

Having been caught off guard 17 months ago, the powers-that-be will be damned if they have to play the role of the fool again. It’s understandable, but it’s politics, nothing more.

Assume for a second, though, that this threat-o-meter was more than politics: our leaders would at least tell us what to do in the event of a disaster. If this threat scale were something worth its salt, it would be accompanied by a “here is what to do in case of . “

It seems like they tried for that on Tuesday, when Secretary Ridge told us to stock up on duct tape and plastic in an effort to protect against a terrorist attack.

Mr. Secretary, are you really going to be using duct tape and plastic on your house? For those of us that have had construction done on our homes over summer months, we know that that combination won’t even keep mosquitoes out, much less whatever the axis of evil has in store. If I should buy an air purifying gas mask, please tell me, but don’t tease me with this tape and plastic.

And yet, we aren’t demanding real answers, and our leaders aren’t providing them. It’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that we all seemingly agree on.

Why hasn’t the university administration done something about this dearth of what could be life-saving advice? We have more vice-presidents per square inch than any other university around; the most they can do is send an e-mail telling us they have everything under control and to stay near a TV/phone/computer when and if something happens? What about those of us who are at an internship, or in class, or somewhere else besides our room?

We need specifics, not broad generalities. Overarching paradigms about campus security don’t save lives.

GUSA could take this to heart as well. Instead of voting on next week’s soft serve flavor, why not sponsor a series of community dialogs on “what to do in case you’re walking to your internship and all of a sudden something explodes?” Even better, GUSA could laminate a little card (which I know they are fond of doing) telling students what to do or what numbers to call in the event of an emergency befitting the color orange.

Think about it: what would you do if the unimaginable became the reality? We don’t know, but that’s human nature; we won’t be bothered until we have seen a few of our own die in the smoke of terrorism.

I had wanted to prepare a list of what should be done in the event of a chemical attack. Or a dirty bomb explosion. Or a nuclear attack. Or the innumerable other acts of terrorism we all now realize as possible. I, however, don’t know what to do, but even if I had a vague idea, I wouldn’t trust my bachelors-in-government self to dispense medical advice.

In the rainbow that is our intelligence capabilities, there is no pot of gold at the end. Only a lot of tape and plastic.

And it won’t be until after the smoke clears that we can comprehend the cost of our ignorance.

Adam Jones is junior in the College and can be reached at Point of Order appears every other Friday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.