Plastic and duct tape are good idea, but not for terror threat


COLUMBIA, Mo. – Eric Evans has heard all the duct tape jokes. He’s even started collecting some of the political cartoons that have sprung up from recent advice that United States citizens use plastic sheeting and tape to create “safe rooms” to protect themselves from a terrorist attack.

Good idea. “It’s a great idea for families to have things like plastic, duct tape, food and water, around the house,” said the University of Missouri emergency management specialist.

“You never know when a thunderstorm or tornado may bust out a window, or when an ice storm may knock out electricity for a while. Those are the disasters people really ought to prepare for.”

In fact, those are the disasters Evans has spent a career helping citizens, companies and institutions plan for and think about. If he sees any positive in the recent plastic and duct tape craze, it’s that the interest will prod folks to be better prepared in a more general sense.

Unrealistic. “The truth is, the idea of someone getting killed or injured in their home because of a terrorist releasing a gas or nerve agent is pretty unrealistic. For one thing, somebody would have to drop tons of the stuff on a neighborhood to create the parts per million level to have any impact.

“And it has to get to you. Yes, one drop of ricin will kill you. But it has to get on you. Just being inside your house would prevent that. The plastic and duct tape aren’t going to add much,” to the safety factor.

“And if you were a terrorist, and wanted to kill a lot of people, you wouldn’t hit a neighborhood. You’d hit some place where a lot of people are crowded together and in the open where the gas or poison can get to them. That safe room at home isn’t going to help, in that case.”

The idea of a plastic and duct tape safe room was developed in response to the federal government looking for ways to protect citizens in case of an accidental gas or toxin spill.

Safe room. Studies showed that so-called “sheltering-in-place,” or creating a safe room inside the home with at least 10-mil thick plastic, with duct tape to seal openings and cracks, could lessen the chance of being poisoned by a nearby release.

“We should be concerned about those things,” Evans said. “Train derailments and highway accidents with containers of hazardous products do occur.

“But doing it ahead of time and sealing your house can allow a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide gas that can make you seriously ill or even kill you,” Evans said. “Be prepared, yes, but being over reactive is dangerous.”

A bigger concern is the upcoming tornado, storm and flood season, he stressed.

“Having the materials on hand to deal with those situations is smart.”

Learn more. For help in being adequately prepared, Evans suggests getting a copy of Are You Ready: A Guide to Citizen Preparedness, produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Copies can be ordered or downloaded from the FEMA Web site at

The 100-page free publication, which outlines preparedness tips for most natural and man-made disasters, can also be ordered by calling 800-480-2520 and requesting publication H-34.

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