From buying extra food, water and batteries to designating a "safe room" in their homes, a majority of Washington area residents have taken steps in the past few weeks to protect themselves and their families from a future terrorist strike, according to a Washington Post survey.
More than six in 10 area residents report taking precautionary measures after the federal government's heightened terrorism warning this month. Three in four say they are worried about a terrorist attack somewhere in the region -- and nearly half fear they will personally be a victim.
The survey also found that the government's color-coded terrorism warning system frightened more people than it informed.
"It seems they change the color levels, and then a couple of days later come out and take a different tack, as if they relayed the wrong information. That sure doesn't do much to calm people," says Joe Forrest, 45, of Thurmont, Md., near Camp David.
The survey also found that relatively few residents have reacted with alarm to the possibility of an imminent terrorist strike. One in four local residents acknowledged that they have "felt a little panicky." The dominant emotion is outrage, with nearly four in 10 saying the recent warnings angered them.
"I'm angry about it, but I am not panicked," says Rena Ross, 60, of Washington. "It's caused such a commotion and distress. Some of my friends have taped up windows, and a lot are saying they're frightened. I'm not buying extra water or extra food. I trust in God. What's going to happen is going to happen."
Six hundred randomly selected Washington area residents were interviewed Feb. 13-16 for the telephone survey. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll found that responses to the heightened terrorism alert ranged from the frivolous to the poignant to the practical.
Some people reported stocking up on beer or liquor, and others interviewed for the poll said that they have bought extra ammunition or firearms. Parents said they have talked to their children about what to do if the unthinkable happens, while others have altered their lives, at least for the moment, in small but telling ways.
Kim Hudson, 28, and her husband, who live near Dulles International Airport in Virginia, had planned to go into Washington on Feb. 14 for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. Reluctantly, they changed their plans.
"We decided to stay in our area in Northern Virginia and not chance anything," she says. "It wasn't necessarily because we were worried about an attack. But we thought there would be more security; people would be scrutinized and searched. It didn't seem like it would be a very relaxing evening."
Hudson says she also purchased extra water two weeks ago in response to the terrorist threat. "I can't explain why I did it," she says, laughing. "I just saw other people in the grocery store doing it, so I got a little worried and did it, too."
But Hudson drew the line at buying duct tape. "I won't be doing that. It's bad to overreact. But then again, it's bad not to react at all."
The survey found that 36 percent of Washington area residents said they had stocked extra water, while 30 percent bought additional food and 25 percent picked up spare batteries. One in 10 said they bought plastic sheeting or duct tape to seal off a room in their homes.
Laura Roland, 37, of Hughesville in Southern Maryland, read the Red Cross disaster preparedness guide on the Internet. Then she went shopping for extra food, water and emergency supplies -- including duct tape. "It was funny," Roland says. "I went to the store during the day and there were a couple of women in the store. I circled the duct tape aisle twice. Finally I picked up a roll. Another woman said, 'What the hell, if you're going to do it, I'll do it.' "
The next day, she picked up a first-aid kit without a trace of sheepishness. "I got over it. I was able to justify that pretty easily," she says. "I decided, this is an okay thing -- to prepare my family." Her family benefited from her shopping trips almost immediately. "Those canned goods came in handy during the snow," she says.
About half of those interviewed said they have stockpiled extra supplies or planned to do so in anticipation of another terrorist strike. Nationally, slightly more than a third have made similar preparations, according to a Post-ABC News poll conducted at the same time as the local survey.
But people in the Washington area have done more than go shopping to prepare themselves and their families for a terrorist attack. According to the poll, more than one in three has discussed how to communicate with family members if they became separated; one in four has designated a safe room in the home; and about one in eight has made plans about how to leave the area in a terrorism emergency. When these people are combined with those who stockpiled supplies, the survey found that 62 percent of those who live in or near the nation's capital have taken at least one specific step in response to the government's recent warnings on terrorism, a proportion that varied little between the District of Columbia, the inner suburbs and the outlying counties around Washington.
Richard Dorn, 52, of Frederick, Md., says he's followed many of the precautions urged on the public. "We have had a safe room since 9/11. I keep a week or two supply of food and water . . . just good practice for any emergency."
Gwendolyn Daniels, 53, a lawyer who lives in Washington, talked with her 12-year-old daughter about what to do if terrorists strike.
"I told her if we are in the house, we should go to the basement. That's my safe area, unless we're directed by the government to leave my home. If she is at school, I told her to stay put, don't worry about me."
Like three in four area residents, Daniels says she worried about another terrorist attack on Washington. But she is even more concerned about the media and the public's reaction to the heightened alert status. In the Post poll, more people thought the government's terrorist warming system did more to cause "needless fear and alarm" (44 percent) than provide useful information (38 percent).
The survey found that two of three area residents had confidence in the ability of their local governments to respond to a terrorist attack.
"We never will be entirely safe," says Lois Hudlow, 73, who lives in the Montgomery County, Md., town of Damascus. "It's not Bush's fault, it's not the government's fault, it's nobody's fault. It's just the way terrorists are."
The Washington Post's assistant director of polling, Claudia Deane, contributed to this report.