Forget about drugs and literacy. The cause for the '90s is clearly disaster preparedness.

Marilyn Quayle, wife of Vice President Dan Quayle, and Elizabeth Dole, the former labor secretary who is married to Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, are emerging as major players in the field of emergency response management. Marilyn Quayle is chairman of the new International Disaster Advisory Committee (IDAC) to the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). Elizabeth Dole is soon to become president of the American Red Cross. By coincidence, both women are lawyers.

Dole's "stature and talent" have been hailed as the qualifications needed to revitalize the controversy-ridden national Red Cross into what San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos recently said is "the kind of modern helping force necessary for disasters in the 1990s." The Red Cross has been under fire in recent years, both for its handling of blood used in transfusions and the way it has responded to natural disasters, including the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Dole resigned last month as secretary of labor amid speculation that she might seek elective office in 1992. She begins her $185,000-a-year Red Cross job in January.

Quayle's "compensation" for her quasi-official services includes two aides detailed by AID and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), bringing her White House staff to eight. The government also provides financial and logistical support for her to drum up participation in foreign disaster assistance by American corporations. IDAC is still in its formative stages.

"The advisory committee was set up because since 1984 we've recognized that U.S. corporations, with operations overseas, have important personnel and financial stakes in other countries' welfare," said an AID official. "Mrs. Quayle has been very effective in trying to develop the private sector and tie it to some of the preparedness activities."

Quayle's interest in disaster response reportedly goes back to her childhood in tornado-prone Indiana. According to one source, when her husband became vice president she undertook it as a cause at the suggestion of a close friend, AID Deputy Director Carol Edelman.

"Needless to say," said an AID official, "we're delighted to have her."

Currently in Tokyo where she and the vice president represented the United States at the enthronement of Emperor Akihito, she will leave for Moscow tomorrow at the invitation of the Soviet Union. As co-chair of a 10-member U.S. delegation, she will join American and Soviet disaster management officials at the first of two exchanges set up last year by Secretary of State James Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

With both the White House and AID picking up her expenses, Quayle has been assigned her own government plane. It will enable her to travel independently of her husband, who will return home to mind the store in the absence of President Bush during his eight-day trip to Europe and the Middle East.

Marilyn Quayle's activities will be confined to Soviet operations in and near Moscow and Leningrad. Although the rest of the delegation will visit Armenia, scene of the 1988 earthquake, and Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, Quayle will not go along. The reason? "Security," said an aide.

If George Bush (or Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter or any of their predecessors) ever took pen in hand to write you a letter on White House stationery, head straight for the bank. Such letters are so rare that they command very big bucks from collectors.

Bush, who is a compulsive note-dropper, usually uses the typewriter, and his notes don't have the same value as handwritten ones. White House stationery also sends the price up. For instance, two of Reagan's letters to his daughter Patti Davis, which he wrote on White House stationery, have come on the market with an asking price of $40,000.

Reagan wrote one in December 1982, the day before he met with nuclear freeze activist Helen Caldicott, a meeting Patti arranged and sat in on. Reagan left the letter on his daughter's pillow at the White House.

"Patti I think we should keep this a personal private visit," Reagan wrote. "I won't be saying anything to the press about it and I don't think you or the Dr. should either. That way they can't get into any stories about family disagreements etc."

Five months later, on May 23, Reagan wrote Patti another letter. He sent this one to her home in California, enclosing a United Press International story, with a Boston dateline, carried by The Washington Post. Underlined (presumably by Reagan) were portions of the article in which Caldicott said she had talked with Reagan for an hour and 15 minutes on "Saturday" (May 21).

Quoting from Caldicott's commencement address to University of Massachusetts graduates on May 21, UPI said "Caldicott accused Reagan of believing that the United States could engage in a nuclear war against the Soviet Union and win."

In his letter, Reagan told his daughter that the conversation never took place nor had he spoken to Caldicott since they all met the previous December.

"And as you know her words about my believing we could win a nuclear war were never part of that visit in Dec. (I don't believe such a thing). So her speech is a complete falsehood both as to having a conversation with me at all and as to the subject of the supposed conversation," Reagan wrote.

He went on to tell his and Nancy Reagan's firstborn that "it isn't easy to learn we've mis-placed our faith & trust in someone. I know. I've had that experience-once with someone I thought was my closest friend. But when it happens we must be prepared to accept it & not shut our eyes to the truth.

"There was a time in ancient days when a messenger bringing bad news was put to death. I hope you won't call for my execution. I'm afraid the Dr. is so carried away by her cause she subscribes to the belief that the end justifies the means. Such a belief if widespread would mean the end of civilization. Love Dad."

In his new book, "An American Life," Reagan writes that after talking with Caldicott that December day he noted in his diary, "She seems like a nice, caring person but she is all steamed up and knows an awful lot of things that aren't true. I tried but couldn't get through her fixation. For that matter I couldn't get through to Patti. I'm afraid our daughter has been taken over by that whole gang. ..."

Reagan also says that although Caldicott had promised not to publicly discuss their conversation, "almost immediately she went public with details of our meeting."

New Jersey dealer Gary Zimet, who is handling the two letters, said the seller offered them to Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses "but both refused because they did not want to embarrass Ronald Reagan."

Describing as "rare" a family member's sale of a letter from a living president, Zimet said Billy Carter received $35,000 for one that President Carter wrote urging his younger brother not to go to Libya. He signed it "I love you, Jimmy."

Zimet declined to identify the owner of the Reagan letters. He said Patti Davis sold them to a second party who in turn sold them to Zimet's client.

Financial need notwithstanding, Zimet said, "it does take gall to sell these letters while your father is still alive."