W hen we go to Code Red -- and isn't it a bit chilling that people say "when" rather than "if" -- some foreign companies have already informed their Washington employees that their family members will be evacuated to their home countries. How nice for them.

On the other hand, when WMAL talk host Chris Core asked Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld the other day whether he has equipped his home with duct tape, plastic sheeting and a stock of water, SecDef paused uncomfortably and said, "I'd like to say I did . . . but I do have a miniature dachshund named Reggie who looks out for us." I sense a Fox special coming: "When Itty-Bitty Animals Repel Terror."

It's good to know that people in high places are taking this whole Impending Doom thing as seriously as we have at the old homestead. Of course, Rumsfeld has an Official Saddam Brand Bunker to escape to, whereas I have the basement futon, which we share with the crickets.

I'm relieved to hear that when the Airborne Toxic Event occurs, the secretary will not be marching down from the Pentagon parking lot to lead a flotilla of kayaks into the Potomac.

When Don DeLillo introduced us to the terror of the Airborne Toxic Event in his brilliant 1985 novel "White Noise," some critics derided his invention of a cloud of doom as a B-movie fantasy. Now, we can read the book for household tips.

The real terror in "White Noise" -- and in real life -- is the not knowing. What is the agent? How dangerous? Where? It's unnerving to think about disappearing into an information vacuum if an attack knocks out power and cell phones overload.

Even if you didn't fall for the duct tape hysteria and your inner Martha Stewart doesn't fancy repapering the walls with plastic sheeting, there is a nifty $25 move you can make to be assured that you'll know what's happening. Bill Adler, a Washington writer who has penned books on "Outwitting Squirrels," "Outwitting Toddlers" and "Outwitting Neighbors," has figured out how to outwit a communications blackout.

He has set up the D.C. Emergency Radio Network, which is a fancy way of saying he is getting the word out about those funky new two-way radios you see people using in parks and parking lots, on the beach and outside shops. After heavy lobbying by Radio Shack, the federal government set up the Family Radio Service in 1996 to give people a way to talk to each other through handheld radios with much better range than old-fashioned walkie-talkies.

The radios require no license, have a range of up to a mile, and retail for as little as $25 a pair. Since they run on batteries and offer multiple channels, they'd work when other communication tools don't.

"We've used them to keep in touch with the kids on the beach and at Disney," says Adler, who thought up the emergency network (www.dcradio.org) during the recent Code Orange alert. He is organizing a citywide test on March 16 to see how the radios can be used to spread word about a disaster.

The goal is to create a decentralized but virtually seamless web of radio users who can move information around a city without phones, computers or electricity. Working through neighborhood online bulletin boards and e-mail lists, he has already found hundreds of people who see the advantage in being able to check in with neighbors even if you're hiding in the basement.

"This is something people can really do for and by themselves," Adler says. "It will work a little bit like a relay; information will filter through the network from one block to the next." Sure, the information might be less than reliable. But it's better than being alone and clueless.

"Duct tape didn't solve a problem," Adler says. "The radio solves the problem of finding out what's going on if there's a loud boom, the Internet gets clogged and Dan Rather appears on your screen and then goes dark.

"I am a very optimistic person, but with this war coming, I'm getting nervous," Adler says. "The radio lets me feel a little more free about my day-to-day activities. With the radio, you're not alone."

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