Teaching terrorism preparedness to Frederick County's poor won't be easy.
It's hard to worry about homeland security when you don't have a home. And why keep the canonical three days of supplies ready for an emergency when, even on a normal day, you have to go to the food bank to get something to eat?
This will be the challenge for Frederick's Community Action Agency, which is the region's test case in a grant program meant to bolster readiness for a terrorist attack among low-income residents.
The city agency will receive a $10,000 grant from the Community Action Partnership, one of seven such grants given to agencies across the country by the national nonprofit organization. Through matching grants, the agency will receive a total of $25,000 to help some of the 8,550 county residents living under the poverty line; the program should begin in September.
In a telephone interview, Derrick Span, the national partnership's president, and Brian Peterkin-Vertanesian, a vice president, said the difficulty in reaching low-income residents is precisely why they should be targeted for help.
"They're least likely to have an evacuation plan, they're more likely to have the elderly and the untutored residing there," Span said.
"They're overlooked or under-considered," Peterkin-Vertanesian added. "Often the response in the emergency will be to tell people to [take] shelter in their homes. The expectation is that they will have three days of supplies, but most low-income people do not have those kind of supplies."
The other problem is, as real estate agents put it, location, location, location: In many areas, the poor live close to potential terrorism targets, such as chemical plants, railroad lines and military bases.
The Frederick agency, one of more than a dozen groups nationally to apply for the grant, was quick to point out in its application that the county is no exception. Fort Detrick, the Army's center for biodefense research, is close to five low-income communities, housing more than 500 families. The Sagner public housing complex has 100 families within a mile of Frederick Municipal Airport, and smaller complexes are close to Camp David, in northern Frederick County, and the rail yard in Brunswick.
Although the District's poor communities presumably face similar or even greater hazards, no one there applied for the grant, Span said.
Todd Johnson, a volunteer firefighter who will head the Frederick program, said in an interview that he sought to reach out to poor and homeless communities while ensuring that emergency preparedness authorities included low-income residents in their planning.
"We need to, A, inform local families," Johnson said. "The second thing is making sure local emergency planners are aware of the needs that low-income people have."
He has started with the second part of that plan, meeting with the local branch of Citizen Corps, a District-based emergency preparedness group, to brainstorm.
Among the proposals is playing an emergency preparedness video created by the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in the food bank. Johnson said residents would receive low-budget tips on how to deal with an emergency, such as using sheets as bandages. Residents also would receive free emergency kits, as well as some supplies from the food bank, which serves 300 to 400 households a month, he said.
The program also could be used to teach residents to watch out for suspicious activities. But Peterkin-Vertanesian said neighbors would not be encouraged to turn in one another.
"It's a very sensitive area, as you can imagine," Peterkin-Vertanesian said. "We don't want people spying on people and reporting on them."
Representatives from Citizen Corps greeted the agency's initiative warmly, noting that low-income residents were not the only groups on their agenda; the elderly, deaf people and immigrant communities also need help.
"There are a lot of groups we need to be able to reach out to," said Chip Jewell, a member of Citizen Corps and the county's director of volunteer fire and rescue services. "That is a tremendous plus that they will be directly associated with us."
Jewell said the group also would offer a family emergency preparedness course through Frederick Community College to residents of low-income neighborhoods.
The challenge will be actually making a connection with residents for whom long-term planning makes little short-term sense. The program's success remains to be seen, but Cathy Oland, a Frederick resident who visited the food bank last week, seemed to have as good an emergency plan as anyone.
"Fort Detrick's always been there in the back of everyone's mind," Oland said of her worries of an attack. "It's always, 'What if?' "
To be ready, she has a flashlight and a radio -- and not just any radio, but the hand-cranked kind that will work when the electricity is out. She said she keeps it in a friend's truck.
As for stockpiling food, that was a little much. "When you live in a tent, what kind of living do you expect?" she said.
And what if an attack actually happened?
"I'd listen to whatever the radio said, or I'd go to a police department or a fire department."