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Sally Quinn has had a prosperous career as a Washington Post reporter and Georgetown hostess. Now, at 64, she’s taking a slight turn toward civic activism. And her cause is weightier than such perennial Georgetown parochialities as the overhaul of the waterfront park and the fate of the neighborhood’s trolley tracks.
Quinn these days is counseling her fellow citizens to get off their apathetic asses and prepare for the next terrorist attack. As she wrote in a Sept. 18 Post piece, “We, as a society, must demand a plan, and we must demand that the plan be practiced over and over, for many scenarios, including chlorine tanker attacks, dirty bombs, chemical and biological attacks, fire bombings of subways and trains, even nuclear attacks.”
On the evening of Nov. 14, Quinn took her message to the grass roots, addressing approximately 70 folks at a meeting of the Citizens Association of Georgetown. Speaking from the pulpit of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Quinn said that she had gathered enough information to “scare you a lot.”
Give this woman the credit she deserves. Ever since 9/11 hit, she has operated under the assumption that we’ll get hit again, a notion that most others appear to be in denial about. While the rest of us have been scanning our iPods, Quinn has been learning more about our collective vulnerabilities and possible countermeasures. Dept. of Media would be remiss if we didn’t pass along the wisdom.
Your N95 Mask: The Building Block of Emergency Prep. At her talk, Quinn held this particle-filtering device to her mouth and said that she’s “never without it.” She also stuffs one into the briefcase of her husband, former Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, who she says “grouses” about the precaution.
Pick a Room and Stock It. You need water and food to last a week, a battery-powered radio and flashlight, planned emergency routes, contact numbers for the family, the antibiotics Cipro and doxycycline, a first-aid kit, and plastic sheeting and duct tape. Quinn herself keeps all these things in her home’s laundry room, because it’s “easy to seal off.” Also, her food supply is heavy on the beans, “because they’re nutritious.”
Watch That Gas Gauge. If Quinn’s Georgetown neighbors have spotted her frequently at the gas station recently, it’s not necessarily because she’s doing a lot of traveling. The Postie always keeps her tank full in case catastrophe strikes. In practice, that means that when the needle on her Mercedes-Benz station wagon drops by a fourth, it’s back to the filling station. “Three-quarters is pretty much the rule,” she says.
Two Words: Peanut Butter. Along with a supply of water, Quinn keeps a “large jar” of peanut butter in her car, primarily for the protein. Even a small amount of this staple, says Quinn, will sustain the terrorism victim for quite some time.
Keep the Kayak in the Garage. In a 2003 Post piece, Quinn advocated the use of inflatable kayaks as an evacuation mode for those who live near water. The mass hysteria following Hurricane Katrina, though, has apparently soured Quinn on riparian retreat. “Somebody would stick you up with a gun,” said Quinn of an evacuee headed to the river with a portable craft.
Don’t Bother Putting Masks on Your Dog. At the Georgetown speech, an audience member suggested placing masks on pets to keep them from spreading contagions. Quinn responded that she’d tried putting an N95 on Sparky, her now-deceased Shih Tzu, but it didn’t work.
Don’t Trust Public Officials. In a wide-ranging critique of local and federal preparations for terrorist attacks, Quinn made the following contentions:
•Police and fire officials in the District don’t want to warn residents about the hazards posed by chlorine tankers on D.C. railroad tracks out of fear of causing hysteria.
•Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson’s contention that the nation is prepared for a biological or chemical weapons attack is “the biggest lie.”
•Federal emergency authorities “not only lie, they don’t tell the truth.”—Erik Wemple
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.