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Remembering 9/11
Striving to feel safe
Survival products have become increasingly popular as the nation wears a shadow of concern.
September 10, 2003: 6:07 PM EDT
By Parija Bhatnagar, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Personal safety and concern for the wellbeing of their families has become more of a priority for Americans since the Sept. 11 attacks two years ago.

According to an August USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll survey, about 80 percent of those asked said they expect another major terror attack.

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Meanwhile, the national terror alert currently stands at "yellow" or an "elevated" status. That's the midpoint of a five-color scale devised last year by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

New York City has stayed on "orange" alert since Sept. 11, 2001, according to Lynn Rasic, spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Public Security.

"It's just a means to make sure that the public stays vigilant. After all, New York is a financial and cultural center and symbolizes what democracy stands for," Rasic said.

The fact that the alert scale has been revised four times this year -- it rose to "orange" or "high risk" of a terror attack in late February before the start of the U.S. military engagement in Iraq -- has put the population on edge and U.S. consumers have shown they're not taking any chances.

The "orange" code earlier this year set off a run on emergency supplies -- not just the duct tape and plastic sheeting mentioned by government officials to seal off windows and doors against a possible chemical attack, but also more exotic survival products, such as freeze-dried food, gas masks and potassium iodide tablets.

Businesses are buying air masks and gas masks for their employees. (Source: Safer Aamerica)  
Businesses are buying air masks and gas masks for their employees. (Source: Safer Aamerica)

"Americans are less secure. There's an uneasiness in the air and a tendency to look over one's shoulder more often," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group.

Said Howard Davidowitz, an independent retail consultant, "You can see clearly how the terror attacks have affected the American psyche. People are staying more at home, spending more time with the family and eating out at restaurants. At the same time, anecdotal evidence shows that sales of products such as flashlights, candles, first-aid kits has boomed. "

What's in store

The increased anxiety caused by terrorism is being reflected in store fronts.

Manhattan-based Safer America is a privately held retailer that specializes in homeland security and personal protection. The company -- with one New York outlet -- was founded a year after the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center.

It sells a variety of safety kits designed for individuals, families with young kids and one tailor-made for people who work in high-rise buildings, priced between $379 and $1,000.

"Our sales in the first quarter rose to $1.5 million," said Cyril Houri, chief operating officer of Safer America. "In August alone, we logged sales of $150,000. Business has dropped a little bit in the second quarter, but we've had a constant flow of traffic to our Web site.

Houri said the company has also sold many of its products to corporate clients, including a number of businesses that are located near Ground Zero in New York City.

Said Houri, "Every time there's a terror alert our sales are boosted. If we were a publicly traded company, we would be a good barometer for the level of concern out there."

Getting the first-aid kit ready

First-aid kits, batteries and water purifications kits are hot sellers for drugstore.com (DSCM: down $0.38 to $7.34, Research, Estimates), the online drugstore and provider of health and beauty products with more than three million customers.

"Our two biggest categories for emergency preparedness -- first-aid kits and batteries -- are up 95 percent and 115 percent [respectively] year over year," said Walter Conner, senior director of communications with drugstore.com.

Safer America's Emergency 72 hrs. Survival Kit. Includes: emergency food ration, 12 purified water pouches, blanket, emergency poncho, survival whistle, flashlight, first-aid kit, pocket knife, AM/FM radio.  
Safer America's Emergency 72 hrs. Survival Kit. Includes: emergency food ration, 12 purified water pouches, blanket, emergency poncho, survival whistle, flashlight, first-aid kit, pocket knife, AM/FM radio.

Added Conner, "Potassium iodide tablets have also been a big seller for us. The pill prevents radiation absorption."

In 2002, Bellevue, Wash.-based drugstore.com logged net sales of $194 million, up 33 percent from the year before.

Conner said that because of the spike in demand, the Web site added an Emergency Preparedness section with home emergency essentials.

Discount retailers such as Wal-Mart (WMT: down $0.21 to $56.85, Research, Estimates) said sales of those products have been particularly strong, citing the spike in sales to the terror alerts and more recently the blackout that affected most of the Northeast.

New York City's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has a checklist on its Web site titled "Household Preparedness," listing some items that people should have at home as part of their "survival gear."

The list includes items such as canned food, bottled water, eye drops, batteries and fire extinguishers. "It's really intended to give people some guidelines about how to put a safety package together in case they are stuck at home or need to evacuate," said a spokesman for OEM.  Top of page




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