Get your passport now, because the deadline's coming (for real this time!)

The days of being able to use your driver's license and a birth certificate to cross into America by land or sea will officially end on June 1. No whining this time! Congress already pushed back the deadline for you back in 2006. Now it's going to happen. They mean it this time.

From June on, the choice will be a) carry a passport or b) don't go. The smart ones (this describes you, right?) will brave the bureaucracy and get their passports right away before the system gets jammed with applicants. The first quarter of every year is always the smoothest time to get or renew a passport with a minimum of grief, with the average application taking only a couple of weeks. Don't wait longer than March, though, because by the spring, the paperwork logjam is sure to be extreme considering the twin demands of summer travel prep and the frenzied run-up to comply with the long-delayed rule.

Why the requirement? Lots of people think that the government just wants to make it easier to spy on our movements. I don't know if I agree with that (or if I did, should I say so in print?), but there is no doubt that security is driving the mandate. There are currently some 7,000 types of birth certificates in circulation right now, so presenting one of them, plus a passport, currently clearly presents some validation issues for border agents.

There are just two main types of transit I.D. for U.S. citizens: a standard passport ($85 to $100 for a first-timer) and the newly created passport card ($35 to $45), which can only be used for land and sea border crossings. By next summer, any American who wants to ever see the world beyond his picket fence must have at least one.

Even if you haven't done much international travel, it's always smart to have a widely accepted, indisputable federal identification on hand to satisfy day-to-day I.D. requirements. It saves time and hassle. Besides, you never know when you'll win a trip on a game show, need to flee to Djibouti to to hide from a heinous crime, or take a cheap last-minute Carnival cruise.

Rather than wrestle with the brutal waits that are clearly headed down the track (and rather than be forced to shell out the $60-plus-shipping fee to have Uncle Sam rubber-stamp things a little quicker), just bite the bullet and file now. Then put your new passport in a drawer for the moment you need it.

If you ever want to have a piña colada on a Mexican beach, you'll have to do it later, anyway.

Besides, don't you want to do your bit to boost the economy of Thailand?

Preparing for Disaster

Which of the following should be included in an emergency kit?

  • Ammonia
  • Baking powder
  • Bleach
  • Laundry detergent

When planning your response to an emergency, which is not a priority?

  • Find someone out-of-town your family can check in with
  • Map several routes to get out of town in different directions
  • Plan the shortest route to pick you kids up from school
  • Talk to neighbors to see what kind of equipment and expertise is close by

If you live in an area prone to wildfires, which of these is something authorities recommend?

  • Live in a stone house
  • Keep firewood near the house under a tarp
  • Plant pine trees so the fire has something else to burn
  • Soak used grill ashes in water for two days and then bury them

Which of these is not recommended for hurricane preparedness?

  • Fill bathtubs and sinks with water
  • Move all furniture to the center of the room
  • Set refrigerator to the coldest temperature
  • Trim trees and shrubs around the house

You are near a suspected biological attack, what should you do?

  • Cover your mouth and nose with several layers of clothing or paper towels
  • Head directly to the nearest doctor's office
  • Hide under the closest seat or table
  • Take off all your clothes as quickly as possible and find the nearest bathroom or hose so you can wash

If you fear exposure in a chemical attack, what should you do?

  • Call 911 to report the attack
  • Head directly to the nearest doctor's office
  • Hide under the closest seat or table
  • Take off all your clothes as quickly as possible and wash

General earthquake preparedness calls for which of the following?

  • Hanging all frames and mirrors on walls away from couches and chairs
  • Putting dishes and glasses on high shelves, away from the floor
  • Taping all window panes, so they don't shatter
  • Reinforcing a home's foundation

Which of the following isn't part of specific emergency kit recommendations?

  • Dust mask
  • Duct tape
  • Garbage bags
  • Glue

After an explosion you are surrounded by debris. Emergency workers can't see you. Which of these should you try not to do?

  • Tap on a pipe or wall
  • Use a whistle
  • Wave a flashlight
  • Shout

A tornado looms, and you are biking down a country road. What should you do?

  • Flag down a passing car and hide in the vehicle
  • Get under a bridge or overpass
  • Lie flat in a ditch
  • Try to outrun the storm
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