If Chuck Schumer is serious about asking the White House to appoint a pooh-bah to keep another encephalitis-level scare from happening here, he need look no further than his own Brooklyn backyard. Cobble Hill's Aton Edwards has been working hard on protecting himself since the day when, as a wide-eyed 11-year-old, he sneaked into a screening of Deliverance and nearly scared himselfto death. "I said, 'That's never gonna happen to me,' " he remembers, and so far, it hasn't.
Edwards has gas masks and hazmat suits in his cupboard; he's studied Hizardut, the Mossad's survivalist art; he even survived a quickie marriage to Living Single's Kim Coles. In 1988, he and his common-law wife, Ginger Davis, started the National Preparedness Network, a consultancy that instructs school and church groups in a host of skills that may come in handy in case of apocalypse: how to protect the water supply from poison, how to contain white supremacists who have access to anthrax, and, naturally, how to muddle through Y2K chaos.
The group now has 10,000 members nationally; the Reverends Al Sharpton and Calvin Butts, in rare agreement, have asked Edwards to speak to their flocks. His 42 survival instructors carry kits with magnesium sparking tools, fishing line, first-aid equipment, and hand-cranked flashlights. Edwards rails against the use of "carcinogenic" malathion to fight encephalitis. He worries about the Plum Island lab off Long Island studying biological weapons, and frets that a natural-gas plant near Staten Island could explode, sending a cloud of lethal gas over Manhattan. Encephalitis, he says, "could have been an escaped organism from a laboratory -- we have enough of them here. But sooner or later, it won't be an accident: One of these fringe groups is going to create an incident that would make Columbine look mild."
If Edwards were in charge, he'd make over New York like Tel Aviv, with Patriot missiles defending the city and hazmat suits handed out to every citizen. He also thinks a terror czar should have real terrorists advising him -- "Just like in The Silence of the Lambs," he says. "These people think differently from you and me."