The orange alert said, "Be afraid." But the shirt said, "Let's all have guava cake."Such was the heightened level of discord at the District of Columbia's press conference last Sunday announcing the raising of the national terrorist threat system. Fire Chief Adrian Thompson, apparently making an appearance between luaus, wore shorts, sandals, and a Hawaiian shirt so loud he drowned out his own message. We can only assume what Thompson wanted to communicate was something along the lines of: "You are safe from the terrorists because we are on the job, so everyone go on enjoying this beautiful summer Sunday." But what came across was, "You're safe from the terrorists because we are on the job. Has anyone seen my Rum Punch?" In other words, there's a right time and a wrong time to lead by example. This was a fine example of the wrong time. Of course, Thompson was hardly the lone offender. Mayor Anthony Williams arrived in a Polo shirt and a sports jacket; police chief Charles Ramsey wore a Polo shirt and no jacket. Nobody bothered with a tie. In New York, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and police chief Raymond Kelly arrived for their press conference in somber dark suits and crisp, white shirts - a difference not lost on The Washington Post, which ran a scathing comparison of the press conferences on Tuesday. "The overall impression was not one of a fast-acting crew, but of one that had been caught off- guard," wrote Robin Givhan. "Their informal appearance did not reflect the seriousness of the message or the level of their preparedness." So write it down if you have to, guys. When fighting terrorists, put on the power ties - and put down the Mai Tais.