Hazardous Materials Preparedness
In an increasingly interconnected and unpredictable world, the importance of preparing your family for chemical, biological, and radiological emergencies cannot be overstated. These emergencies can occur without warning and have devastating effects on unprepared communities. By taking proactive steps, families can mitigate risks, and be equiped with the knowledge and tools to respond effectively.
Chemical agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids, and solids that have toxic effects on people, animals, or plants and can be nefariously used when released in harmful amounts where people live, work, or play.
Signs of chemical release
- clumsiness or lack of coordination
- difficulty breathing
- eye irritation and blurred vision
- headache & dizziness
- cramps or diarrhea
- changes in skin color
- irritation and burning in the skin, nose, throat, and lungs
- presence of dead insects and birds
How to Protect Yourself
General home protection
You can help protect your family by installing a VOC home filter system. This reduces the effects of chemical compounds that are emitted into your home from the outside from various chemical products.
What to do during a chemical event
If a chemical incident takes place near you, cover your mouth and take action immediately. If you are outside, move upwind from the source. If driving, keep windows closed and vents shut. In both instances, make your way inside your house or find the closest building and stay put until you know it is safe.
Listen for guidance from local authorities. Their instruction may differ depending on the threat and risk of exposure. Accordingly, you may be told to evacuate or stay indoors and shelter in place.
If you're told to shelter in place during a chemical emergency, this may include hunkering down in a sealed-off room until further notice. If so, follow these steps and make them part of your chemical emergency plan. The materials needed will be included in your hazard kit described below.
- Bring pets inside.
- Close and lock all exterior doors and windows, vents, fireplace dampers, and as many interior doors as possible.
- Seal any noticeable gaps around doors, windows, exhaust fans, and vents with towels, wax paper, or foil - these items will be stored in your hazards kit (see below).
- Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems or set ventilation systems to 100 percent recirculation so that no outside air is drawn into the building.
Sealing off the room
- Get your grab & go bags for each family member and pet and seek shelter in an internal room you have previously chosen.
- You can begin the process of sealing off the room with items stored in your hazard kit.
- Seal the door and windows within the room with duct tape and plastic sheeting. Seal gaps under and around the doorway, windows, and air conditioning vent with wet towels, wax paper, or foil.
- Take shallow breaths with a cloth or a towel if gas or vapors could have entered the building.
- Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.
If you are affected by a chemical agent, seek medical help immediately. If help is unavailable, the best action is to decontaminate yourself and help others do so, if possible.
Clothing & Other Items
- Remove all clothing and other items in contact with your body.
- Cut off clothing that you would normally remove over the head to avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Put contaminated clothing and items into a plastic bag and seal the bag.
- Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses. Put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate them and then rinse and dry.
Use Soap & Water
- Wash hands with soap and water.
- Gently wash face, hair, and any exposed skin with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing with water.
- Flush eyes with water.
- If helping someone decontaminate, immediately wash your hands and other exposed skin afterward.
A bioterror attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) that cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These biological substances are typically found in nature. Still, they may be mutated or altered to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, increase their ability to be spread into the environment, and make them more deadly.
Terrorists may use biological agents because they can be extremely difficult to detect when first released and do not cause illness for several hours to several days.
- person to person
Symptoms may include
- flu-like symptoms
- gastrointestinal symptoms
- respiratory symptoms
- skin symptoms
How to Protect Yourself
The first signs may be when people start noticing symptoms of a disease caused by exposure to an offending bacteria, virus, or toxin. It may take time for public health officials to offer any meaningful information as they will need to figure out what the illness is, how to treat it, and who is in danger.
As symptoms appear, gather as much information regarding the outbreak as possible. Listen for information regarding the signs and symptoms, the areas of exposure, if meds or vaccines are needed, and where to seek medical help if you become ill.
- Quickly get away from the area if you notice a suspicious substance.
- Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow you to breathe. Examples include two to three layers of cotton such as a t-shirt, handkerchief, or towel.
- Wear a face mask to reduce inhaling or spreading germs depending on the situation.
- If you have been exposed to a biological agent, remove and bag your clothes and personal items. Follow official instructions for the disposal of contaminated items.
- Wash yourself with soap and water and put on clean clothes.
- Contact authorities and seek medical assistance. You may be advised to stay away from others or even to quarantine.
- If your symptoms match those described and you are in the group considered at risk, immediately seek emergency medical attention.
- Follow the instructions of doctors and other public health officials.
- Avoid crowds.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
- Don't share food or utensils.
Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD)
Also known as a dirty bomb, an RDD is a mix of explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive powder or pellets. When the dynamite or other explosives are set off, the blast carries radioactive material into the surrounding area that you cannot see, smell, feel, or taste.
- The main danger is the explosion itself, which can cause serious injuries and property damage.
- Mild exposure may take hours to weeks before any signs and symptoms begin. Severe exposure may take only minutes to days before for signs and symptoms to show.
- Symptoms can include - nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody vomit and stool from internal bleeding, headache, fever, dizziness and disorientation, weakness and fatigue, hair loss, infections, and low blood pressure.
- Radioactive dust & smoke spread farther away and can be dangerous when inhaled – this can lead to internal contamination and increase the risk of developing cancer years after the incident.
How to Protect Yourself
The steps you should take depend on where you are located when the incident occurs: outside, inside, or in a vehicle.
If you're outside and close to the incident
- Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth. If you don't have one, use your arm or shirt sleeve.
- Don’t touch objects thrown off by an explosion—they might be radioactive.
- Quickly go into a building where the walls and windows have not been broken.
- If you are outside your own home, bring your pets inside.
- Tune in to the local radio or television news for more instructions.
If you're inside and close to the incident
- Bring your pets in.
- If the walls and windows of the building are not broken, stay in the building and do not leave.
Shut all windows, outside doors, and fireplace dampers. Turn off fans and heating and air-conditioning systems that bring in air from the outside. It is not necessary to put duct tape or plastic around doors or windows.
- If the walls and windows of the building are broken, go to an interior room and do not leave.
- If the building has been heavily damaged, quickly go into a building where the walls and windows have not been broken. If you must go outside, be sure to cover your nose and mouth with a cloth.
- Tune in to local radio or television news for more instructions.
If you're in a car when the incident happens
- Close the windows and turn off the air conditioner, heater, and vents.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth to avoid breathing radioactive dust or smoke.
- If you are close to your home, office, or a public building, go there immediately and go inside quickly.
- If you cannot get to your home or another building safely, pull over to the side of the road and stop in the safest place possible. If it is a hot or sunny day, try to stop under a bridge or in a shady spot.
- Turn off the engine and listen to the radio for instructions.
- Stay in the car until you are told it is safe to get back on the road.
If you are exposed, do the following:
- Once you're inside, take off your outer layer of clothing and seal it in a plastic bag if available. Put the cloth you used to cover your mouth in the bag, too. Removing outer clothes may get rid of up to 90% radioactive dust.
- Put the plastic bag where others will not touch it and keep it until authorities tell you what to do with it.
- Gently wash face, hair, and any exposed skin with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing with water. Washing will remove any remaining dust.
- If your pets are outside and exposed, wash them with soap and water to remove any radioactive dust.
Hazard Kit Essentials
This hazard kit can be used for chemical, biological, and radiological emergencies. Keep this kit stored in the area of your home most likely to be used to shelter in place. In addition to a hazards kit, be sure to have a grab & go bag for each family member and pet. They contain many supplies that will be useful to you as you shelter-in-place, such as food, water, phone charger, flashlight, hand-crank radio, etc.
Mira Safety CM-6M Gas Mask w/ filters for chemical, biological, and radiological personal defense.
RadTriage Radiation Detector or Geiger Counterto measure radiation levels.
N95 maskto filter out at least 95% of airborne particles.
disposable glovesfor protection when handling potentially harmful materials.
potassium iodideto protect the thyroid gland from radiation.
duct tape, scissors & plastic sheeting / towels, wax paper, or foilfor sealing off areas and creating barriers.
heavy duty trash bags / biohazard bagsfor waste disposal.
soap, baby shampoo & spongefor decontamination and hygiene.