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Emergency Preparedness Essentials
 

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Chemical Threats and Attacks

Chemical agents are poisonous and can be manifested as vapors, liquids, aerosols, or solids that have toxic effects on plants, animals, and people. There are several ways they can be released including bombs or sprayed by boat, aircraft, or other vehicles. They can also be used in liquid form to harm people and their environment. Sometimes the chemicals may be extremely difficult to detect due to their being odorless or tasteless. However, they can still have an immediate affect such as a few seconds to a few minutes. Other times they can have a delayed affect of 2 to 48 hours. Chemical agents are potentially lethal but difficult to deliver in what would be lethal concentrations. The agents often dissipate quickly outdoors. They are also difficult to create.

Chemical attacks can often come without any warnings. People experiencing eye irritation, difficulty breathing, loss of coordination, feeling nauseated, or having a burning feeling in their throat, lungs, or nose are all signs of a possible chemical release. Other indications of the release of chemical agents are dead birds or insects.

How To Prepare for a Chemical Threat

To prepare for a chemical threat:
  • Create an Emergency Supply Kit, which will include water, non-perishable food, extra flashlights and batteries, a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio, etc. You should also include:
    • Duct tape and scissors.
    • For where you will shelter in place you will want plastics for doors and windows. In order to save time in the emergency, pre-measure and have cut the plastic needed for each opening.
    • Create a Family Emergency Plan. Because you and your family might not be in the same place during an emergency it is important to have a plan for how you will find each other if the time comes.
      • Know and understand your disaster plans and warning systems that are in place in your community.
      • An out-of-town contact might be more easily able to help separated family members communicate because placing a call in town may be difficult.
      • It is smart to look into emergency plans in places where you and your family spend time such as school or daycare or work. If any of these places do not currently have an emergency plan you may want to consider helping to create one.
      • Establish a place both inside and outside your neighborhood where your family will meet.
      • Make sure that any babysitters or caregivers know of your familyís plans.
      • Donít forget about your pets.
  • Choose an internal room to shelter, preferably one on the highest level and without windows.

What to Do During a Chemical Threat

  • Try to figure out where the chemical is coming from as quickly as possible.
  • Get away quickly.
  • Try to get outside of a contaminated building without passing through the area that is contaminated.
  • If it is impossible to get outside without passing through the contaminated area, you may be better off to move as far away from the contaminated area as possible and shelter-in-place.
What to do if you're instructed to remain in your office building or home:
  • Turn off all ventilation and close windows and doors.
  • Take your disaster supplies kit and seek shelter in one of your internal rooms.
  • Make sure the room gets sealed with plastic sheeting and duct tape.
  • Pay attention to the radio for authorities to give instructions.
What to do if you become caught around or in a contaminated area:
  • Move upwind of the source immediately.
  • Quickly find shelter.
  • If youíre outside, figure out if going further outside of the area or going inside and shelter-in-place will get you the cleanest air.

What to Do After a Chemical Threat Has Occurred

In order to minimize health consequences, decontaminate as quickly as possible following exposure. Do not leave safety to help others until authorized by the authorities.

People affected by chemical agents will need immediate medical attention from those qualified to give it. However, if medical help isnít available immediately, decontaminate yourself and others.

Decontamination guidelines:
  • When trying to help others who have been exposed remember to use extreme caution.
  • Clothing that has come in contact with the body should be removed. Cut off the clothing that would be removed over the head in order to avoid contacting the eyes, nose, or the mouth. Seal the plastic bag that the contaminated clothes are placed in. Use soap and water to decontaminate hands. Make sure you remove contact lenses or eyeglasses. Eyeglasses can be decontaminated using bleach followed by rinsing and drying.
  • Eyes should be flushed with water.
  • The face should be gently cleansed before rinsing with water.
  • Decontaminate all body parts by blotting a cloth soaked in soapy water. Follow by rinsing with clear water.
  • Change into clothing that was stored in drawers as they are the least likely to be contaminated.
  • Go to a hospital or clinic to be screened and receive professional treatment.
For more information on chemical threats you can download Chemical Attack Fact Sheet: Warfare Agents, Industrial Chemicals, and Toxins at http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/prep_chemical_fact_sheet.pdf.

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