There are many bacterial, viral, toxic, chemical and radiological substances that could be used as weapons against human beings.
Although many of these agents are difficult to deliver into an unsuspecting population, it is still a remote possibility when faced with an educated and well-funded terrorist organization. It’s much more likely that an industrial or transportation related accident involving one of these substances could occur.
The federal government has drastically increased efforts to detect and disrupt acts of domestic and international terrorism… and has provided significant funding to state and local response organizations to prepare for the effects of such attacks. New Hampshire’s Homeland Security Task Force, Bioterrorism Committee, Hazardous Materials Response Team, Local Emergency Planning Committee, and many other organizations are actively working to enhance our response systems and procedures.
Having an educated public, however, is the most effective form of preparedness. All Americans should understand the basics about Weapons of Mass Destruction (“WMD”) and hazardous materials protective actions, especially if they work or live near major roads, industrial facilities, and other large institutions.
Bioterrorism is the intentional or threatened use of viruses, bacteria, fungi or toxins from living organisms to produce death or disease in humans, animals or plants. There are over 400 agents listed as possible agents of bio-terrorism. Some examples include Smallpox, Anthrax, Botulism, and Plague. The effects of these organisms vary, as does the medical treatment and community response protocol.
When the nation’s Public Health surveillance system detects an outbreak, several systems are activated. Certified laboratories confirm the agent, state and local public health officials begin to track down the source or point of release, potentially exposed members of the community are identified and treated if necessary, and the public are kept informed as the investigation progresses. At the first hint of a potential act of terrorism, appropriate law enforcement agencies are immediately involved.
Keeping your immune system strong is the best single defense against disease, including acts of bio-terrorism.
A healthy diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep go a long way in helping your natural immune system, which makes it more difficult for viruses and bacteria to take hold and thrive. Washing your hands with soap and warm water regularly, especially before and after meals, is also a very good defense.
There is no need to purchase a gas mask. For complete protection with a gas mask, it would need to be worn all day, every day. The best way to protect you during potential bio-terrorism or chemical incidents is to stay informed and follow official instructions.
There is no need for smallpox or anthrax vaccinations and it is not necessary to store or stockpile any prescription medication. You would be notified through the media if dispensing emergency medications becomes necessary. Fortunately, many types of illnesses that could be caused by bio-terrorism are treatable, and emergency stockpiles of medications are ready to go at a moments notice.
Chemicals are an enormous part of our every-day lives. Without the advancements made in chemistry, we would still be living in the middle ages. These technological advancements do come with a risk. Accidental hazardous materials spills do occur. When they happen, highly trained “HazMat” teams are quickly activated and the release is mitigated. Because of recent events, the risks are heightened because chemicals may be available to terrorists.
There are so many chemicals available in North America that it is simply impossible to list what could be used and how it would affect you if released. For that reason, it is important to educate yourself about community hazardous materials emergency procedures.
You would find out about the appropriate emergency procedure to follow by listening to your local Emergency Alert System radio station (see the Warning System page). In the event of a chemical emergency, there are three basic emergency procedures that you will be asked to follow.
1. Developing Emergency Situation – Stay Tuned for Official Information
This indicates that an emergency is taking place that may soon require you to take protective action. Citizens should monitor local “EAS” broadcasts for potentially fast-breaking developments.
2. Shelter In-place
Emergency personnel may determine that “in-place” sheltering is the best way to protect affected members of the public. Stay calm, listen carefully to instructions provided by the “EAS” broadcaster to make sure that the “shelter-in-place” order applies to you, and follow these instructions:
- Take your children and pets indoors immediately. While gathering your family, you can provide a minimal amount of protection to your breathing by covering your mouth and nose with a damp cloth.
- Close all windows in your home.
- Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems.
- Close the fireplace damper.
- Go to an above ground room (not the basement) with the fewest windows and doors.
- Take your Family Disaster Supply Kit with you.
- Wet some towels and jam them in the crack under the doors. Apply tape around the doors, windows, exhaust fans and vents. Use plastic garbage bags to cover windows, outlets, and heat registers.
- If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains. To avoid injury, stay away from the windows.
- Stay in the room and listen to your radio until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate.
Emergency personnel may determine that an evacuation is necessary. Stay calm, listen carefully to instructions provided by the “EAS” broadcaster to make sure that the evacuation order applies to you, and to find out if you should evacuate immediately or if you have a little time to pack some essentials. Do not use your telephone, and follow these instructions:
- Move quickly and calmly and take the following with you:
- Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit
- Change of clothing for each member of the family
- Eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, canes and walkers
- Baby care items
- Personal items such as toothbrushes and deodorant
- Close and lock your windows
- Shut off all vents
- Lock the door and evacuate following the provided instructions, taking only one car if possible
Do not assume that a shelter will have everything you need. In most cases, the shelters will provide only emergency items such as meals, cots, and blankets. Also consider checking-in on neighbors to make sure they have been notified, and offer help to those with disabilities or other special needs.
Nuclear or Radiological Incident
The community’s response to a “dirty bomb” (an explosive device that disburses radioactive material) would be very similar to that of a chemical emergency response because the area affected by radiation would be relatively limited.
Although you may be asked to evacuate, nuclear power plant accidents and detonation of thermonuclear devices requires a different sheltering technique. The three factors for protecting oneself from radiation and fallout are distance, shielding, and time. The more distance between you and the incident location or the fallout particles, the better; the heavier and denser the building materials (shielding), the better; and fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you would be able to leave your temporary shelter.
The severity and course of acute radiation sickness depends on how much total dose is received, how much of the body is exposed, and the sensitivity of the individual. Generally, large acute exposures can result in easily observable effects such as hair loss, changes in blood cells and vessels, skin irritation similar to severe sunburn, and gastrointestinal system effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and high fever. Long-term lower dose exposure can also create delayed effects such as cancer.
Should a radiological incident happen, keeping informed (see the Warning System page) and closely following official instructions are your keys to safety and survival. It is also important to know where to take shelter and how to perform basic fallout decontamination procedures.
Fallout contamination (dusty, flaky or small granular particles that fall from the sky following a significant nuclear event) is radioactive. Should fallout materialize, everyone should seek a safe shelter location, such as in the middle of a well-constructed building or in the center of a home’s basement (keep “distance” and “shielding” in mind). If someone is contaminated with fallout, they should decontaminate themselves by carefully removing contaminated clothing and thoroughly showering, if possible. It is also important to keep all contaminated clothing, including shoes, away from the temporary shelter location.