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How to Prepare for a Chemical Weapons Attack

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to deny that he ordered the use of chemical weapons against his own people, someone released Sarin gas in Damascus on August 21, killing more than 1,400 people…including women and children. A human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent, Sarin is among the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. Also known as GB, Sarin is a clear, colorless, and (in its purest form) is a tasteless liquid.

Sarin is just one of a large group of biological agents which could potentially be released into the environment anywhere in the world. So, regardless of whether the United States opts to launch a military strike against Syria in response to the Damascus attack, it is prudent to review the ways to prepare for and react to a chemical attack.

The (CDC) defines a chemical emergency as anytime a hazardous chemical has been released and has the potential for harming people’s health. Chemical releases can be unintentional, as in the case of an industrial accident, or intentional, as in the case of a terrorist attack. Scientists often categorize hazardous chemicals by the type of chemical or by the effects a chemical would have on people exposed to it. The categories/types used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are as follows:

  • Biotoxins—come from plants or animals
  • Blister Agents/Vesicants—on contact, severely blister the eyes, respiratory tract and skin
  • Blood Agents—affect the body by being absorbed into the blood
  • Caustics (Acids)— burn or corrode people’s skin, eyes, and mucus membranes on contact
  • Choking/Lung/Pulmonary Agents—cause severe irritation or swelling of the respiratory tract
  • Incapacitating Agents—render people unable to think clearly or cause an altered state of consciousness
  • Long-Acting Anticoagulants—prevent blood from clotting properly, which can lead to uncontrolled bleeding
  • Metals—consist of metallic poisons
  • Nerve Agents—highly poisonous chemicals that compromise the nervous system
  • Organic Solvents—damage living tissue by dissolving fats and oils
  • Riot Control Agents/Tear Gas—used by law enforcement for crowd control
  • Toxic Alcohols—damage the heart, kidneys and nervous system
  • Vomiting Agents—cause nausea and vomiting

Before an Attack

  • Build an Emergency Supply Kit. We often discuss the importance of putting together a kit so you’ll have items on hand when you need them. Be sure to include non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. Also, include a roll of duct tape, scissors and plastic sheeting to use to cover doors, windows and vents if you need to shelter in place.
  • Make a Family Emergency Plan. In the likely event your family members are not together when disaster strikes, decide in advance how you will contact one another, how you will reassemble and what to do in case of an emergency. Check with your doctor to ensure you and your family’s immunizations are up to date. Children and older adults are particularly vulnerable to biological agents.
  • Consider installing a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter in your furnace return duct.

During an Attack

The first evidence of an attack may be when you notice symptoms of the disease caused by exposure to an agent. During a biological threat, use common sense:

  • Cover Your Nose and Mouth
  • If you become aware of an unusual and suspicious substance, quickly get away and protect yourself.
  • Wear a face mask to reduce spreading germs if you are sick and/or to avoid contracting contagious germs. Practice good hygiene and cleanliness to avoid spreading germs.
  • Watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet for official news. Follow instructions of doctors and other public health officials.
  • If necessary, seek medical assistance.
  • Remove and bag your clothes and personal items.
  • Wash yourself with soap and water.
  • Change your clothes.
  • Follow official instructions, if available, for disposal of contaminated items.
  • Do not assume that any illness is the direct result of an attack. Symptoms of common illnesses may overlap.

After an Attack

The most important thing to do following a chemical attack is to wait for instructions so you know whether you should evacuate or shelter in place. Also pertinent is the psychological responses which may follow a bio-terrorism event.  Associated feelings may include anger, fear and social isolation.

Following any attack, thousands of people who think they were infected may seek unnecessary treatment. Trying to distinguish those who have and haven’t been infected could complicate medical professionals’ ability to treat those who have been exposed and infected—especially when diagnoses are unclear. So make sure your symptoms are severe enough to warrant professional treatment. For details, stay tuned to emergency information on radio, television or online.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES.

The Persistent Bioterrorism Threat

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Security experts such as Graham Alison, who is the funding dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and an expert on nuclear proliferation, point to the comparative ease of acquiring bioterrorism materials as opposed to the technology required to actually make a nuclear device. This ease of accumulation makes it considerably more likely that nations will respond to bioterror-detonations or spread before a nuclear attack. And bioterror attacks have already occurred in this country, and continue to happen, with a recent Washington D.C. anthrax attack making the news.

A key tactic for preventing the widespread spread of bacterial weaponized agents is the production of vaccines. However, creating a new vaccine faces many hurdles. There are some successes and shortcomings for efforts to build and stockpile vaccines:

  • Enough smallpox vaccine exists to inoculate every U.S. citizen.
    There is enough anthrax vaccine to cover three major metropolitan areas.
  • The organization of Health and Human Services points to a severe lack of urgency with the United States Government’s efforts to stockpile vaccines and prepare for potential calamities.
  • According to the New York Times, the cost for the pharmaceutical industry to produce a new vaccine averages about $1 billion. Vaccines are not typically money-makers for these companies, which often focus on drugs that require habitual usage—such as cholesterol treatment medications.

Another key component of managing the risk of bioterror is to protect buildings and personnel:

  • HVAC systems pose a severe risk to their very function. They circulate and recycle air throughout buildings, making them the perfect vehicle for contamination.
  • Companies can improve HVAC filtration, protect outdoor air intakes, and secure building blueprints that would show HVAC details.
  • Buildings with tenants whose companies utilize industrial chemicals should ensure physical access to these chemicals is severely restricted.
  • Restricting access of unannounced visitors and couriers is vital to providing some separation between the public and tenants.
  • Establish a “safe haven” where employees can congregate after an attack is eminent.

How to prepare for the threat of bioterrorism

During the anthrax attacks of 2001, many postal and mailroom staff members were not able to recognize the risks of suspicious packages, even after opening the contents and discovering powders.

Handling suspicious packages requires several key steps:

  • Identify unopened packages that might deserve extra scrutiny. Look for signs such as handwritten or badly written address information, excessive postage, markings such as “Confidential,” mismatched postmark/return address, or misspellings.
  • A powdery substance, oily stains, or excessive packaging can be signs of potential bioterror substances in the package.
  • Don’t open questionable packages! This advice seems rudimentary. But you should instruct tenants and mailroom staff that no package is worth injury.
  • Handle the package gently, without shaking the contents.
  • Do not smell the package.
  • Keep the unopened package in a secure area that has adequate ventilation.
  • If you come in contact with a suspicious package or substance, immediately wash your hands and possibly discard clothing if possible.
  • Avoid touching your face when you are handling the package.
  • After calling law enforcement, record as many details as possible about the package. Did you notice a new delivery driver, or an unusual shipping carrier? Any details can give law enforcement time to develop evidence.

In the event your building or staff members are involved in an attack, you should take certain steps to limit damage. Designated employees should call the local FBI office to report the incident and coordinate investigation efforts. Affected individuals should be quickly quarantined while they wait for medical personnel. It is important to provide first responders with as many details as possible so they can arrange HAZMAT or other protections.

The threat for bioterrorism is real. Through proper planning, and open communication with agencies such as the CDC and FBI, you can do your part to identify and prevent attacks from occurring.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: What steps to take to BE SAFE

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
Tail Pipe on a Red Sports Car

BE SAFE: Don't ever leave your car running in the garage, even if the door is open.

Hundreds of lives are lost each year through exposure to an invisible, odorless, colorless toxic gas called Carbon Monoxide (CO). CO also sends thousands of exposed victims to Emergency Rooms to seek treatment. Impossible to see, taste, or smell, CO can kill you before you are even aware of its presence in your home or office.

Although many of us have heard about the dangers of CO poisoning, few realize the many sources the gas can come from—gas-fired appliances to domestic heating systems, charcoal grills and wood-burning furnaces, blocked flues in fireplaces, inadequate ventilation in living areas or places of work and motor vehicles.

One reason CO is so dangerous is that low levels of exposure can mimic symptoms that might easily be mistaken for the flu. Headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue send people to bed to catch up on rest. But if CO poisoning is the real culprit, affected individuals could drift off to sleep, never again to awake.

The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on several factors:

  • Age
  • Overall Health
  • Concentration of Carbon Monoxide Poison
  • Length of Exposure

Health professionals believe that certain groups of people are more at risk if exposed to Carbon Monoxide:

  1. Unborn Babies
  2. Infants
  3. Children
  4. Senior Citizens
  5. People who suffer from heart or lung problems

Here’s how you can protect yourself, your employees and/or coworkers and your family:

  • Install at least one Carbon Monoxide alarm that features an audible warning signal near the areas where people sleep and just outside of every bedroom or office door. Make sure alarms have been approved by a nationally recognized laboratory.
  • Since Carbon Monoxide alarms are designed to measure levels of CO over time and sound only after levels reach a certain concentration, some healthy adults may not think the alarm is accurate since they might not experiencing noticeable symptoms when they hear the alarm. So don’t ignore your CO alarm. If it goes off, heed the warning.
  • Don’t ever use your stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Hire a qualified professional to check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, vents and chimneys regularly.
  • Don’t use charcoal grills or hibachis in your home, office or garage.
  • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of gas.
  • When purchasing a new or existing home, make sure qualified technicians have evaluated the integrity of heating systems and cooking equipment, as well as sealed spaces between garages and homes. A Carbon Monoxide alarm could save your life.

If Carbon Monoxide Detector Sounds:

(Even if no one is feeling ill):

  1. Silence the alarm.
  2. Turn off appliances and all sources of combustion
  3. Open all doors and windows for ventilation
  4. Call qualified professionals to investigate the possible source of CO buildup

(If people feel the effects of CO poisoning):

  1. Evacuate occupants immediately.
  2. Determine which occupants are ill and assess their symptoms.
  3. Call 911. Relaying information to the dispatcher, include how many people feel ill.
  4. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  5. Call qualified professionals for repairs

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Keeping Your Cool – Staying Healthy During a Heat Wave

Monday, July 18th, 2011
bright sun beating on a city

To BE SAFE, prepare for heat waves.

Severe heat waves are not merely a nuisance and a boon for the power company. Extreme heat can cause heat stroke—a serious medical condition that can be deadly, especially for the very young and the elderly. Some summers, such as the summer of 2006, bring on extremely severe temperature highs that can damage buildings and roads and even kill.

The old adage: “It’s the heat, not the humidity” proves to be very true in a heat wave. Humidity is debilitating because sweat doesn’t readily evaporate from skin since the surrounding air already contains so much moisture. This is a big reason why air conditioning feels so good…because it reduces the level of humidity.

To manage a heat wave, it’s important to help your body stay cool. One of the best ways to do this is to limit outdoor activities.

Tips for keeping cool in the summer sun:

  • Wear sunscreen, even on overcast days. If your skin gets red from too much heat, you are suffering from sunburn, which will leave you feeling hot and uncomfortable and can lead to permanent damage to the skin.
  • Drink plenty of cold liquids, avoiding alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can actually dehydrate instead of hydrate you.
  • Shade is your friend. Shady areas can be up to 15 degrees cooler than their sunny counterparts, and will help regulate your body temperature.
  • Take it easy! The middle of a heat wave is the not the ideal time to take up jogging or another form of strenuous outdoor activity.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing to allow your body to expel excess heat. Some people have a difficult time monitoring their own body temperature and might tend to overdress for the conditions.
  • Eat small meals. It’s necessary for your core temperature to rises in order to digest big meals. Focus on frequency instead of quantity.

Identify and manage heat stroke:

  • Body temperatures measure over 105.1 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Dry skin, rapid pulse and disorientation are all symptoms.
  • For severe cases, immersion in cool (but not cold) water is recommended.
  • Hydration is very important, including use of either cool water or intravenous fluids if the victim is unable to drink.
  • To stave off heat stroke, drink before you start to feel thirsty.
  • Administer first aid to heat stroke victims until their temperature falls in a safe range (101-102 degrees).

Help your family to beat the heat:

  • Get out of the city! Urban areas are heat islands, where the temperatures remain warm even throughout the night. Cities also trap pollutants during heat waves. So plan a trip to a more rural area to escape summer crowds and heat.
  • If you travel to a warm climate, make sure your accommodations and vehicle feature air conditioning.
  • If your home does not have an air conditioning unit, consider going somewhere during the hottest part of the afternoon. Shopping malls, movie theaters and public libraries are all cool summer destinations.
  • Ceiling fans and standing fans don’t technically lower the temperature of a room, but they do create a “wind chill” effect where the body cools itself with a nice breeze.

If you are a building owner:

  • Test your air conditioning system to be sure it can handle the strain of prolonged usage. Clean filters will help the system run at optimal efficiency.
  • Implement the use of compact fluorescent bulbs instead of the heat-producing incandescent variety.
  • Consider adding inexpensive shade structure or fabric to cool outdoor patio areas.
  • When it’s time for new windows, install the tinted variety, which can drastically reduce the heat coming into a building.

Unlike other disasters, you can’t see the heat wave—you can just feel it. However, as with other disasters, preparation and common sense are your best tools for safely managing a heat wave. Keep a close eye on children and other loved ones to be sure they have ready access to resources and helpful information.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit for more information and remember to BE SAFE.