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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.

Disaster Preparation Lessons from the Olympics

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

As we look forward to the 2012 Olympic Games to be held this summer in London, officials are doing their due diligence to prepare for potential natural and man-made disasters. After all, planning and preparation is critical for an event that brings together millions of people from all over the world. For security reasons, the International Olympic Committee will not disclose specific steps they are taking to ensure safety for the games. Nevertheless, some disaster management experts agree about the type of disasters that are most likely to strike after the torch is lit during the opening ceremonies in Olympic Stadium in Stratford on July 27.

Disaster preparation has played a crucial role in every game since the so-called Munich Massacre of 1972 when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by Palestinian terrorists. What’s more, the events of 9/11 made preparation all the more critical, tipping the scales in focused planning from natural to man-made disasters.

Two disaster planning and preparedness recently released a novel which explores a likely threat to the 2012 games. Entitled Prion, the work explores the potential of an attack on the London 2012 Olympics using biological agents. Although the thriller is fiction, it sheds light on one of the most likely types of threats to the 2012 games…bioterrorism. Authors, Dr. Italo Subbarao and Dr. Ed Hsu, U.S.-based experts in disaster planning preparedness and emergency medicine, point out the potential dangers of man-made biological agents slipping into the wrong hands.

The authors say their work was inspired, in part, by a 2011 report by the Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center in the United States, which highlighted numerous areas for improvement and concluded that: “The nation does not yet have adequate bio-response capability to meet fundamental expectations during a large-scale biological event.”

“If the U.S. is so unprepared, can the UK—or any other country—honestly claim to be in any better position?” asks Dr. Subbarao.

Rest assured the WMD Report Card was written in 2011. Since that time, extensive time and attention has been devoted to beefing up security protocols in both the U.S. and the U.K. So, even as officials ready the nations, how should average United States’ citizens prepare for a bioterrorist attack? We say this often at Allied Universal Inc, where our goal is to SAVE LIVES THROUGH TRAINING: With bioterrorism as well as any other disaster, to BE SAFE, your best bet is to prepare:

  1. Assemble a kit. Your standard Emergency Supply Kit should include items like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries.
  2. Stay informed. The first evidence of an attack may be when you notice symptoms of the disease caused by exposure to an agent. Follow these guidelines during a biological threat:
  1. Make a plan.
    • Check with your doctor to ensure all required or suggested immunizations are up to date. (Children and older adults are particularly vulnerable to biological agents.)
    • Consider installing a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters in your furnace-return ducts. These filters remove particles in the 0.3 to 10 micron range and will filter out most of the biological agents that might enter your home or office building. If you do not have a central heating or cooling system, a stand-alone portable HEPA filter can be used.
    • Although you might consider investing in gas or surgical face masks, be aware that masks are only effective when worn at the exact time that the agent is released.
    • Familiarize yourself with your community’s warning systems and disaster plans.
    • Public health officials may not immediately be able to provide information on what you should do. Watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet for official news and information including signs and symptoms of the disease, areas in danger, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed and where to seek medical attention if you become ill.
  1. BE SAFE. If you become aware of an unusual and suspicious substance:
    • Quickly get away.
    • Protect yourself. Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow breathing.
    • If you have been exposed to a biological agent, remove and bag your clothes and personal items. Follow official instructions for disposal of contaminated items.
    • Wash yourself with soap and water and put on clean clothes.
    • Use common sense, practice good hygiene and cleanliness to avoid spreading germs.
    • If you believe you have been exposed to a toxic agent, contact authorities and seek medical assistance. You may be advised to stay away from others or even quarantined.
    • In a declared biological emergency or developing epidemic, there may be reason to stay away from crowds where others may be infected.
    • Wait for instructions from doctors and other public health officials.
    • For more information about bioterrism, refer to cdc.gov.

When a disaster of any kind 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 3.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. What’s more, the NEW Allied Universal Property Messaging System is included FREE for all Allied Universal Online Training System users. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information.

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 rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.