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Hazardous Materials Incidents

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

As most people know, a train derailed in Spain last week, killing 79 passengers. A lesser known fact about the accident, as well as other transportation mishaps, is that hazardous materials were released into the air following the crash. Hazardous materials come in many shapes and sizes – explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons and radioactive materials.

What’s more, chemicals used in routine processes such as distilling drinking water, increasing crop production and simplifying household chores have the potential to release hazardous byproducts if released into the environment. Since hazardous materials are dangerous when released into the environment, take the following steps to protect yourself, your family and your property before, during and after any such incidents:

Before A Hazardous Materials’ Incident

  1. Build an Emergency Supply Kit. The kit should include items such as non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlights and batteries. Also include plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors. If possible, prepare a portable kit to store in your car in case you are asked to evacuate.
  2. Make a Family Emergency Plan. Unfortunately, all of your family members may not be in the same location when disaster strikes. So figure out in advance how you will contact each other as well as how you will reassemble. Consider having everyone check in with a relative who lives out of the area. This is especially important if communications and/or transportation are compromised.

During a Hazardous Materials Incident

  1. Listen to radio programs or TV news for detailed information and instructions. Follow the instructions carefully. Avoid the area to minimize the risk of contamination. Some toxic chemicals are odorless. So don’t assume you are safe if you can’t smell anything.
  2. If you are asked to evacuate: evacuate immediately!
  3. Stay tuned to a radio or television station or social media websites for information about evacuation routes, temporary shelters and recommended procedures.
  4. Follow the routes recommended by authorities. This is important, as shortcuts may not be safe.
  5. Minimize the risk of allowing contaminants to enter your house by closing windows, shutting vents, and turning off fans.
  6. If you are instructed to leave, make sure you remember to take pre-assembled disaster supplies with you.
  7. Help neighbors who may require special assistance (infants, the elderly and people with special needs).

If you are outside during a Hazardous Materials Incident

Stay upstream, uphill, and upwind! In general, try to go at put some distance between yourself and the chemicals. If you can walk one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area, you will be in better shape than if you hang around after a hazardous spill. Move quickly from the accident scene and help others vacate the area.

If you are told to stay indoors

Bring your pets inside. Close and lock exterior doors and windows as well as vents, fireplace dampers, interior doors and turn off a/c and ventilation systems.

After a Hazardous Materials Incident

  1. Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  2. If you have come in contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, act quickly. Follow decontamination instructions from authorities. You may be advised to take a shower or you could be told to stay away from water and follow another decontamination procedure.
  3. ASAP, seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms.
  4. Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers. Call local authorities to find out methods for proper disposal.
  5. Advise everyone who comes in to contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.
  6. Listen to the news or follow social media for emergency information.
  7. Return home only when you are told that doing so is safe.
  8. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
  9. Ask local authorities how to sufficiently clean your land and property.
  10. Report lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services office.

For more details about how to prepare and react to hazardous materials incidents, check out the free materials available on 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.