Saturday, April 10, 2010

Some basic rules to surviving an attack

These are the things you should do once you become aware that you need to protect yourself from a toxic gas attack:

If you're in a building and the attack occurs inside the building then head for the nearest exit

If you're in a building and the attack occurs outdoors, don't attempt to exit - just follow rules 2 to 5 (below). 
If you’re outside and the attack is outside, immediately enter a house or building and follow the rules below.  

If there's no safe building nearby, try to determine the direction of the wind and move cross-wind. If you move down-wind you risk remaining exposed to the gas for a longer time. If you move up-wind you risk entering a more dense cloud of the gas. By moving cross-wind you have the greatest chance of getting out of the cloud quickly as most gases will move with the wind along a relatively narrow line.

If you’re in your car stay inside and attempt to drive away from the cloud (again cross-wind if possible)

Finally, avoid moving to low areas as the gas may become trapped there.

If you're indoors, move to a room that’s as far away from the source of the gas emission as possible. Upstairs is better than downstairs because these gases tend to be heavier than air so they remain close to the ground. 

Shut and lock all doors and windows. Turn off air conditioners, heaters, ventilation systems, all electrical appliances, and close all water and gas taps. Seal ventilators with tape, and preferably do the same around the doors and windows. If possible, place damp towels at the bottom of doors.

Tune in to a local radio station that is broadcasting official emergency information.

Cooperate with official instructions and stay put until you’re given the all clear by an official authority (don't rely solely on media reports, unless they are delivered by appropriate authorities). Be prepared to evacuate if given the official order to do so.

The points above apply mainly to the event of a gas attack or an attack involving the rapid spread of a non-contagious biological agent like anthrax.   In most circumstances, as we've already seen, the consequences of a biological attack will only begin to show up days or weeks after the attack itself.

In the event that you become aware of a biological attack having taken place

Go indoors immediately. Try to seal off a safe room to shelter in (as described in point 3 above).  Try to minimize contact with other people. 

Do the same things you would do to prevent the spread of colds and flus (wash your hands often, avoid close proximity to an infected person, wash surfaces and clothing that an infected person may have touched and avoid touching your eyes). These simple hygiene practices will do wonders to decrease your chances of infection and are very effective at halting the spread of infectious diseases.

Try to get information on how contagious the disease is, and how far it has spread. Listen to your radio and try contacting you local emergency coordinator's office for details (see Additional resources to find out how to locate your local coordinator). Follow any advice you're given by the authorities and the medical profession.

If your family members are in different places you will need to use your judgement on how to proceed. If they are in a safe environment in their workplace or school, then leave them there until the situation is normalized. If you have to go outside to pick up members of your family, and you don't have protective gear, then wear a damp cloth over your mouth and nose as a minimum first line of defense. Bear in mind, any member of your family could be infected and bring the disease home with them.

Tune in to a local radio station that is broadcasting official emergency information. Avoid using the telephone. It should be used for emergency calls only.

Be prepared to evacuate if given the official order to do so

At this point, it depends largely on the nature and extent of the problem. In a worst case scenario, you may find yourself 'trapped' in your home for a considerable period of time.

Try your best to be prepared for this possibility. We will be looking at how you can prepare yourself for this scenario in the next section of this book.


If you have a baby or a young infant, don't struggle to make him/her put on a gas mask during an attack. Strive instead, to get both yourself and the child to a safe place as quickly as possible. If possible, hold a wet t-shirt over his/her mouth and nose.

You should discuss all the points on this page with your family, with your child's school, and with your work colleagues to ensure that no matter where you and your family are, you're all in a good position to protect yourselves in the event of any kind of attack.

You should also visit your local hospital and find out how well prepared they are to cope with an emergency. A recent study along the east coast by the Journal of the American Public Health Association revealed that only 20% of hospitals had adequate emergency plans.

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