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Ready Bucks LogoBiological, Chemical and Nuclear Threats

Biological Threats


A biological attack is the deliberate release of germs or other biological substances that can make you sick. Many agents must be inhaled, enter through a cut in the skin or be eaten to make you sick. Some biological agents, such as anthrax, do not cause contagious diseases. Others, like the smallpox virus, can result in diseases you can catch from other people.

Illustration of how a Biological Attack would affect certain areas of the body.If There is a Biological Threat

Unlike an explosion, a biological attack may or may not be immediately obvious. While it is possible that you will see signs of a biological attack, as was sometimes the case with the anthrax mailings, it is perhaps more likely that local health care workers will report a pattern of unusual illness or there will be a wave of sick people seeking emergency medical attention. You will probably learn of the danger through an emergency radio or TV broadcast, or some other signal used in your community. You might get a telephone call or emergency response workers may come to your door.

In the event of a biological attack, public health officials may not immediately be able to provide information on what you should do. It will take time to determine exactly what the illness is, how it should be treated, and who is in danger. However, you should watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet for official news including the following:

  • Are you in the group or area authorities consider in danger?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?
  • Are medications or vaccines being distributed?
  • Where? Who should get them?
  • Where should you seek emergency medical care if you become sick?
During a declared biological emergency:
  1. If a family member becomes sick, it is important to be suspicious. Do not assume, however, that you should go to a hospital emergency room or that any illness is the result of the biological attack. Symptoms of many common illnesses may overlap.
  2. Use common sense, practice good hygiene and cleanliness to avoid spreading germs, and seek medical advice.
  3. Consider if you are in the group or area authorities believe to be in danger.
  4. If your symptoms match those described and you are in the group considered at risk, immediately seek emergency medical attention.
If you are potentially exposed:
  1. Follow instructions of doctors and other public health officials.
  2. If the disease is contagious expect to receive medical evaluation and treatment. You may be advised to stay away from others or even deliberately quarantined.
  3. For non-contagious diseases, expect to receive medical evaluation and treatment.
If you become aware of an unusual and suspicious substance nearby:
  1. Quickly get away.
  2. Protect yourself. Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow breathing. Examples include two to three layers of cotton such as a t-shirt, handkerchief or towel. Otherwise, several layers of tissue or paper towels may help.
  3. Wash with soap and water.
  4. Contact authorities. Watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet for official news and information including what the signs and symptoms of the disease are, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed and where you should seek medical attention if you become sick.
  5. If you become sick seek emergency medical attention.

Biological Threats Handout

Chemical Threats

Illustration of Chemical ThreatsA chemical attack is the deliberate release of a toxic gas, liquid or solid that can poison people and the environment.

Possible Signs of Chemical Threat

Many people suffering from watery eyes, twitching, choking, having trouble breathing or losing coordination. Many sick or dead birds, fish or small animals are also cause for suspicion.

If You See Signs of Chemical Attack: Find Clean Air Quickly
  • Quickly try to define the impacted area or where the chemical is coming from, if possible.
  • Take immediate action to get away.
  • If the chemical is inside a building where you are, get out of the building without passing through the contaminated area, if possible.
  • If you can't get out of the building or find clean air without passing through the area where you see signs of a chemical attack, it may be better to move as far away as possible and shelter-in-place.
  • If you are outside, quickly decide what is the fastest way to find clean air. Consider if you can get out of the area or if you should go inside the closest building and "shelter-in-place."
If You Think You Have Been Exposed to a Chemical

If your eyes are watering, your skin is stinging, and you are having trouble breathing, you may have been exposed to a chemical.

  • If you think you may have been exposed to a chemical, strip immediately and wash.
  • Look for a hose, fountain, or any source of water, and wash with soap if possible, being sure not to scrub the chemical into your skin.
  • Seek emergency medical attention.
Chemical Threats Handout

Nuclear Threats

Illustration-Walking Down Steps to Fallout ShelterA nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water and ground surfaces for miles around. During a nuclear incident, it is important to avoid radioactive material, if possible. While experts may predict at this time that a nuclear attack is less likely than other types, terrorism by its nature is unpredictable.

If there is advanced warning of an attack

Take cover immediately, as far below ground as possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave.

If there is no warning
  1. Quickly assess the situation.
  2. Consider if you can get out of the area or if it would be better to go inside a building to limit the amount of radioactive material you are exposed to.
  3. If you take shelter go as far below ground as possible, close windows and doors, turn off air conditioners, heaters or other ventilation systems. Stay where you are, watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet for official news as it becomes available.
  4. To limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to, think about shielding, distance and time.
    • Shielding: If you have a thick shield between yourself and the radioactive materials more of the radiation will be absorbed, and you will be exposed to less.
    • Distance: The farther away you are away from the blast and the fallout the lower your exposure.
    • Time: Minimizing time spent exposed will also reduce your risk.

Use available information to assess the situation. If there is a significant radiation threat, health care authorities may or may not advise you to take potassium iodide. Potassium iodide is the same stuff added to your table salt to make it iodized. It may or may not protect your thyroid gland, which is particularly vulnerable, from radioactive iodine exposure. Plan to speak with your health care provider in advance about what makes sense for your family.

Nuclear Threat Handout

Radiation Threat

Illustration of Nuclear Waste ContainersA radiation threat, commonly referred to as a "dirty bomb" or "radiological dispersion device (RDD)", is the use of common explosives to spread radioactive materials over a targeted area. It is not a nuclear blast. The force of the explosion and radioactive contamination will be more localized. While the blast will be immediately obvious, the presence of radiation will not be clearly defined until trained personnel with specialized equipment are on the scene. As with any radiation, you want to try to limit exposure. It is important to avoid breathing radiological dust that may be released in the air.

If There is a Radiation Threat or "Dirty Bomb"
  1. If you are outside and there is an explosion or authorities warn of a radiation release nearby, cover your nose and mouth and quickly go inside a building that has not been damaged. If you are already inside check to see if your building has been damaged. If your building is stable, stay where you are.

Close windows and doors; turn off air conditioners, heaters or other ventilation systems.

  1. If you are inside and there is an explosion near where you are or you are warned of a radiation release inside, cover nose and mouth and go outside immediately. Look for a building or other shelter that has not been damaged and quickly get inside.

Once you are inside, close windows and doors; turn off air conditioners, heaters or other ventilation systems.

  1. If you think you have been exposed to radiation, take off your clothes and wash as soon as possible.
  2. Stay where you are, watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet for official news as it becomes available.
  3. Remember: To limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to, think about shielding, distance and time.
    • Shielding: If you have a thick shield between yourself and the radioactive materials more of the radiation will be absorbed, and you will be exposed to less.
    • Distance: The farther away you are away from the blast and the fallout the lower your exposure.
    • Time: Minimizing time spent exposed will also reduce your risk.

As with any emergency, local authorities may not be able to immediately provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet often for official news and information as it becomes available.

Radiation Threat Handout