How to Prepare for an Emergency – Hazardous Material Incident
The users of hazardous materials should have a controlled environment allowing ready access to the general site and the product, good equipment, a tested quick response capability and well-drilled personnel. However, incidents can occur in even the safest environment and an absence or breakdown of any of the above safeguards could result in a major emergency. User incidents may result from equipment failure, human error, failure to follow established procedures, natural disaster, or sabotage.
Chemicals are found everywhere. They purify drinking water, increase crop production and simplify household chores. But chemicals also can be hazardous to humans or the environment if used or released improperly. Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal. You and your community are at risk if a chemical is used unsafely or released in harmful amounts into the environment where you live, work or play.
Before the Hazardous Materials Event
Many communities have Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) whose responsibilities include collecting information about hazardous materials in the community and making this information available to the public upon request. The LEPCs also are tasked with developing an emergency plan to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies in the community. Ways the public will be notified and actions the public must take in the event of a release are part of the plan.
Contact the LEPCs to find out more about chemical hazards and what needs to be done to minimize the risk to individuals and the community from these materials. Your local emergency management office can provide contact information on the LEPCs. Find your state office or agency of emergency management.
The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property from the effects of a hazardous materials incident:
- Build an Emergency Supply Kit, which includes items like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You should add plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors to the kit in order be better prepared for a hazardous materials incident. You may want to prepare a portable kit and keep it in your car in case you are told to evacuate.
- Make a Family Emergency Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
If Caught at the Scene of an Accident
If you see an accident, call 9-1-1 or the local fire department to report the nature and location of the accident as soon as possible. Move away from the accident scene and help keep others away. Do not walk into or touch any of the spilled substance.
Try not to inhale gases, fumes and smoke. If possible, cover mouth with a cloth while leaving the area. Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified. Try to stay upstream, uphill and upwind of the accident.
How you may be notified of a major Haz Mat incident
In the event of a major chemical emergency, you will be notified by the authorities. To get your attention, a siren could sound, you may be called by telephone, or emergency personnel may drive by and give instructions over a loudspeaker. Officials could even come to your door.
*Listen carefully to radio or television emergency alert stations (EAS), and strictly follow instructions. Your life could depend on it.
You will be told
- The type of health hazard
- The area affected
- How to protect yourself
- Evacuation routes (if necessary)
- Shelter locations
- Type and location of medical facilities
- And the phone numbers to call if you need extra help.
- Do not call the telephone company, and do not call EMS, 9-1-1, or the operator for information.
- Dial these numbers only for a possible life-threatening emergency.
Stay upstream, uphill, and upwind! In general, try to go at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area. Move away from the accident scene and help keep others away.
Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists, or condensed solid chemical deposits. Try not to inhale gases, fumes and smoke. If possible, cover mouth with a cloth while leaving the area.
*Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified.
If you are in a motor vehicle, stop and seek shelter in a permanent building. If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.
- Bring pets inside.
- Close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers, and as many interior doors as possible.
- Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems. In large buildings, set ventilation systems to 100 percent recirculation so that no outside air is drawn into the building. If this is not possible, ventilation systems should be turned off.
- Go into the pre-selected shelter room. This room should be above ground and have the fewest openings to the outside.
- Seal gaps under doorways and windows with wet towels or plastic sheeting and duct tape.
- Seal gaps around window and air conditioning units, bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, and stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting, wax paper or aluminum wrap.
- Use material to fill cracks and holes in the room, such as those around pipes.
- If gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or a towel. Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.
Authorities may decide to evacuate an area for your protection. Again, it is important to stay calm, listen carefully and follow all instructions. If you are told to evacuate, listen to your radio to make sure the evacuation order applies to you and to understand if you are to evacuate immediately or if you have time to pack some essentials. Do not use your telephone.
If you are told to evacuate take your personal belongings and medications, close and lock your windows, shut off all vents, lock the door, move quickly, and stay calm.
Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for a hazardous materials incident and learn about available resources by visiting the following websites: