Terrorism (Chemical Attack) – Mitigation (Actions Before, During, After)


A chemical attack could come without warning. Signs of a chemical release include people having difficulty breathing; experiencing eye irritation; losing coordination; becoming nauseated; or having a burning sensation in the nose, throat and lungs. Also, the presence of many dead insects or birds may indicate a chemical agent release.[1]

The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property from the effects of a chemical threat:[2] [3]

Actions Before: Determine Risk, Increase Knowledge, Safeguard, Plan

  • Determine the disaster risks in your locale.
  • Learn warning signs and community alert systems.
  • Have a shelter in-place and a mobile disaster supplies kit ready. Make sure to have these items:
    • A roll of duct tape and scissors.
    • Plastic for doors, windows, and vents for the room in which you will shelter in place. To save critical time during an emergency, pre-measure and cut the plastic sheeting for each opening.
  • Choose an internal room to shelter, preferably one without windows and on the highest level.
  • Create a custom Family Emergency Plan. Make plans for elderly, disabled, and pets.
  • Develop an emergency communication plan in case of separation.
  • Ask an out-of-state person to serve as the "family contact".

Protective Equipment

Protective equipment is used in relation to chemical weapons is to form a physical barrier between the body and the chemical weapons agent.

  • Gas Mask. The predominant item that is used to protect someone from chemical weapon agents is a mask known as a gas mask. Gas masks are made-up of a face piece (made of an impermeable material) which is fitted with an aerosol filter with a carbon filter in canister form. The filter removes aerosols by a mechanical filtration. The filter itself contains several elements which give it a high absorption capability against the majority of chemical weapons agents in aerosol form. To start, cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or any pieces of cloth, if available.
  • Protective Clothing. Skin protection against chemical weapons is provided by special protective clothing. There are two major types of protective clothing, one that is impermeable to liquids, an example is those suits which are constructed from nylon fabrics lined with butyl rubber. The second type of protective suit is one which is permeable to air and moisture but has been treated to prevent chemical weapons agents from getting through. An example of this type of suit is one with an outer oil-resistant layer of fabric which as an inner layer of finely ground carbon (activated) attached to a plastic foam.

Actions During: Safety Basics, Evacuation, Shelter in Place

What you should do in a chemical attack:

  • 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 instructed to remain in your home or office building, you should:

  • Close doors and windows and turn off all ventilation, including furnaces, air conditioners, vents, and fans.
  • Seek shelter in an internal room and take your disaster supplies kit.
  • Seal the room with duct tape and plastic sheeting.
  • Listen to your radio for instructions from authorities.

If you are caught in or near a contaminated area, you should:

  • Move away immediately in a direction upwind of the source.
  • Find shelter as quickly as possible
  • 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.

Actions After: Get Disaster Relief, Clean-up, Salvage

Decontamination is needed within minutes of exposure to minimize health consequences. Do not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors to help others until authorities announce it is safe to do so.

A person affected by a chemical agent requires immediate medical attention from a professional. If medical help is not immediately available, decontaminate yourself and assist in decontaminating others.

Decontamination guidelines are as follows:

  • Use extreme caution when helping others who have been exposed to chemical agents.
  • Remove all clothing and other items in contact with the body. Contaminated clothing normally removed over the head should be cut off to avoid contact with the eyes, nose and mouth. Put contaminated clothing and items into a plastic bag and seal it. Decontaminate hands using soap and water. Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses. Put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate them and then rinse and dry.
  • Flush eyes with water.
  • Gently wash face and hair with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing with water.
  • Decontaminate other body areas likely to have been contaminated. Blot (do not swab or scrape) with a cloth soaked in soapy water and rinse with clear water.
  • Change into uncontaminated clothes. Clothing stored in drawers or closets is likely to be uncontaminated.
  • Proceed to a medical facility for screening and professional treatment.



  1. Ready.gov – Chemical Threats: http://www.ready.gov/chemical-threats
  2. American Red Cross, CDC – Emergency Preparedness and Response, FEMA – Are You Ready? Guide, Ready.gov, Be a Force of Nature with NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation, National Weather Service Weather Safety
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