Recent train derailments and fires should be a reminder to everyone there are many hazardous materials all around us.
Chemical plants are one source of hazardous materials, but there are many others that exist in large industry, small businesses, and homes. There are about 500,000 products that could pose a physical or health hazard – things ranging from waste produced by a petroleum refinery to materials used by the dry cleaners to pesticides stored in your home.
Most hazardous materials are transported around the country by road, rail and through pipelines potentially causing spills on highways, near railroad tracks or underground.
Many U.S. communities have a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that keeps local planners, companies and members of the community informed of potential risks. All companies that have hazardous chemicals must report to the LEPC every year and the public is encouraged to get involved.
We [the public] should all learn more about hazardous materials and how they can affect our lives so read below and contact your local emergency management office or fire department to learn more.
BEFORE A HAZARDOUS MATERIALS DISASTER:
Learn the buzzwords - Ask your local officials about emergency warning procedures and terms...
Learn risks - Ask Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), Emergency Management Office, or Fire Department about community plans for responding to a hazardous materials accident at a plant or a transportation accident involving hazardous materials. Ask about the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act (or EPCRA) and help your community become better informed.
Have a plan - Use LEPC’s or agency’s information to determine if your family is at risk (especially people living close to freeways, railroads, or factories which produce or transport toxic waste). Also check emergency plans for schools, day care and nursing home to find out where everyone goes if evacuated.
Make kits – Make disaster supplies kits for your home, office, locker and car. Pack things like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries, medicines (if needed), a change of clothes, comfortable shoes, some toiletries, tools, etc. Find some tips on creating a kit here
Take a tour - LEPCs sometimes visit facilities that produce or transport toxic waste and include community groups, local officials and the media.
Pick a room - It could take authorities time to determine what the hazardous material is (if any) so pick a room in advance that your family could use as “shelter-in-place” if told to stay indoors for several hours. It’s best to pick an internal room where you could block out air, if instructed to do so.
To save critical time consider measuring and cutting plastic sheets in advance for each opening (vents, windows, and doors). Remember, toilets / drains are vented meaning outside air comes in constantly or when flushed / open (depends on design) - in case using bathroom as safe room.
Calculate air for room - Keep in mind people can stay in a sealed off room for only so long (or you’ll run out of air.) FEMA suggests 10 square feet of floor space per person (like 5ft x 2ft / 1.5m x 0.6m ) will provide enough air to prevent carbon dioxide buildup for up to 5 hours.
Be ready to evacuate - Listen to local authorities and leave if you are told to evacuate.
DURING A HAZARDOUS MATERIALS DISASTER:
Call for help - If you see a hazardous materials accident, call 9-1-1, local emergency number, or the fire department.
Listen - Keep radio or TV tuned in for more information, especially if you hear a warning signal... and stay calm!
If indoors – If instructed to stay inside, prepare to “shelter-in-place”...
If outdoors - Stay upstream, uphill, or upwind from the disaster since hazardous materials can be carried by wind and water quickly. Try to get at least 1/2 mile or kilometer away or as far away as possible!
If in a vehicle - Close your windows and shut off vents to reduce risk.
Stay away - Get away from the accident site to avoid contamination.
Evacuate...? - If told to leave… DO it! If officials say you have time, close windows, shut vents and turn off attic fans.
What to wear - Keep your body fully covered and wear gloves, socks and shoes. (Even though these may not keep you totally safe, it can help.)
Things to avoid:
AFTER A HAZARDOUS MATERIALS DISASTER:
Don’t go there - Do not return home until local authorities say it is safe.
Air out - Open windows, vents and turn on fans in your home.
Listen - Keep up with local reports from either the radio or TV.
Clean up - A person, critter or item that has been exposed to a hazardous chemical could spread it.
Strange vapors or danger - Report any strange vapors or other dangers to the local authorities immediately.
To learn more about hazardous materials, check out the Programs under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Emergency Management at www.epa.gov/emergencies ... or visit the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration at http://phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat
Above from IT'S A DISASTER! …and what are YOU gonna do about it? book (proceeds benefit USFRA) - learn more
Also visit another discussion on USFRA about dealing with explosions or radiological incidents.