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When the Unthinkable MAY Happen

We prepare for emergencies in many different ways. Some keep kits in their cars in case they break down; some keep candles and batteries in a kitchen drawer in case the power goes out.

Knowing what to do if a tornado or severe storm occurs can save your life and help you protect your personal property. So we all learn about these safety precautions--because after all, we live in Michigan and those things just might happen.

...But terrorism? A biological or chemical emergency? Even the U.S. mail...?

Not only do we live in Michigan and have the weather to deal with--we now live in a world where anything can happen. Below is a primer to help you feel better prepared in case the unthinkable happens--again.

Biological Incident

Anthrax: We know more than we ever thought we would about this substance. If you think you've come into direct contact, or have visited a location where others are suspected of contracting it, contact your local health department authorities.

  • Sit tight and wait for instructions before taking any antibiotics, they may make you very sick and you may not even need them.
  • Also, don't try to clean your clothes or your house--cleaning may stir up spores and raise your risk of infection.
  • Watch for flu-like symptoms (fever, headaches, chills, vomiting, chest or abdominal pain--or a raised rash that will develop a black scab).
Chances of an attack are still very low--it's a huge leap from mailing small quantities to producing enough for a large-scale attack.

Smallpox: There is no explosion, no substance to trace, and no train or semi-truck accident to analyze. Someone shows up at the doctor's office or hospital with what seems like chickenpox. Upon examination, the patient has boils on the face, arms, legs and maybe even palms of the hands. The patient is thirsty but can't swallow because there are sores in the mouth and throat.  There is fever and blistered eyes swollen half-shut. This patient is very unlikely to recover and may live for about one month. If they do recover, they'll likely be disfigured and possibly blind.

How did they get it? Quite possibly at an event or inside a closed room. A tablespoon of liquefied smallpox virus is aerosolized and released.
  • Airborne droplets of virus-laden saliva are the most common source of infection.
  • Usual incubation period is 12 to 14 days. After two or three days of fever, a rash forms.
  • Call local health authorities immediately and keep yourself isolated.

 

Chemical Incident

Chlorine: Let's say a train derails and bursts into flames. Cars transporting chlorine were blown up, releasing a toxic plume into the air. What are the chances? Actually, chances are relatively high. The nation's railways and highways are filled with carriers transporting many different kinds of hazardous materials--like chlorine. If your eyes water and there's a sharp odor, assume you've come in contact with it. Hold your breath for as long as possible or until you can crumble a shirt or any other material at hand to make a low-tech gas mask. Hold it over your nose and mouth--wetting it will make it even more effective.

  • Go indoors immediately.
  • Close all windows and doors; put as many barriers between yourself and the outside as possible.
  • Shut-off any ventilation systems and seal gaps in windows and doors.
  • Stay tuned to local media to find out which way the plume is headed. If the vapor is headed toward you, get in the shower. The water will keep you safer.
Sarin: In the Tokyo subway in 1995, people began gagging and collapsing. Let's say you're there and are standing in shock wondering what's going on--and what to do. Victims can die within two or three minutes of being exposed. The actual risk of attack, though, is low--nerve agents are difficult to obtain and produce.
  • Go outside and disrobe (no time for modesty here). The vapors can cling to clothes.
  • Wash yourself, scrubbing skin and hair with a fabric (shirt) of any sort.
  • Don't leave the scene--you should wait for emergency personnel to make sure you're safe.  Symptoms may have a delayed affect.
  • Look for symptoms such as blurred vision and runny nose; may also develop into nausea, vomiting, convulsions and lung paralysis.

 

Nuclear

Backpack Bomb:    Let's say you hear a loud explosion and the windows of your home or office shake. You look outside and see smoke rising in the distance. Turning on the radio or television to see what happened, you learn it's a nuclear device detonated in a busy downtown area. A radioactive cloud hangs over the city.

  • Stay or go inside. make sure windows and doors are shut. Radiation will move up into the air, so go in the basement, or keep away from outer walls. Close blinds and curtains.
  • Stay tuned to local media to find out if an evacuation has been ordered. If not, stay where you are.
  • Watch for symptoms such as reddening of the skin, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and hair loss. Call your doctor if you think you've been exposed.

The chances of a nuclear bomb falling into the wrong hands are minimal. These devices require skilled technicians to maintain. Yet a conventional explosive packed with radioactive material is relatively easy to construct. The good news is that the material would likely incapacitate the terrorist before it could be deployed.