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What to do in Case of a Large Scale Chemical/Hazardous Material Emergency

Major Chemical Emergencies (printable brochure)

What is a chemical emergency?

A chemical emergency occurs when harmful chemicals have been released into the environment and it is necessary for everyone in the vicinity to take protective measures.  These hazardous chemicals can be dangerous to life, health and/or property due to their chemical nature or properties.  Typically, chemical releases are accidental, however, they could be intentional, such as in a terrorist attack.

What should you do if you observe a major chemical release?

Immediately call 9-1-1 and move away from the incident site. Avoid touching the chemicals or breathing in the fumes, gases and/or smoke.  Remain uphill, upstream and upwind from the accident site.  Stay alert for any additional information and/or procedures.

What is the source of information in the event of an emergency?

Every community has their own way of responding to major chemical incidents.  In Oakland County, local radio stations, officials and/or local television will alert residents of an emergency.  In addition, if necessary, you will be informed on whether you should shelter in place or evacuate the area.

Protecting yourself during a major chemical release

During a chemical emergency, you may need to shelter in place or evacuate the area depending on the severity of the incident.

Evacuate the area:

  • If you are told to evacuate the area, then do so immediately.
  • Only grab the necessities such as medicine, first aid kit, money, driver's license, etc.
  • Remain as calm as possible.

Sheltering in place:

  • If possible, seek shelter in your home or in a building.  If there are no buildings in the area, remain in your car.  Do not stay outside.
  • If you are in your car, close all windows and vents and turn off the air conditioning/heater.
  • If you are at your house, gather your emergency supplies kit, family and pets and go to your pre-selected room.  The American Red Cross suggests this room should have the fewest openings to the rest of the house and be above ground level to avoid vapors that sink.  Make sure to turn off all fans and air conditioners, close fireplace dampers and lock all doors and windows.  When everyone is in the pre-selected room, seal windows, doors, vents and outlets with precut plastic sheeting and tape.  Listen to the radio or TV for updates.  Remain indoors until given "all clear."

During an emergency...

  • Do not go to your children's school.  They have plans and will be handling the situation.  Your arrival will only impede the process.
  • Do not panic.  If you follow the instructions given by officials, you and your family will be safe.
  • Do not touch or go near the spill site.
  • Do not repeatedly call 9-1-1.  Only call emergency service if you have an emergency. 
  • Do not leave your shelter until you are given the "All Clear."

What happens after a major chemical incident?

  • Do not return to the incident site or leave your house until officials say it is safe.
  • Follow decontamination procedures recommended by your local authorities.  If you believe you have come into contact with the hazardous material, seek an official to get additional information and/or help.
  • Follow local instructions concerning the safety of food and water.
  • Once all clear is given, open all vents and windows and turn on all fans in the house to provide ventilation.
  • Place all contaminated clothes into a plastic bag and dispose of them appropriately.
  • Ask local authorities how to properly clean up your land and property.
  • Report any lingering smells or hazards to your local fire department.

Making a family emergency plan

Discuss what to do in the event of a chemical emergency.

Pick three places to meet:

  1. Outside your home, in case of an immediate emergency, such as a fire.
  2. Outside your neighborhood in case you are evacuated.
  3. In addition, the American Red Cross suggests choosing a room located on the top level of your house to shelter in place of a chemical emergency.

Create an emergency supplies kit containing a flashlight, extra batteries, first aid kit, money, medicines, map, food and water for at least 72 hours, battery powered radio, pre-cut plastic sheeting, duct tape and other necessities.