Terrorism Preparation Guide: How To Survive a Terrorist Attack

Terrorist attacks happen with no warning. Active shooters train in angry seclusion and display warning signs that only make sense after the fact. Explosions destroy buildings and kill or injure the unsuspecting occupants. Biological agents contaminate letters, spreading disease. Over time, terrorists have used diverse and evolving tactics that have included hijacking planes, taking hostages, releasing nerve agents in the subway, and threatening the use of dirty bombs. All terrorist acts have two features in common, however: they attack soft targets - those who are unprepared and vulnerable; and they seek to produce widespread feelings of terror.

National security is at increased risk from terrorism due to recent technological advances and ongoing international political unrest. Most terrorist incidents in the United States have been bombing attacks, involving detonated and undetonated explosive devices, tear gas and pipe and fire bombs. The effects of terrorism can vary significantly from loss of life and injuries to property damage and disruptions in services such as electricity, water supply, public transportation and communications. Governments attempt to reduce our vulnerability to terrorist incidents by increasing security at airports and other public facilities. The U.S. government also works with other countries to limit the sources of support for terrorism.

It is possible to prepare for a terrorist attack, and as with other disasters, preparation makes a difference in the outcome. This guide includes general information about terrorism, including some of the specific types of attacks, and how best to respond to each. Keep reading for tips that can help keep you safe and minimize the effectiveness of the terrorists' ability to provoke fear. Forewarned is forearmed.

  • General Information about Terrorism
    • Terrorism in the United StatesTerrorism
    • General Safety Guidelines
  • Active Shooter
    • Good Practices for Coping with an Active Shooter
    • How to Respond when an Active Shooter is in Your Vicinity
    • How to Respond when Law Enforcement Arrives
  • Explosions
    • How to Respond to a Bomb Threat
    • What to Do if there is an Explosion
    • Suspicious Packages and Letters
  • Chemical and Biological Threats
    • Chemical Agents
    • Biological Agents
    • How to Prepare for a Chemical or Biological Attack
    • What to Do During a Chemical or Biological Attack
    • What to Do After a Chemical Attack
    • What to Do After a Biological Attack
  • Nuclear Blast
    • Hazards of Nuclear Devices
    • Protection from a Nuclear Device
    • Before a Nuclear Blast
    • During a Nuclear Blast
    • After a Nuclear Blast
  • Dirty Bombs
    • Before a Dirty Bomb Explosion
    • During a Dirty Bomb Explosion
    • After a Dirty Bomb Explosion
  • Talking to Children About Terrorism - list of resources

 

General Information About Terrorism


Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom. Terrorists often use threats and actions to:

  • Create fear among the public,
  • Try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and
  • To get immediate publicity for their causes.


Acts of terrorism include threats of terrorism; assassinations; mass shooting events; kidnappings; hijackings; bomb scares and bombings; cyber-attacks (computer-based); and the use of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons.

High-risk targets for acts of terrorism include military and civilian government facilities, international airports, large cities, and high-profile landmarks. Terrorists might also target large public gatherings, water and food supplies, utilities, and corporate centers. Further, terrorists are capable of spreading fear by sending explosives or chemical and biological agents through the mail.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes terrorism in the United States as one of two types--domestic terrorism or international terrorism.

  • Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are directed at elements of our government or population without foreign direction.
  • International terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are foreign-based and/or directed by countries or groups outside the United States or whose activities transcend national boundaries.


Terrorism in the United States:

Terrorism

  • In the United States, most terrorist incidents have involved small extremist groups who use terrorism to achieve a designated objective. Local, State and Federal law enforcement officials monitor suspected terrorist groups and try to prevent or protect against a suspected attack. Additionally, the U.S. government works with other countries to limit the sources of support for terrorism.
  • A terrorist attack can take several forms, depending on the technological means available to the terrorist, the nature of the political issue motivating the attack, and the points of weakness of the terrorist's target. Bombings are the most frequently used terrorist method in the United States. Other possibilities includes an attack at transportation facilities, an attack against utilities or other public services or an incident involving chemical or biological agents.
  • Terrorist incidents in this country have included bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City, the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and the events of September 11th, 2001.
  • Terrorist Attacks in the U.S. or Against Americans


General Safety Guidelines:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Move or leave if you feel uncomfortable or if something does not seem right.
  • Take precautions when traveling.
    • Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior.
    • Do not accept packages from strangers.
    • Do not leave luggage unattended.
    • Promptly report unusual behavior, suspicious or unattended packages, and strange devices to the police or security personnel.
  • Learn where emergency exits are located in buildings you frequent. Plan how to get out in the event of an emergency.
  • Be prepared to do without services you normally depend on—electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATMs, and Internet transactions.
  • Work with building owners to ensure the following items are located on each floor of the building:
    • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
    • Several flashlights and extra batteries.
    • First aid kit and manual.
    • Hard hats and dust masks.
    • Fluorescent tape to rope off dangerous areas.


Within the immediate area of a terrorist event, you would need to rely on police, fire, and other officials for instructions. However, you can prepare in much the same way you would prepare for other crisis events.

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Active Shooter


An Active Shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.

Good practices for coping with an active shooter situation:

  • Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers
  • Take note of the two nearest exits in any facility you visit
  • If you are in an office, stay there and secure the doorIf you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door
  • As a last resort, attempt to take the active shooter down.
  • When the shooter is at close range and you cannot flee, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate him/her.


CALL 911 WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO!

How to Respond when an Active Shooter is in Your Vicinity:

Quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life.

1. RUN! - If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. 

  • Have an escape route and plan in mind
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
  • Leave your belongings behind
  • Help others escape, if possible
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be
  • Keep your hands visible
  • Follow the instructions of any police officers
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people
  • Call 911 when you are safe


2. HIDE! - If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you. Your hiding place should:

  • Be out of the active shooter’s view
  • Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction (i.e., an office with a closed and locked door)
  • Not trap you or restrict your options for movement


To prevent an active shooter from entering your hiding place:

  • Lock the door
  • Blockade the door with heavy furniture


If the active shooter is nearby:

  • Lock the door
  • Silence your cell phone and/or pager
  • Turn off any source of noise (i.e., radios, televisions)
  • Hide behind large items (i.e., cabinets, desks)
  • Remain quiet


If evacuation and hiding out are not possible:

  • Remain calm
  • Dial 911, if possible, to alert police to the active shooter’s location
  • If you cannot speak, leave the line open and allow the dispatcher to listen


3. FIGHT! - As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by:

  • Acting as aggressively as possible against him/her
  • Throwing items and improvising weapons
  • Yelling
  • Committing to your actions


How to Respond when Law Enforcement Arrives:

Law enforcement’s purpose is to stop the active shooter as soon as possible. Officers will proceed directly to the area in which the last shots were heard.

  • Officers usually arrive in teams of four (4)
  • Officers may wear regular patrol uniforms or external bulletproof vests, Kevlar helmets, and other tactical equipment
  • Officers may be armed with rifles, shotguns, handguns
  • Officers may use pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation
  • Officers may shout commands, and may push individuals to the ground for their safety


How to react when law enforcement arrives:

  • Remain calm, and follow officers’ instructions
  • Put down any items in your hands (i.e., bags, jackets)
  • Immediately raise hands and spread fingers
  • Keep hands visible at all times
  • Avoid making quick movements toward officers such as holding on to them for safety
  • Avoid pointing, screaming and/or yelling
  • Do not stop to ask officers for help or direction when evacuating, just proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises


Information to provide to law enforcement or 911 operator:

  • Location of the active shooter
  • Number of shooters, if more than one
  • Physical description of shooter/s
  • Number and type of weapons held by the shooter/s
  • Number of potential victims at the location


The first officers to arrive to the scene will not stop to help injured persons. Expect rescue teams comprised of additional officers and emergency medical personnel to follow the initial officers. These rescue teams will treat and remove any injured persons. They may also call upon able-bodied individuals to assist in removing the wounded from the premises.

Once you have reached a safe location or an assembly point, you will likely be held in that area by law enforcement until the situation is under control, and all witnesses have been identified and questioned. Do not leave until law enforcement authorities have instructed you to do so.

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Explosions


Terrorists have frequently used explosive devices as one of their most common weapons. Terrorists do not have to look far to find out how to make explosive devices; the information is readily available in books and other information sources. The materials needed for an explosive device can be found in many places including variety, hardware, and auto supply stores. Explosive devices are highly portable using vehicles and humans as a means of transport. They are easily detonated from remote locations or by suicide bombers.

Conventional bombs have been used to damage and destroy financial, political, social, and religious institutions. Attacks have occurred in public places and on city streets with thousands of people around the world injured and killed.

What to do if your receive a bomb threat:

Terrorist Bombing

If you receive a telephoned bomb threat, you should do the following:

  • Get as much information from the caller as possible. Try to ask the following questions:
    • When is the bomb going to explode?
    • Where is it right now?
    • What does it look like?
    • What kind of bomb is it?
    • What will cause it to explode?
    • Did you place the bomb?
    • Why?
    • What is your address?
    • What is your name?
  • Keep the caller on the line and record everything that is said.
  • Notify the police and building management.


What to Do if there is an Explosion:

  • Get under a sturdy table or desk if things are falling around you. When they stop falling, leave quickly, watching for obviously weakened floors and stairways. As you exit from the building, be especially watchful of falling debris.
  • Leave the building as quickly as possible. Do not stop to retrieve personal possessions or make phone calls.
  • Do not use elevators.


Once you are out:

  • Do not stand in front of windows, glass doors, or other potentially hazardous areas.
  • Move away from sidewalks or streets to be used by emergency officials or others still exiting the building.


If you are trapped in debris:

  • If possible, use a flashlight to signal your location to rescuers.
  • Avoid unnecessary movement so you don’t kick up dust.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand. (Dense-weave cotton material can act as a good filter. Try to breathe through the material.)
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can hear where you are.
  • If possible, use a whistle to signal rescuers.
  • Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.


Suspicious packages and letters:

Be wary of suspicious packages and letters. They can contain explosives, chemical or biological agents. Be particularly cautious at your place of employment.

Some typical characteristics postal inspectors have detected over the years, which ought to trigger suspicion, include parcels that:

  • Are unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you.
  • Have no return address, or have on that can’t be verified as legitimate.
  • Have protruding wires or aluminum foil, strange odors, leaks, or stains.
  • Show a city or state in the postmark that doesn’t match the return address.
  • Are of unusual weight given their size, or are lopsided or oddly shaped.
  • Are marked with threatening language.
  • Have inappropriate or unusual labeling.
  • Have excessive postage or packaging material, such as masking tape and string.
  • Have misspellings of common words.
  • Are addressed to someone no longer with your organization or are otherwise outdated.
  • Have incorrect titles or titles without a name.
  • Are not addressed to a specific person.
  • Have hand-written or poorly typed addresses.


With suspicious envelopes and packages other than those that might contain explosives, take these additional steps against possible biological and chemical agents.

  • Refrain from eating or drinking in a designated mail handling area.
  • Place suspicious envelopes or packages in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage of contents. Never sniff or smell suspect mail.
  • If you do not have a container, then cover the envelope or package with anything available (e.g., clothing, paper, trash can, etc.) and do not remove the cover.
  • Leave the room and close the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.
  • If you are at work, report the incident to your building security official or an available supervisor, who should notify police and other authorities without delay.
  • List all people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized. Give a copy of this list to both the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials for follow-up investigations and advice.
  • If you are at home, report the incident to local police.


Practice these steps at least one time in an approved emergency drill format so that you are better able to recall them when you really need them. It may make the difference between a successful or tragic outcome.

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Chemical and Biological Threats


Chemical and Biological Terrorism Chemical agents kill or incapacitate people, destroy livestock or ravage crops. Some chemical agents are odorless and tasteless and are difficult to detect. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several hours to several days). Biological agents are infectious microbes or toxins used to produce illnessor death in people, animals or plants. Biological agents can be dispersed as aerosols or airborne particles. Terrorists may use biological agents to contaminate food or water because they are extremely difficult to detect.

Chemical and biological weapons have been used primarily to terrorize an unprotected civilian population and not as a weapon of war. This is because of fear of retaliation and the likelihood that the agent would contaminate the battlefield for a long period of time. The Persian Gulf War in 1991 and other confrontations in the Middle East were causes for concern in the United States regarding the possibility of chemical or biological warfare. While no incidents occurred, there remains a concern that such weapons could be involved in an accident or be used by terrorists.

In case of a chemical or biological weapon attack near you, authorities will instruct you on the best course of action. This may be to evacuate the area immediately, to seek shelter at a designated location, or to take immediate shelter where you are and seal the premises. The best way to protect yourself is to take emergency preparedness measures ahead of time and to get medical attention as soon as possible, if needed.

Chemical Agents

Chemical warfare agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids or solids that have toxic effects on people, animals or plants. They can be released by bombs, sprayed from aircraft, boats, or vehicles, or used as a liquid to create a hazard to people and the environment. Some chemical agents may be odorless and tasteless. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several hours to several days). While potentially lethal, chemical agents are difficult to deliver in lethal concentrations. Outdoors, the agents often dissipate rapidly. Chemical agents are also difficult to produce.

There are six types of agents:

  • Lung-damaging (pulmonary) agents such as phosgene,
  • Cyanide,
  • Vesicants or blister agents such as mustard,
  • Nerve agents such as GA (tabun), GB (sarin), GD (soman), GF, and VX,
  • Incapacitating agents such as BZ, and
  • Riot-control agents (similar to MACE).


Biological Agents

Biological TerrorismBiological agents are organisms or toxins that can kill or incapacitate people, livestock and crops. The three basic groups of biological agents which would likely be used as weapons are bacteria, viruses, and toxins.

  • Bacteria—small free-living organisms that reproduce by simple division and are easy to grow. The diseases they produce often respond to treatment with antibiotics.
  • Viruses—organisms which require living cells in which to reproduce and are intimately dependent upon the body they infect. Viruses produce diseases which generally do not respond to antibiotics. However, antiviral drugs are sometimes effective.
  • Toxins—poisonous substances found in, and extracted from, living plants, animals, or microorganisms; some toxins can be produced or altered by chemical means. Some toxins can be treated with specific antitoxins and selected drugs.


Most biological agents are difficult to grow and maintain. Many break down quickly when exposed to sunlight and other environmental factors, while others such as anthrax spores are very long lived. They can be dispersed by spraying them in the air, or infecting animals which carry the disease to humans as well through food and water contamination.

  • Aerosols—Biological agents are dispersed into the air, forming a fine mist that may drift for miles. Inhaling the agent may cause disease in people or animals.
  • Animals—Some diseases are spread by insects and animals, such as fleas, mice, flies, and mosquitoes. Deliberately spreading diseases through livestock is also referred to as agroterrorism.
  • Food and water contamination—Some pathogenic organisms and toxins may persist in food and water supplies. Most microbes can be killed, and toxins deactivated, by cooking food and boiling water.


Anthrax spores formulated as a white powder were mailed to individuals in the government and media in the fall of 2001. Postal sorting machines and the opening of letters dispersed the spores as aerosols. Several deaths resulted. The effect was to disrupt mail service and to cause a widespread fear of handling delivered mail among the public.

Person-to-person spread of a few infectious agents is also possible. Humans have been the source of infection for smallpox, plague, and the Lassa viruses.

What to do to prepare for a chemical or biological attack:

  • Assemble a disaster supply kit and be sure to include:
  • Battery-powered commercial radio with extra batteries.
  • Non-perishable food and drinking water.
  • Roll of duct tape and scissors.
  • Plastic for doors, windows and vents for the room in which you will shelter in place—this should be an internal room where you can block out air that may contain hazardous chemical or biological agents. To save critical time during an emergency, sheeting should be pre-measured and cut for each opening.
  • First aid kit.
  • Sanitation supplies including soap, water and bleach.


What to do during a chemical or biological attack:

  • Listen to your radio for instructions from authorities such as whether to remain inside or to evacuate.
  • If you are instructed to remain in your home, the building where you are, or other shelter during a chemical or biological attack:
    • Turn off all ventilation, including furnaces, air conditioners, vents and fans.
    • Seek shelter in an internal room, preferably one without windows.Chemical Terrorism
    • Seal the room with duct tape and plastic sheeting.
    • Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide build-up for up to five hours.
    • Remain in protected areas where toxic vapors are reduced or eliminated, and be sure to take your battery-operated radio with you.
  • If you are caught in an unprotected area, you should:
    • Attempt to get up-wind of the contaminated area.
    • Attempt to find shelter as quickly as possible.
    • Listen to your radio for official instructions.


What to do after a chemical attack:

Immediate symptoms of exposure to chemical agents may include blurred vision, eye irritation, difficulty breathing and nausea. A person affected by a chemical or biological agent requires immediate attention by professional medical personnel. If medical help is not immediately available, decontaminate yourself and assist in decontaminating others. Decontamination is needed within minutes of exposure to minimize health consequences. (However, you should not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors to help others until authorities announce it is safe to do so.)

  • 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 into a plastic bag if possible.
    • Decontaminate hands using soap and water.
    • Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses.
    • Put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate.
  • Remove all items in contact with the body.
  • Flush eyes with lots of water.
  • Gently wash face and hair with soap and water; then thoroughly rinse 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.
  • If possible, proceed to a medical facility for screening.


What to do after a biological attack:

In many biological attacks, people will not know they have been exposed to an agent. In such situations, the first evidence of an attack may be when you notice symptoms of the disease caused by an agent exposure, and you should seek immediate medical attention for treatment.

In some situations, like the anthrax letters sent in 2001, people may be alerted to a potential exposure. If this is the case, pay close attention to all official warnings and instructions on how to proceed. The delivery of medical services for a biological event may be handled differently to respond to increased demand. Again, it will be important for you to pay attention to official instructions via radio, television, and emergency alert systems.

If your skin or clothing comes in contact with a visible, potentially infectious substance, you should remove and bag your clothes and personal items and wash yourself with warm soapy water immediately. Put on clean clothes and seek medical assistance.

For more information, visit the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Nuclear Blast


Nuclear TerrorismA nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around. A nuclear device can range from a weapon carried by an intercontinental missile launched by a hostile nation or terrorist organization, to a small portable nuclear devise transported by an individual. All nuclear devices cause deadly effects when exploded, including blinding light, intense heat (thermal radiation), initial nuclear radiation, blast, fires started by the heat pulse, and secondary fires caused by the destruction.

Hazards of Nuclear Devices

The extent, nature, and arrival time of these hazards are difficult to predict. The geographical dispersion of hazard effects will be defined by the following:

  • Size of the device. A more powerful bomb will produce more distant effects.
  • Height above the ground the device was detonated. This will determine the extent of blast effects.
  • Nature of the surface beneath the explosion. Some materials are more likely to become radioactive and airborne than others. Flat areas are more susceptible to blast effects.
  • Existing meteorological conditions. Wind speed and direction will affect arrival time of fallout; precipitation may wash fallout from the atmosphere.


RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT

Even if individuals are not close enough to the nuclear blast to be affected by the direct impacts, they may be affected by radioactive fallout. Any nuclear blast results in some fallout. Blasts that occur near the earth’s surface create much greater amounts of fallout than blasts that occur at higher altitudes. This is because the tremendous heat produced from a nuclear blast causes an up-draft of air that forms the familiar mushroom cloud. When a blast occurs near the earth’s surface, millions of vaporized dirt particles also are drawn into the cloud. As the heat diminishes, radioactive materials that have vaporized condense on the particles and fall back to Earth. The phenomenon is called radioactive fallout. This fallout material decays over a long period of time, and is the main source of residual nuclear radiation.

Fallout from a nuclear explosion may be carried by wind currents for hundreds of miles if the right conditions exist. Effects from even a small portable device exploded at ground level can be potentially deadly.

Nuclear radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or otherwise detected by normal senses. Radiation can only be detected by radiation monitoring devices. This makes radiological emergencies different from other types of emergencies, such as floods or hurricanes. Monitoring can project the fallout arrival times, which will be announced through official warning channels. However, any increase in surface build-up of gritty dust and dirt should be a warning for taking protective measures.

ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE (EMP)

In addition to other effects, a nuclear weapon detonated in or above the earth’s atmosphere can create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-density electrical field. An EMP acts like a stroke of lightning but is stronger, faster, and shorter. An EMP can seriously damage electronic devices connected to power sources or antennas. This includes communication systems, computers, electrical appliances, and automobile or aircraft ignition systems. The damage could range from a minor interruption to actual burnout of components. Most electronic equipment within 1,000 miles of a high-altitude nuclear detonation could be affected. Battery-powered radios with short antennas generally would not be affected. Although an EMP is unlikely to harm most people, it could harm those with pacemakers or other implanted electronic devices.

Protection from a Nuclear Blast

The danger of a massive strategic nuclear attack on the United States is predicted by experts to be less likely today. However, terrorism, by nature, is unpredictable.

If there were threat of an attack, people living near potential targets could be advised to evacuate or they could decide on their own to evacuate to an area not considered a likely target. Protection from radioactive fallout would require taking shelter in an underground area or in the middle of a large building.

IN GENERAL, POTENTIAL TARGETS INCLUDE:

  • Strategic missile sites and military bases.
  • Centers of government such as Washington, DC, and state capitals.
  • Important transportation and communication centers.
  • Manufacturing, industrial, technology, and financial centers.
  • Petroleum refineries, electrical power plants, and chemical plants.
  • Major ports and airfields.


THREE FACTORS FOR PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM RADIATION AND FALLOUT:

  • Distance - the more distance between you and the fallout particles, the better. An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. A floor near the middle of a high-rise may be better, depending on what is nearby at that level on which significant fallout particles would collect. Flat roofs collect fallout particles so the top floor is not a good choice, nor is a floor adjacent to a neighboring flat roof.
  • Shielding - the heavier and denser the materials - thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth - between you and the fallout particles, the better.
  • Time - fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you will be able to leave the fallout shelter. Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks, by which time it has declined to about 1 percent of its initial radiation level.


Remember that any protection, however temporary, is better than none at all, and the more shielding, distance, and time you can take advantage of, the better.

Before a Nuclear Blast

To prepare for a nuclear blast, you should do the following:

  • Find out from officials if any public buildings in your community have been designated as fallout shelters. If none have been designated, make your own list of potential shelters near your home, workplace, and school. These places would include basements or the windowless center area of middle floors in high-rise buildings, as well as subways and tunnels.
  • If you live in an apartment building or high-rise, talk to the manager about the safest place in the building for sheltering and about providing for building occupants until it is safe to go out.
  • During periods of increased threat increase your disaster supplies to be adequate for up to two weeks.


Taking shelter during a nuclear blast is absolutely necessary. There are two kinds of shelters - blast and fallout. The following describes the two kinds of shelters:

  • Blast shelters are specifically constructed to offer some protection against blast pressure, initial radiation, heat, and fire. But even a blast shelter cannot withstand a direct hit from a nuclear explosion.
  • Fallout shelters do not need to be specially constructed for protecting against fallout. They can be any protected space, provided that the walls and roof are thick and dense enough to absorb the radiation given off by fallout particles.


During a Nuclear Blast

The following are guidelines for what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion.

IF AN ATTACK WARNING IS ISSUED:

  • Take cover as quickly as you can, below ground if possible, and stay there until instructed to do otherwise.
  • Listen for official information and follow instructions.


IF YOU ARE CAUGHT OUTSIDE AND UNABLE TO GET INSIDE IMMEDIATELY:

  • Do not look at the flash or fireball - it can blind you.
  • Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.
  • Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.
  • Take shelter as soon as you can, even if you are many miles from ground zero where the attack occurred - radioactive fallout can be carried by the winds for hundreds of miles. Remember the three protective factors: Distance, shielding, and time.


After a Nuclear Blast

Decay rates of the radioactive fallout are the same for any size nuclear device. However, the amount of fallout will vary based on the size of the device and its proximity to the ground. Therefore, it might be necessary for those in the areas with highest radiation levels to shelter for up to a month.

The heaviest fallout would be limited to the area at or downwind from the explosion, and 80 percent of the fallout would occur during the first 24 hours.

People in most of the areas that would be affected could be allowed to come out of shelter within a few days and, if necessary, evacuate to unaffected areas.

REMEMBER THE FOLLOWING WHEN RETURNING HOME:

  • Keep listening to the radio and television for news about what to do, where to go, and places to avoid.
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away from areas marked “radiation hazard” or “HAZMAT.” Remember that radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or otherwise detected by human senses.


Nuclear blasts cause severe and lasting damage, but there are methods for survival. Taking reasonable precautions beforehand and following the above safety guidelines during and after a nuclear blast can make a significant positive difference.

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Dirty Bomb


Dirty BombTerrorist use of a dirty bomb is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear explosive device. A dirty bomb combines a conventional explosive device—such as a bomb—with radioactive material. It is designed to scatter dangerous and sub-lethal amounts of radioactive material over a general area. Such devices appeal to terrorists because they require limited technical knowledge to build and deploy compared to a nuclear device. Also, the radioactive materials in dirty bombs are widely used in medicine, agriculture, industry, and research, and are easier to obtain than weapons grade uranium or plutonium.

The primary purpose of terrorist use of a dirty bomb is to cause psychological fear and economic disruption. Some devices could cause fatalities from exposure to radioactive materials. Depending on the speed at which the area of the detonation was evacuated or how successful people were at sheltering-in-place, the number of deaths and injuries from a dirty bomb explosion might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion.

The size of the affected area and the level of destruction caused by a dirty bomb would depend on the sophistication and size of the conventional bomb, the type of radioactive material used, the quality and quantity of the radioactive material, and the local meteorological conditions—primarily wind and precipitation. The area affected could be placed off-limits to the public for several months during cleanup efforts.

Before a Dirty Bomb Explosion

There is no way of knowing how much warning time there will be before an attack by terrorists using a dirty bomb, so being prepared in advance and knowing what to do and when is important.

To prepare for a dirty bomb event, you should do the following:

  • Find out from officials if any public buildings in your community have been designated as fallout shelters. If none have been designated, make your own list of potential shelters near your home, workplace, and school. These places would include basements or the windowless center area of middle floors in high-rise buildings, as well as subways and tunnels.
  • If you live in an apartment building or high-rise, talk to the manager about the safest place in the building for sheltering and about providing for building occupants until it is safe to go out.
  • During periods of increased threat increase your disaster supplies to be adequate for up to two weeks.


Taking shelter during a dirty bomb event is absolutely necessary. There are two kinds of shelters - blast and fallout. The following describes the two kinds of shelters:

  • Blast shelters are specifically constructed to offer some protection against blast pressure, initial radiation, heat, and fire. But even a blast shelter cannot withstand a direct hit from a nuclear explosion.
  • Fallout shelters do not need to be specially constructed for protecting against fallout. They can be any protected space, provided that the walls and roof are thick and dense enough to absorb the radiation given off by fallout particles.


During a Dirty Bomb Explosion

While the explosive blast will be immediately obvious, the presence of radiation will not be known until trained personnel with specialized equipment are on the scene. Whether you are indoors or outdoors, home or at work, be extra cautious. It would be safer to assume radiological contamination has occurred—particularly in an urban setting or near other likely terrorist targets—and take the proper precautions. As with any radiation, you want to avoid or limit exposure. This is particularly true of inhaling radioactive dust that results from the explosion. As you seek shelter from any location (indoors or outdoors) and there is visual dust or other contaminants in the air, breathe though the cloth of your shirt or coat to limit your exposure. If you manage to avoid breathing radioactive dust, your proximity to the radioactive particles may still result in some radiation exposure.

If the explosion or radiological release occurs inside, get out immediately and seek safe shelter. Otherwise,

IF YOU ARE OUTDOORS:

  • Seek shelter indoors immediately in the nearest undamaged building.
  • If appropriate shelter is not available, move as rapidly as is safe upwind And away from the location of the explosive blast. Then, seek appropriate shelter as soon as possible.
  • Listen for official instructions and follow directions.


IF YOU ARE INDOORS:

  • If you have time, turn off ventilation and heating systems, close windows, vents, fireplace dampers, exhaust fans, and clothes dryer vents. Retrieve your disaster supplies kit and a battery-powered radio and take them to your shelter room.
  • Seek shelter immediately, preferably underground or in an interior room of a building, placing as much distance and dense shielding as possible between you and the outdoors where the radioactive material may be.
  • Seal windows and external doors that do not fit snugly with duct tape to reduce infiltration of radioactive particles. Plastic sheeting will not provide shielding from radioactivity nor from blast effects of a nearby explosion.
  • Listen for official instructions and follow directions.


After a Dirty Bomb Explosion

After finding safe shelter, those who may have been exposed to radioactive material should decontaminate themselves. To do this, remove and bag your clothing (and isolate the bag away from you and others), and shower thoroughly with soap and water. Seek medical attention after officials indicate it is safe to leave shelter.

Contamination from a dirty bomb explosion could affect a wide area, depending on the amount of conventional explosives used, the quantity and type of radioactive material released, and meteorological conditions. Thus, radiation dissipation rates vary, but radiation from a dirty bomb will likely take longer to dissipate due to a potentially larger localized concentration of radioactive material.

Follow these additional guidelines after a dirty bomb detonation:

  • Continue listening to your radio or watch the television for instructions from local officials, whether you have evacuated or sheltered-in-place.
  • Do not return to or visit the incident location for any reason.


Dirty bomb explosions are increasingly likely scenarioes as terrorists attempt to make more inroads into the United States. If you see something, say something - don't be a soft target and know how to recover.

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For more information on how to prepare and respond to other natural and man-made emergencies, read our introductory disaster response guide.


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