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Being Prepared For Terrorism: Tips From The US Office Of Homeland Security


Wherever you are, be aware of your surroundings.

Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave luggage unattended. Unusual behavior, suspicious packages and strange devices should be promptly reported to the police or security personnel.

Do not be afraid to move or leave if you feel uncomfortable or if something does not seem right.

Learn where emergency exits are located in buildings you frequent. Notice where exits are when you enter unfamiliar buildings. Plan how to get out of a building, subway or congested public area or traffic. Note where staircases are located. Notice heavy or breakable objects that could move, fall or break in an explosion.

Assemble a disaster supply kit at home and learn first aid. Separate the supplies you would take if you had to evacuate quickly, and put them in a backpack or container, ready to go.

Be familiar with different types of fire extinguishers and how to locate them. Know the location and availability of hard hats in buildings in which you spend a lot of time.

Protection Against Cyber Attacks:

Cyber attacks target computer or telecommunication networks of critical infrastructures such as power systems, traffic control systems, or financial systems. Cyber attacks target information technologies (IT) in three different ways. First, is a direct attack against an information system “through the wires” alone (hacking). Second, the attack can be a physical assault against a critical IT element. Third, the attack can be from the inside as a result of compromising a trusted party with access to the system.

Be prepared to do without services you normally depend on that could be disrupted—electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATM machines, and Internet transactions.

Be prepared to respond to official instructions if a cyber attack triggers other hazards, for example, general evacuation, evacuation to shelter, or shelter-in-place, because of hazardous materials releases, nuclear power plant incident, dam or flood control system failures.

Preparing For a Building Explosion:

Explosions can collapse buildings and cause fires. People who live or work in a multilevel building can do the following:

Review emergency evacuation procedures. Know where emergency exits are located.

Keep fire extinguishers in working order. Know where they are located, and learn how to use them.

Learn first aid. Contact the local chapter of the American Red Cross for information and training.

Building owners should keep the following items in a designated place on each floor of the building.

Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries

Several flashlights and extra batteries

First aid kit and manual

Several hard hats

Fluorescent tape to rope off dangerous areas

Bomb Threats:

If you receive a bomb threat, get as much information from the caller as possible. Keep the caller on the line and record everything that is said. Then notify the police and the building management.

If you are notified of a bomb threat, do not touch any suspicious packages. Clear the area around suspicious packages and notify the police immediately. In evacuating a building, don’t stand in front of windows, glass doors or other potentially hazardous areas. Do not block sidewalk or streets to be used by emergency officials or others still exiting the building.

Suspicious Parcels 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 one that can't be verified as legitimate.

Are marked with restrictive endorsements, such as “Personal,” “Confidential” or “Do not x-ray.”

Have protruding wires or aluminum foil, strange odors 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 any threatening language.

Have inappropriate or unusual labeling.

Have excessive postage or excessive 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 title without a name.

Are not addressed to a specific person.

Have handwritten 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.

What to do if there is an explosion:

Leave the building as quickly as possible. Do not stop to retrieve personal possessions or make phone calls. If things are falling around you, get under a sturdy table or desk until they stop falling. Then leave quickly, watching for weakened floors and stairs and falling debris as you exit.

If there is a fire:

Stay low to the floor and exit the building as quickly as possible.

Cover your nose and mouth with a wet cloth.

When approaching a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the lower, middle and upper parts of the door. Never use the palm of your hand or fingers to test for heat: burning those areas could impair your ability to escape a fire (i.e., ladders and crawling).

If the door is NOT hot, open slowly and ensure fire and/or smoke is not blocking your escape route. If your escape route is blocked, shut the door immediately and use an alternate escape route, such as a window. If clear, leave immediately through the door. Be prepared to crawl. Smoke and heat rise. The air is clearer and cooler near the floor.

If the door is hot, do not open it. Escape through a window. If you cannot escape, hang a white or light-colored sheet outside the window, alerting fire fighters to your presence.

Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling. Stay below the smoke at all times.

If you are trapped in debris:

Do not light a match.

Do not move about or kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.

Rhythmically tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort when you hear sounds and think someone will hear you—shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

Chemical and Biological Weapons:

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.

Assemble a disaster supply kit and include:

Battery-powered commercial radio with extra batteries.

Nonperishable 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. 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 buildup 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 upwind 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, www.bt.cdc.gov.

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