Preparing for Hazardous Materials Incidents

There are many different hazardous material incidents that can take place, and they can involve explosives, poisons, radioactive materials, and of course, flammable and combustible substances.

The 1984 disaster that took place in Bhopal, India was a terrifying incident that killed over 2,200 people - this disaster led to a new law being set in place in the US. That law in turn led to new response infrastructure and planning procedures, leaving the citizens of the United States better prepared.

Accidental Mustard Gas

A young man was home alone when he discovered a large spider in his bathroom one evening. He dug through his cupboards trying to find something to kill it. He mixed the wrong chemicals and accidentally created a form of mustard gas.

He nearly killed himself when the noxious fumes filled the area. He had to be hospitalized to recover fully.

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Preparing for a Hazardous Materials Incidents

The greatest way to be prepared for a hazardous material incident is to be well-informed. Since you most likely won't be dealing with highly hazardous materials yourself, the best way to protect you and your family is to arm yourself with knowledge.

One of the best ways to stay safe aside from staying well informed is to make a family emergency plan that goes into detail about what to do during such an emergency. It's also important to prepare your home or another above-ground shelter.

Hazardous Materials Incidents Preparedness Plan - Activity List

To get started on your family's emergency plan, take a hard look at what your family will need - does anyone have allergies? Medical conditions? Any special needs that need to be attended to? Build your plan around your children and pets first.

The few basics to your plan should include the following - you can never be too ready.

  • Have an emergency kit full of supplies at the ready
  • Learn about and make sure you know how to operate the ventilation system in your home
  • Have an emergency shelter in mind or be prepared to shelter in your own home
  • Consider investing in tracking collars for your pets

However, since there are different ways that you can be caught in the middle of a hazardous material incident - come up with different plans for each situation you may find yourself in.

When caught outdoors, the best thing to do is to follow these guidelines.

  • Go uphill, upstream, and upwind until you are at least a half a mile away from the main incident
  • Wear a mask when leaving the immediate area of the incident
  • Do not walk in or touch any spilled unidentified liquids
  • Do not inhale any gasses, mists, or smoke
  • Stay away from any victims of the incident
  • Have a radio or other ways of communication to listen to broadcasts and receive updates on the status of the emergency.

If you are stuck in a car, either stop to seek shelter in a permanent building or remain in your car with the windows and vents closed. Shut off your heater and AC.

You may also be asked to evacuate - it's very important to take evacuation orders seriously and leave your area when told. During evacuation, you should also:

  • Take your pre-prepared emergency supplies
  • Listen to the radio or mobile phone to listen for updates on the incident
  • Take all pets with you - never leave an animal behind in an emergency
  • Take the recommended evacuation route

And finally, you may be instructed to stay indoors and shelter in your home - this is for the safety of yourself and others. To stay safe in your home, we recommend taking the following steps.

  • Bring your children and pets inside
  • Do not eat any food or water that may be contaminated with a hazardous material
  • Shut off air conditioners and ventilation systems - with most of these incidents you do not want outside air in your building
  • Close and lock all exterior openings - this includes doors, windows, and fireplace dampers
  • Close all interior doors, and retreat to your chosen shelter room
  • Seal gaps under doorways, windows, exhaust fans, air conditioning units, and stove and dryer vents with either wet towels, duct tape, aluminum foil, wax paper, or plastic sheeting
  • If your home is full of gas vapors, take shallow breaths through a cloth or towel until you can get to safety

What to do in the aftermath of a hazardous material incident

Once you are not in immediate danger, you should take proper precaution to stay safe.

  • Continue to listen to either your radio or phone for updates and the latest news on the incident
  • Get to a hospital or other health professional if you have been exposed to or come in contact with a hazardous material
  • Seek medical treatment immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms
  • Stay in a designated shelter if you have been told to evacuate, or you feel unsafe in your home
  • If you have been given decontamination instructions by authorities, follow them
  • Remove any clothing that has been exposed to a hazardous material and place them in tightly sealed containers - do not handle them with bare hands
  • Inform anyone you come in contact with that you may have been exposed to a hazardous chemical
  • Do not return to your home until it has been deemed safe by authorities
  • Ask local authorities how to clean your property and land after the incident
  • Report any additional hazards, such as spills or vapors, to your county's local emergency services office

Emergency Gear for Surviving Hazardous Materials Incidents - Product List

The gear you'll need to survive. The gear you'll need for evacuation is exactly the same as what you might need when you're staying home to weather out the storm.

  1. 72-hour kit or go Bag - your individual kit should have clothing, gear and supplies for 3-10 days minium
  2. Food Storage - Take a long food from your long term food storage

An emergency kit will come in handy when you least expect it - be prepared by building your own and filling it with everything you might need, including the following.

Feel free to modify your kit to fit your family's needs - be sure to remember the needs of pets as well.

  • Non-perishable food items to last you and your family at least 3 days
  • Enough water for each member of your household - including pets
  • Cash
  • A can opener
  • A first-aid kit
  • Face masks to protect your lungs from airborne chemicals
  • Any medications you or your family may need
  • Pet care items
  • Infant care items
  • Extra pads and tampons
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • A battery-powered radio
  • Fully charged power banks
  • Mobile phone chargers
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Comfort items for you, your pets, and your children
  • A whistle
  • Rubber gloves
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3 Most reviews are based on personal experience from one of our content editors. Some are based on research and the opinions of other reviewers.


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