Sarin gas … what is THAT?

December 6, 2012

In late-2012 news reports claimed Syria began mixing the chemical components of sarin gas, and loaded the deadly nerve agent into bombs on or near airfields. Since then there have been some reports of the use of chemical agents there by either the Assad regime and/or rebel militants. Officials continue to investigate what actually happened … however, since most people are not familiar with this topic, we wanted to share some data from our IT’S A DISASTER! book about chemical agents in general and sarin.

About Chemical Agents

chemical agent symbolChemical agents are toxic vapors (gas), sprays (aerosols), liquids or solids that can poison people, animals and the environment. Some compounds or agents do have industrial uses, but many are man-made substances designed, developed and stockpiled as military weapons around the world.

A known terrorist tactic combines bombs and chemical trucks to spread deadly fumes. Most chemical agents are difficult to produce and very hard to deliver in large quantities since they scatter so quickly. Most are liquids and some may be odorless and tasteless. They could be inhaled, absorbed into the skin, or swallowed from a contaminated food or water source. Chemical agents can take effect immediately or over several hours or days – and can be deadly if exposed to enough of the agent. If exposed, the best thing to do is distance yourself from the agent and area and get fresh air.

What chemical agents could be used in an attack?

According to the CDC, there are several categories of chemical agents that could potentially be used in a terrorist attack – some common ones include:

  • Blister Agents / Vesicants (Sulfur Mustard / Mustard Gas or Lewisite) – primarily cause blisters but can also damage eyes, airways, and digestive system
  • Blood Agents (Arsine or Cyanide) – gets in blood stream and prevents cells from absorbing oxygen so cells die
  • Choking / Lung / Pulmonary Agents (Ammonia or Chlorine) – cause breathing problems and lack of oxygen damages organs
  • Incapacitating Agents (BZ or LSD) – disrupts central nervous system, causes confusion, and slows breathing (makes you woozy or knocks you out)
  • Nerve Agents (Sarin, Soman, Tabun or VX) – the most toxic agents — basically turns “off” the body’s ability to stop muscles and glands from twitching (body goes into convulsions). Most agents were originally developed as pesticides / insecticides.

How could chemical agents be used in an attack?

There are several ways chemical agents could be spread:

  • Vapors / Gas / Aerosols – spread into air by a bomb or from aircraft, boats or vehicles — could spread for miles
  • Liquids – could be released into the air, water or soil or touched by people or animals
  • Solids – could be absorbed into water, soil or touched

Some chemical agents can remain in the environment and cause problems long after they are released. In the event of a public health emergency, officials will tell people what actions need to be taken. But learn as much as you can before a crisis to help alleviate some stress, fear and problems.

So … what is sarin?

Sarin is a clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid that could evaporate into a vapor (gas) and contaminate the environment. It is man-made and originally developed to kill insects. Nerve agents basically turn “off” the body’s ability to stop muscles and glands from twitching.

How it spreads: Sarin could be released into the air, water, or soil as a weapon. People can be exposed by breathing vapors, by drinking or eating something contaminated, or by touching water, soil or clothing exposed to sarin. A person’s clothing can release sarin for about 30 minutes after being exposed to vapor. Because sarin vapor is heavier than air, it settles in low-lying areas creating a greater exposure hazard.

Signs & Symptoms: Depends on how much, what form, and how people are exposed to sarin. No matter how exposed (breathing, absorbed through skin, or eating / drinking it), the following may show up within seconds (vapor or gas) or within minutes to 18 hours (liquid)…

  • Head – runny nose, drooling or excess spittle, headache
  • Eyes – watery, small pupils, blurred vision, eye pain
  • Lungs – cough, tight feeling in chest, fast/rapid breathing
  • Nervous system – confusion, drowsiness, weakness
  • Heart/blood – slow/fast pulse, rise/drop in blood pressure
  • Stomach/gastrointestinal – abdominal pain, puking, sick to stomach, diarrhea, pee lot more than normal

… plus …

  • If exposed to small amount – just a drop of sarin on skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching
  • If large amount – can cause convulsions (body can’t stop the muscles and glands from twitching), paralysis (can’t move), pass out, stops breathing leading to death

Treatment: Sarin poisoning is treated with antidotes and supportive medical care. Mainly want to avoid area where released, get decontaminated (strip & wash), and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

  • First – leave area as quickly as possible
    • … if outdoors – move to higher ground and stay upwind
    • … if in building – get outside to highest ground possible
  • If inhaled – get fresh air as quickly and calmly as possible
  • If on clothing or skin – remove contaminated clothes and shoes but don’t pull anything over head – cut it off body. Seal all in plastic bag, then seal that bag in a bag and ask how to dispose of. Immediately wash body with clean water and soap.
  • If in eyes – remove contacts if any. If eyes burning or vision blurred, rinse eyes with water for 10 -15 minutes.
  • If swallowed – if someone drinks or eats something exposed to sarin, do NOT make them puke or drink fluids – call 9-1-1.

Above extracted from IT’S A DISASTER! …and what are YOU gonna do about it?Learn more about our customizable book or ebook

And stay tuned since our next post will cover what to do in the event of a chemical attack.

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Safety tips and resources for Americans traveling out of the country

September 13, 2012

The 2012 attacks at our nation’s Embassies in Egypt, Libya and Yemen and the demonstrations across the Middle East may make many Americans reconsider traveling abroad during these violent times.

But if you do plan to travel out of the country for business or pleasure, consider visiting the US State Department’s Travel site for information about travel alerts, international travel resources and tips, passport and visa information and more.

For example, the State Department issued a travel warning as of 13-Sep-2012 to Algeria due to “a high threat of terrorism and kidnappings.”

And obviously as of 12-Sep-2012, the Department of State warns U.S. Citizens against all travel to Libya. Also on 9/12 the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Libya, following the attack on the U.S. Diplomatic mission in Benghazi. The political violence has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli. The airports in Benghazi and Tripoli are open and U.S. citizens are encouraged to depart by commercial air.

U.S. citizens traveling to, or remaining in, Libya should use extreme caution and limit nonessential travel within the country, make their own contingency emergency plans, enroll their presence in Libya through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and provide their current contact information and next-of-kin or emergency contact information.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ STEP (formerly known as “Travel Registration” or “Registration with Embassies”) allows you to receive the latest travel updates and information, plus authorities will be able to assist you better in the case of an emergency. Over the years, consular officers in embassies and consulates around the world have assisted thousands of U.S. citizens overseas who have lost passports, had their passports stolen, experienced health problems, been detained, dealt with natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, and other emergencies.

Consider using the following tips from the State Department to make your travel easier and safer:

  • If you register your travel plans through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program  it will help the Department contact you if there is a family emergency in the U.S., or if there is a crisis where you are traveling. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts will not be released to others without your express authorization.
  • Make sure you have a signed, valid passport, and a visa, if required, and fill in the emergency information page of your passport.
  • Leave copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas with family or friends, so you can be contacted in case of an emergency.
  • Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance.
  • While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The State Department web has useful safety and other information about the countries you will visit. Learn more
  • To avoid being a target of crime, do not wear conspicuous clothing or jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money. Also, do not leave unattended luggage in public areas and do not accept packages from strangers.
  • Contact the State Department in an emergency. Consular personnel at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad and in the U.S. are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens. Contact information for U.S. Embassies and Consulates appears on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website at http://travel.state.gov. Also note that the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs may be reached for assistance with emergencies at 1-888-407-4747, if calling from the U.S. or Canada, or 202-501-4444, if calling from overseas.

Learn more at http://travel.state.gov or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/travelgov or Twitter at https://twitter.com/TravelGov .

Another good site to review prior to traveling abroad is the Center for Disease Control travel site at www.cdc.gov/travel to obtain health information and alerts, resources and travel notices.

Also download some free tips and information about earthquakes, hurricanes and other topics from our IT’S A DISASTER! book here and stay safe!


Are you vigilant?

May 9, 2011

vig•i•lant /ˈvijələnt/ – Adjective: Keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.

Ground zero 2001Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 we have repeatedly heard officials say “be vigilant” or “stay vigilant”. And now, due to recent incidents, those warnings are being repeated – for good reason since there are radical extremists out there who want to destroy the Western way of life.

But how many of us really know what “being vigilant” means?

The above definition comes from Dictionary.com … and my dictionary defines it as “watchful, alert, observant, guarded, attentive, awake, cautious, careful, wary, on the alert, on the lookout” … among other things.

So now the question is … how many of us actually are vigilant in our day to day lives?

Here’s a test for you. Next time you’re walking around out in public take a few minutes and pay attention to what you do.

Are you one of those people who go around with a phone (or bone) against your head chatting away constantly … or do you stuff buds in your ears to drown out traffic and people noise with tunes? Or maybe you daydream a lot … or worry about upcoming business meetings or how you’re going to juggle all the errands and get your kids to ball practice on time.

All of these are typical, normal thoughts and it’s true – a majority of people don’t pay attention to their surroundings. And that’s a strong testament to how great our country is since we don’t live in fear.

Plus Americans are very fortunate since we have a strong, talented network of First Responders who rapidly respond to threats and incidents.

But keep in mind the U.S. has approximately 800,000 active Law Enforcement Officials (includes Police & Sheriff), 1.1 million Firefighters (over 70% are volunteers) and 210,000 EMT / paramedics.

That means there are about 2.1 million First Responders supporting over 310 million people..!

And there are millions of active military personnel, Federal agents and observant citizens you could add to the mix … but the numbers of eyes and ears could increase exponentially if more people would pay attention.

So … what can you do to become more vigilant..?

  • Stay calm – Terrorist attacks are a very low risk possibility so there is no need to worry or panic. Let’s put a few risks in perspective … the chances of having high blood pressure is 1 in 4 … the odds of dying from cancer is 1 in 500 … and the odds of dying from anthrax is 1 in 56 million.
  • Be aware & watch – Sounds simple and it is. Stay current on news, alerts and threats – but don’t obsess over them – then start making a habit of being aware of your surroundings. You don’t have to be paranoid or obvious – just make a mental note of the EXITS when you go to places and watch for things that look strange or out of place especially if you walk or drive the same route day after day.
  • If you see something, say something – Many people snicker about this phrase and program, but it’s a good suggestion. I’m not implying everyone become a snitch and spy on your neighbors, but as you go about your day, watch for suspicious activities (like someone wearing a heavy coat on a hot day or unattended bags, briefcases or backpacks in odd places) … and report anything that seems out of the ordinary. It may be completely harmless … but it might not. Many crimes and plots have been thwarted by citizens who saw something weird and reported it to officials.
  • Know the targets – Terrorists prefer areas that are easy to access by the public like airports, train or bus stations, military and government buildings, major events, schools, malls, etc. Some other high risk targets include water and food supplies, nuclear power plants, and high-profile landmarks. When you are at these types of facilities, try to pay more attention to activities going on around you.
  • Get involved – Talk to your local Fire, Police, Health, Sheriff and Emergency Management offices and ask if they have volunteer programs available for citizens and businesses. Some agencies even have safety classes and programs for children too.

Again, people need to remain calm about the threat of terrorist attacks since they are a low risk possibility. Officials are working hard to protect communities, but there are only so many of them on the streets. If the general population would become more vigilant, it could increase the number of eyes and ears on the lookout and make our neighborhoods and country stronger.


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