If sarin (or a chemical agent) is released… what are YOU gonna do about it?

December 9, 2012

chemical agent safety tipsAs mentioned in our Sarin gas … what is THAT? post the other day, since chemical agents are once again in the news, we wanted to share some safety information from our IT’S A DISASTER! book about what to do in the event of a chemical threat or attack.

Remember, many chemical weapons – or chemical warfare – have been around since World War I … it’s unfortunate we have to even discuss it … but try not to let this topic frighten you. And many of these safety tips apply to a biological agent incident as well, but for now we’re just focusing on chemical agents. Also realize some chemicals used in industry (e.g. chlorine, ammonia, etc) are transported on our highway and rail systems which could also create a hazardous incident in the event of an accident.

Educate yourselves about the types and where to find more information so you are prepared to react in the event of a chemical threat, incident or attack.


Watch & listen for signs – Many chemical agents can cause watery eyes, choking, trouble breathing, coughing or twitching. If you see or hear a lot of people doing this or see a bunch of birds, fish or critters sick or dead, it should raise a red flag. Learn about some common potentially hazardous chemical agents and stay current by listening to radio and TV to hear what local authorities tell people to do — and DO it!

Report strange things – Be aware of your surroundings — watch for strange or suspicious packages, luggage or backpacks … or spray trucks or crop dusters in weird places at strange times … and report suspicious activities to local authorities.

Make a plan – Develop a Family Emergency Plan and Disaster Supplies Kit. Some key items include a battery-powered radio (with extra batteries), food and drinking water, duct tape, plastic and scissors, first aid kit, and sanitation items (soap, extra water and bleach). A sample Plan and tips for Kits are included in our free PDF ebook.

Pick a room – It could take authorities time to determine what (if any) agent was used so pick a room in advance your family could use if told to “shelter-in-place” for several hours. It’s best to pick an internal room where you could block out air IF told to do so. To save time consider measuring and cutting plastic sheets in advance for openings (vents, windows, and doors). Remember, toilets / drains may be vented meaning outside air comes in constantly or when flushed / open (depends on design) – in case you’re using a bathroom as a safe room.

Calculate air for room – Keep in mind people can stay in a sealed off room for only so long (or you’ll run out of air.) FEMA suggests 10 square feet of floor space per person (like 5ft x 2ft / 1.5m x 0.6m ) will provide enough air to prevent carbon dioxide buildup for up to 5 hours.

Be ready to evacuate – Listen to local authorities and leave if you are told to evacuate.


During any type of chemical attack, local authorities will instruct the public on where to go and exactly what to do if exposed to an agent (which may require immediate attention with professional medical staff).

Watch for signs – If you see or hear a lot of people choking, coughing or twitching or see a bunch of sick or dead critters – leave area quickly!

Don’t panic — Listen – Stay calm and listen to radio, TV and officials to …

  • Determine if your area is or was in danger.
  • Learn signs and symptoms of some agents
  • Find out if and where antidotes are being distributed.

IF INDOORS – Stay inside and prepare to “shelter-in-place”…

  • Close your windows, vents and fireplace damper and turn off A/C and fans to reduce air drawn in from outside.
  • Seal gaps under doorways and windows with wet towels, plastic (if available) and duct tape.
  • If you picked a safe room in advance, grab your Disaster Supplies Kit and seal off that room – remember, you can only stay there for so many hours or you’ll run out of air.
  • Some vapors and gases may sink so avoid basements (unless instructed otherwise).

IF OUTDOORS – Stay upwind from the disaster area since many agents can be carried by wind. Try to find a shelter as quickly as possible.

IF IN A VEHICLE – Close your windows and shut off vents to reduce risk and drive away and upwind from the attack site, if possible.

Cover up – Cover mouth and nose to filter air but still let you breathe (like a T-shirt or towel or several layers of paper towel, napkins or tissues).

Feel sick…? – Some agents can cause immediate symptoms and some take a while to show up so watch family members for signs of illness.

Evacuate…? – If you are told to evacuate… DO it! If officials say you have time, close windows, shut vents and turn off attic fans.

Things to avoid:

  • chemicals – any spilled liquid materials, vapors or gas
  • contaminated food or water – don’t eat or drink any food or water that may have been exposed to materials

Stay away – Get away from the attack site to avoid contamination.


Feel sick…? – In some cases, people won’t be aware they have been exposed to an agent — most cause immediate symptoms and some take a while to show up so continue watching for signs of illness.

Don’t panic — Listen – Stay calm and listen to radio, TV and officials to …

  • Determine if your area is or was in danger.
  • Learn signs and symptoms of specific chemical agent(s).
  • Find out if antidotes are being distributed by authorities and, if so, where you can get them.

Don’t go there – Don’t return home until local authorities say it is safe.

Air out – Open windows, vents and turn on fans to air things out.

Clean up – A person, critter or item that has been exposed could spread it…

  • decontamination – follow instructions from authorities since it depends on chemical. May need to shower with or without soap or may be told to avoid water – check first
  • strange symptoms – if unusual symptoms show up, get to a hospital or medical expert right away
  • store clothes & shoes – put exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers or bags and ask local authorities how to get rid of them
  • tell people you’ve been exposed – tell everyone who comes in contact with you that you may have been exposed to a chemical agent
  • land and property – ask local authorities how to clean up

Strange vapors or danger – Report these to local authorities immediately.

For more information about chemical (or biological) agents, visit the CDC Emergency Preparedness & Response site .. or .. call CDC Hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or 1-888-232-6348 (TTY).

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

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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