Throughout human history, there have been many threats to the security of nations. These threats have brought about large-scale losses of life, the destruction of property, widespread illness and injury, the displacement of large numbers of people, and devastating economic loss.

Recent technological advances and ongoing international political unrest are components of the increased risk to national security.

The threats against America and its citizens has become real, and the need for ready responders is ever more critical. Response personnel must remain vigilant, and skilled with the preparedness knowledge to protect the citizens and cities they serve.

An organization or community should not question its readiness or the abilities of its response forces. The Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), located in Anniston, Ala., plays a leading role in preparing cities and local response forces to protect, prevent, deter, and respond to acts of terrorism or major accidents involving hazardous or toxic materials, or events resulting in mass casualties.

“The emergency response community in the United States needs to avoid complacency and continue to prepare for a wide range of potential terrorist attacks that will likely include chemical, biological, radiological, or explosive material,” said Rick Dickson, assistant director for training delivery. He went on to add, “Many independent reports highlight the potential for attacks based on threat assessments, and in many cases specify a reality that the potential use of weapons of mass destruction is still ever present.” Dickson further stated, “Training is a critical element of preparedness, and the center’s fully funded training opportunities for state, tribal, and local emergency responders, are designed to prepare individuals and teams for what may be reality.”


Biological agents are organisms or toxins that can kill or disable people, livestock and crops. A biological attack is the deliberate release of germs or other biological substances that can make you sick.

There are three basic groups of biological agents that could likely be used as weapons: bacteria, viruses and toxins. Biological agents can be spread by spraying them into the air, person-to-person contact, infecting animals that carry the disease to humans and by contaminating food and water.

Before a Biological Threat
A biological attack may or may not be immediately obvious. In most cases local health care workers will report a pattern of unusual illness or there will be a wave of sick people seeking emergency medical attention. You would be alerted through an emergency radio or TV broadcast, a telephone call or a home visit from an emergency response worker.

To prepare:

Build an Emergency Supply Kit.
Make a Family Emergency Plan.
Check with your doctor to make sure everyone in your family has up-to-date immunizations.
Consider installing a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter in your furnace return duct, which will filter out most biological agents that may enter your house.
During a Biological Threat
The first evidence of an attack may be when you notice symptoms of the disease caused by exposure to an agent. In the event of a biological attack, public health officials may not immediately be able to provide information on what you should do. It will take time to figure out exactly what the illness is, how it should be treated and who is in danger.

During a threat:

Watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet for official news and information including:
Signs and symptoms of the disease
Areas in danger
If medications or vaccinations are being distributed
Where to seek medical attention if you become ill
If you become aware of a suspicious substance, quickly get away.
Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow breathing. Examples include two to three layers of cotton such as a t-shirt, handkerchief or towel.
Depending on the situation, wear a face mask to reduce inhaling or spreading germs.
If you have been exposed to a biological agent, remove and bag your clothes and personal items. Follow official instructions for disposal of contaminated items.
Wash yourself with soap and water and put on clean clothes.
Contact authorities and seek medical assistance. You may be advised to stay away from others or even to quarantine.
If your symptoms match those described and you are in the group considered at risk, immediately seek emergency medical attention.
Follow the instructions of doctors and other public health officials.
Avoid crowds.
Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
Do not share food or utensils.
After a Biological Threat
Pay close attention to all official warnings and instructions on how to proceed. Medical services for a biological event may be handled differently due to increased demand.

The basic procedures and medical protocols for handling exposure to biological agents are the same as for any infectious disease.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a complete list of potential agents and diseases and the appropriate treatments.

Chemical Emergencies

Chemical agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids and solids that have toxic effects on people, animals or plants. Chemical agents can cause death but are difficult to deliver in deadly amounts because they dissipate quickly outdoors and are hard to produce.

Before a Chemical Emergency
A chemical attack could come without warning. Signs of a chemical release include difficulty breathing, eye irritation, loss of coordination, nausea or burning in the nose, throat and lungs. The presence of many dead insects or birds may indicate a chemical agent release.

What to do to prepare for a chemical attack:

Build an Emergency Supply Kit and include:
Duct tape
Plastic (to cover doors, windows and vents)
Make a Family Emergency Plan.
During a Chemical Emergency
What you should do in a chemical attack:

Quickly try to figure out which areas are affected or where the chemical is coming from, if possible.
Get away immediately.
If the chemical is inside your building, get out of the building without passing through the contaminated area, if possible.
If you can’t get out of the building or find clean air without passing through the affected area, move as far away as possible and shelter-in-place.
If you are instructed to remain in your home or office building, you should:

Close doors and windows and turn off all ventilation, including furnaces, air conditioners, vents and fans.
Seek shelter in an internal room with your disaster supplies kit.
Seal the room with duct tape and plastic sheeting.
Listen to the radio or television for instructions from authorities.
If you are caught in or near a contaminated area outdoors:

Quickly decide what is the fastest way to find clean air:
Move away immediately, in a direction upwind of the source.
Find the closest building to shelter-in-place.
After a Chemical Emergency
Do not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors to help others until authorities say it is safe to do so.

If you are affected by a chemical agent you will need immediate medical attention from a professional. If medical help is not immediately available, decontaminate yourself and help others decontaminate.

How to decontaminate:

Use extreme caution when helping others who have been exposed to chemical agents.
Remove all clothing and other items in contact with your body.
Cut off clothing normally removed over the head to avoid contact with the eyes, nose and mouth.
Put contaminated clothing and items into a plastic bag and seal it.
Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses. Put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate them and then rinse and dry.
Wash hands with soap and water.
Flush eyes with water.
Gently wash face and hair with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing with water.
Proceed to a medical facility for screening and professional treatment.

Nuclear Explosion

Nuclear explosions can cause significant damage and casualties from blast, heat, and radiation but you can keep your family safe by knowing what to do and being prepared if it occurs.

A nuclear weapon is a device that uses a nuclear reaction to create an explosion.

Nuclear devices range from a small portable device carried by an individual to a weapon carried by a missile.

A nuclear explosion may occur with or without a few minutes warning.

Fallout is most dangerous in the first few hours after the detonation when it is giving off the highest levels of radiation. It takes time for fallout to arrive back to ground level, often more than 15 minutes for areas outside of the immediate blast damage zones. This is enough time for you to be able to prevent significant radiation exposure by following these simple steps:


Get inside the nearest building to avoid radiation. Brick or concrete are best.

Remove contaminated clothing and wipe off or wash unprotected skin if you were outside after the fallout arrived. Hand sanitizer does not protect against fall out. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible. Do not use disinfectant wipes on your skin.

Go to the basement or middle of the building. Stay away from the outer walls and roof. Try to maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who are not part of your household. If possible, wear a mask if you’re sheltering with people who are not a part of your household. Children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and those who are unable to remove masks on their own should not wear them.


Stay inside for 24 hours unless local authorities provide other instructions. Continue to practice social distancing by wearing a mask and by keeping a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who not part of your household.

Family should stay where they are inside. Reunite later to avoid exposure to dangerous radiation.

Keep your pets inside.


Tune into any media available for official information such as when it is safe to exit and where you should go.

Battery operated and hand crank radios will function after a nuclear detonation.

Cell phone, text messaging, television, and internet services may be disrupted or unavailable.


Prepare NOW

Identify shelter locations. Identify the best shelter location near where you spend a lot of time, such as home, work, and school. The best locations are underground and in the middle of larger buildings.

While commuting, identify appropriate shelters to seek in the event of a detonation. Due to COVID-19, many places you may pass on the way to and from work may be closed or may not have regular operating hours.

Outdoor areas, vehicles, mobile homes do NOT provide adequate shelter. Look for basements or the center of large multistory buildings.

Make sure you have an Emergency Supply Kit for places you frequent and might have to stay for 24 hours. It should include bottled water, packaged foods, emergency medicines, a hand-crank or battery-powered radio to get information in case power is out, a flashlight, and extra batteries for essential items. If possible, store supplies for three or more days.

If you are able to, set aside items like soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfecting wipes, and general household cleaning supplies that you can use to disinfect surfaces you touch regularly. After a flood, you may not have access to these supplies for days or even weeks. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets. Obtain extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment.
Being prepared allows you to avoid unnecessary excursions and to address minor medical issues at home, alleviating the burden on urgent care centers and hospitals.
Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities. For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips. This helps to protect those who are unable to procure essentials in advance of the pandemic and must shop more frequently. In addition, consider avoiding WIC-labeled products so that those who rely on these products can access them.
Survive DURING
If warned of an imminent attack, immediately get inside the nearest building and move away from windows. This will help provide protection from the blast, heat, and radiation of the detonation.

When you have reached a safe place, try to maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who are not part of your household. If possible, wear a mask if you’re sheltering with people who are not a part of your household. Children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and those who are unable to remove masks on their own should not wear them.
If you are outdoors when a detonation occurs take cover from the blast behind anything that might offer protection. Lie face down to protect exposed skin from the heat and flying debris. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible. If you are in a vehicle, stop safely, and duck down within the vehicle.

After the shock wave passes, get inside the nearest, best shelter location for protection from potential fallout. You will have 10 minutes or more to find an adequate shelter.

Be inside before the fallout arrives. The highest outdoor radiation levels from fallout occur immediately after the fallout arrives and then decrease with time.

Stay tuned for updated instructions from emergency response officials. If advised to evacuate, listen for information about routes, shelters, and procedures.

If you have evacuated, do not return until you are told it is safe to do so by local officials.

Make plans to stay with friends or family in case of evacuation. Keep in mind that public shelter locations may have changed due to COVID-19. Check with local authorities to determine which public shelters are open.
If you are told by authorities to evacuate to a public shelter, try to bring items that can help protect yourself and your family from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, cleaning materials, and two masks per person. Children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and people who cannot remove masks on their own should not wear them.

Review the CDC’s guidelines for “Going to a Public Disaster Shelter During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”


Immediately after you are inside shelter, if you may have been outside after the fallout arrived.

Remove your outer layer of contaminated clothing to remove fallout and radiation from your body. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible.

Take a shower or wash with soap and water to remove fallout from any skin or hair that was not covered. If you cannot wash or shower, use a wipe or clean wet cloth to wipe any skin or hair that was not covered. Hand sanitizer does not protect against fall out. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if possible. Do not use disinfectant wipes on your skin.

Clean any pets that were outside after the fallout arrived. Gently brush your pet’s coat to remove any fallout particles and wash your pet with soap and water, if available.

It is safe to eat or drink packaged food items or items that were inside a building. Do not consume food or liquids that were outdoors uncovered and may be contaminated by fallout.

If you are sick or injured, listen for instructions on how and where to get medical attention when authorities tell you it is safe to exit. If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for instructions. If you are at a public shelter, immediately notify the staff at that facility so they can call a local hospital or clinic. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If you can, put on a mask before help arrives.

Engage virtually with your community through video and phone calls. Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed. Take care of your body and talk to someone if you are feeling upset. Many people may already feel fear and anxiety about the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). The threat of a nuclear explosion can add additional stress. Follow CDC guidance for managing stress during a traumatic event and managing stress during COVID-19.

Hazards related to nuclear explosions
Bright FLASH can cause temporary blindness for less than a minute.
BLAST WAVE can cause death, injury, and damage to structures several miles out from the blast.
RADIATION can damage cells of the body. Large exposures can cause radiation sickness.
FIRE AND HEAT can cause death, burn injuries, and damage to structures several miles out.
ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE (EMP) can damage electrical power equipment and electronics several miles out from the detonation and cause temporary disruptions further out.

FALLOUT is radioactive, visible dirt and debris raining down from several miles up that can cause sickness to those who are outside.

Disaster survivors:

  • Phone: (800) 621-FEMA (3362)
  • TTY: (800) 462-7585



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