Disaster Preparedness: Hazardous Materials (4th of 8 articles)

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This is the fourth of eight articles on disaster preparedness  and how  to  safeguard your community, save lives and minimize damage.

Hazardous materials are anything that can be a risk to life, health or property.  They can be chemical, biological or physical.  Some are intended for one safe use, but can be dangerous if used another way.  Gasoline, for example, when used in a car is relatively safe, but if it’s spilled on the ground or gets into drinking water it can be dangerous.  

Chemical plants and nuclear power plants can be sources of hazardous materials, but so can hospitals and other facilities you might not associate with dangerous materials.  Some hazardous materials are liquid, some are solid and some are gases or vapors.  If they have a commercial use or are waste, they are moved around the country by truck, train or ship.

There are about 30,000 sites in the United States that store hazardous materials as waste, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Local governments and residents can find out about these sites by asking their local emergency planning agency.  Many communities have a Local Emergency Planning Committee that identifies hazardous materials sites and educates the community about them.

If you have a hazardous materials site in your region or are near a highway, railroad track or shipping channel, you need to include plans for hazardous materials accidents in your Emergency Plan.  Residents also should be encouraged to include hazardous materials accidents in their family emergency plans.

Hazardous Materials Alerts

Find out from the local fire department or emergency planning agency how a manufactured home community will be notified if there is a hazardous materials accident.  Warnings could include outdoor sirens, radio and TV announcements, automated telephone systems or vehicles with public address systems.

What To Do

Let residents know what the alert will be for your community.  In many cases, the right response to a hazardous materials accident is evacuation.  If your community is asked to evacuate, residents should leave immediately, using the disaster plan you have given them.  If there is time before an evacuation, residents should close all windows and doors, and turn off heating and cooling systems and all fans.

If your community is asked to stay indoors after a hazardous materials accident, here are some steps residents can take to reduce risk:

  • Follow all instructions given by local officials.
  • Close windows & all outside & inside doors.
  • Seal gaps around doors & windows with wet towels & duct tape.
  • Close fireplace dampers.
  • Close drapes, curtains, blinds & shades.
  • Turn off heating/air conditioning system & all fans.
  • If an explosion is possible, stay away from windows.
  • If you think a gas or vapor is in your home, breathe lightly through a cloth or towel.  Keep a battery-powered radio with you & listen for more information. 

What to Do After A Hazardous Materials Accident

  • If your community has been evacuated, don’t let residents to return to the community until the local emergency officials say it’s safe.
  • When residents do return home, they should open windows and vents, and turn on fans to bring fresh air into the house.
  • If people have been exposed to a hazardous material, they should ask the local emergency management authorities what to do. In some cases, a thorough shower or bath is recommended; in other cases water should not be used.
  • If people have medical symptoms that could be related to hazardous materials, they should see a doctor immediately.
  • Don’t use any food or water that may have been contaminated.
  • Wash clothes, bedding, towels and drapes, if they have come in contact with a hazardous material.

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