What to do in a Hazardous Material Situation

Hazardous materials incidents can be very dangerous. Here is what you  should do if you are ever involved in one. As for any disaster, have a  plan and preparedness kit ready for your family.

Stay Tuned to the Hazards Weather Radio, Local television, or Local Radio

Since  each hazardous materials incident is truly unique, there aren't any  hard-and-fast rules for how to react. As a citizen you want to stay  informed of the situation by listening for instructions from local  emergency services given over the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which  includes NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio, Bresnan cable television, 95.3  FM KZJH, and 96.9 FM KMTN.

Have Materials Ready to Shelter in Place

With  many hazardous materials incidents, the safest place for the public is  in their homes. This reduces exposure to harmful chemicals and decreases  the number of people that need to go through extensive decontamination.  It has been found that a well-weatherproofed home is actually the best  defense against any type of hazardous substance outside. Depending on  the incident, you may be asked to take further precautions.

Weather Radio
Hazard Shelter

Stay Upwind, Uphill, & Upstream

This will reduce your exposure to the hazardous chemicals. Remember the hazardous materials "rule of thumb": if you can't cover the entire incident up by holding your thumb out in front of you at arm's length, you're too close!

Do Not Attempt a Rescue

Do not attempt to rescue someone who has been exposed to a hazardous material if you haven't been exposed. Safety first. If you can help without risking exposure to yourself, or if you have already been exposed, you can try to help those around you. Otherwise, the best thing that you can do is to keep everyone who has been exposed in a centrally located area so they can be quickly and efficiently decontaminated when emergency services arrive.

Do Not Spread the Contamination

If you are  exposed to hazardous materials, do not spread the contamination. You can  greatly reduce the spread of contaminants by not leaving the scene. Many people's first reaction is to run away, but as people scatter they  spread the hazardous materials and it makes it difficult to get everyone decontaminated. Stay put, because you don't want to contaminate your  friends or family by returning home without first being properly decontaminated. While awaiting emergency services, remove all clothing.

A man taking a shower after being contaminated.

Inside Vehicles

If  you are in your vehicle, get to a permanent structure for shelter. If  you must remain in your vehicle, shut all vents and turn off all heat  and air conditioning.

Educate Yourself

Go to FEMA's website on hazardous materials (PDF) to learn even more about what to do if you are affected by a hazardous  materials situation. You can also take several free online courses  through FEMA's Independent Study program, including Household Hazardous Materials - A Guide for Citizens and An Introduction to Hazardous Materials.