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CERT- Special Situations – Hazardous Material and Terrorism

CERT- Special Situations – Hazardous Material and Terrorism

Educating individuals on how to respond to hazardous situations, especially those that involve a community is the goal of FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. Being trained in the safety and protection skills that will allow you to effectively help yourself, your family and your community may help you save lives and property should you ever find yourself in an emergency situation.

You may be interested in reading our other articles titled, “The Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT)” and “Overview of the Community Emergency Response Team Program- CERT” for an overview of the CERT program.

In prior articles we discussed environmental and fire hazards as well as hazardous situations that may occur in your home or place of work. However, part of the CERT program is knowing what to do in special situations such as hazardous materials or terrorist acts, and the CERT protocol to be followed for safety and protection.

Hazardous materials and terrorism are linked together in the CERT program because most terrorist acts involve hazardous materials. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) are made from hazardous materials. For example:

  • Chemical agents
  • Biological agents
  • Radiological and nuclear materials
  • Explosives

Consider the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 that killed 168 people and injured another 680. The bomber, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used over 40, 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer to build the bomb used in the terrorist attack on the federal building. Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used on agricultural farms as a fertilizer for corn and other produce.

Another example can be found in World War One, where chlorine gas was used as a weapon by the Central Powers (Germany) in 1915.

Hazardous Material

Hazardous Materials can also be found in our homes, workplace and community, and we tend to forget just how dangerous they can be to our health and environment if they are handled, stored or used incorrectly or carelessly. Consider items such as household cleaners, hair spray and other household chemical products that are a part of our every day lives. These too, if not handled or stored correctly, can pose a risk to our health. These types of products must have a warning label on the back of the container warning you of such.

What Qualifies a Product to Classified as a Hazardous Material?

Materials that have the following characteristics are considered hazardous:

  • Can corrode other materials
  • Can explode or are easily ignited
  • React strongly with water
  • Are unstable when exposed to heat or static shock
  • Are toxic to humans, animals, or the environment

CERT Special Situation Response

Due to the potential extreme dangers of hazardous materials, the necessary training and proper safety equipment required to effectively deal with these types of situations, CERT members are not asked to respond to incidents that involve hazardous materials. However, CERT trained individuals are expected to recognize a hazardous material situation and how to best respond to avoid the situation and help others to do so as well.

If you do find yourself in a hazardous material situation, take the following steps:
1- Don’t touch anything.

2- Get yourself and others away from the material. If possible, position yourself upwind and uphill should an emergency occur. If that is not an option, try to get yourself as far away from the contaminants as possible.

3- Warn others to evacuate or avoid the situation.

4- Evaluate the situation, collect data, and if applicable, provide the gathered information to the proper authorities and first responders.

5- Call 911

6- Take Steps to decontaminate yourself by doing the following:

  • Remove your clothing, including jewelry.
  • Cut off any clothing that is usually removed by pulling it over the head.
  • Wash your hands, using any source of available cool water and soap.
  • Flush your entire body with cool water. Do your best to avoid water runoff from coming in contact with your eyes and mouth.
  • Pat yourself dry; do not rub.
  • Put on clean clothes if available.
  • Wait in a safe area for professional responders to arrive.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, ears, mouth, nose or any open wounds.
  • Direct others to do the same.

WARNING: Never attempt to treat others who are inside the contamination zone. Direct them to take the steps of decontamination and leave the area where they can wait for professional help to arrive for evaluation by health officials.

If you, a family member or co-worker has been exposed by either ingestion, absorption through the skin, or contact with the eyes, do the following:
Find the container the person has ingested and call the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222). With the information on the container and the help of poison control, you’ll be directed in the steps to take to ensure the safety and well-being of the injured person.

Absorption (Eyes or Skin):
Flush the eyes or contacted skin with cool running water for 20 minutes. If the irritation persists, go to an eyecare specialist.

Symptoms of Hazardous Material Exposure

Whether a person has been exposed to hazardous material from environmental exposure (emergency or terrorist act), internal ingestion, absorption through the skin, or from the inhalation of vapors, signs and symptoms of exposure may include the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Appearance of a rash or changes in skin color
  • Headaches, blurred vision, dizziness
  • Cramps or diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Irritation of the eyes, skin, throat, or respiratory tract


Unfortunately, our kids are growing up in a world that is different than the one we may have grown up in. Terrorism has been on the rise around the world. Knowing what to do and how to be better prepared for such events is important today.  Terrorism is defined as “violence against civilians to further political or social objectives. As we have seen, modern terrorists are using chemical agents and explosives as a means of violence.

There are three key components to being prepared for such an event. They are:

  • Staying informed
  • Have a Plan
  • Have an Emergency Disaster Kit

Staying Informed

It is important to know if where you live or a current situation poses a threat, and if so what is the given assessment level. Questions to ask are: Where have previous attacks occurred? What are some other possible targets in the area? What is the FBI saying about the threat levels in the area? The information you gather will allow you to be more alert and to make more informed decisions.

Have a Plan

Having an emergency plan is highly recommended for everyone, as disaster can strike anywhere, whether it is from a terrorist attack, flood, earthquake or any other natural disaster. The plan should include the following:
1- Emergency contact numbers

2- Meeting place for friends and family

3- Become a CERT trained member

You may also be interested in our other articles titled, “Is Your Family Fire Safety Prepared” or “Getting Prepared for Emergencies

Emergency Kit

I highly recommend having an emergency kit in your home and car. That way you will always have emergency supplies with you. With so many different emergency kits on the market today, it is important to get a kit that fits the needs of you and your family members. This includes having sufficient supplies for the number of members in your family, designed for the potential unique disasters that could be in your particular area, and inclusive of he items that all family members may need for an extended time away from facilities.