Emergency Preparedness News and Announcements

Terrorist Attack



The following are examples of terrorist activity:


Terrorists have use explosive devices as a common weapon. Information about making explosive devices is readily available in books and other information sources. They are easily detonated from remote locations or by suicide bombers.

Conventional bombs have been used to damage and destroy financial, political, social, and religious institutions. Attacks have occurred in public places and on city streets.

Potential targets include:

  • Strategic missile sites and military bases
  • Centers of government and state capitals
  • Important transportation and communication centers
  • Manufacturing, industrial, technology, and financial centers
  • Petroleum refineries, electrical power plants, and chemical plants, major ports and airfields

Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD)

Terrorist use of an RDD—often called “dirty nuke” or “dirty bomb”—is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear explosive device. An RDD combines a conventional explosive device—such as a bomb—with radioactive material. It is designed to scatter dangerous and sub-lethal amounts of radioactive material over a general area. RDDs appeal to terrorists because they require limited technical knowledge to build and deploy compared to a nuclear device. Also, the radioactive materials in RDDs are widely used in medicine, agriculture, industry, and research, and are easier to obtain than weapons grade uranium or plutonium.

The primary purpose of terrorist use of an RDD is to cause psychological fear and economic disruption. Some devices could cause fatalities from exposure to radioactive materials. Depending on the speed at which the area of the RDD detonation was evacuated or how successful people were at sheltering-in-place, the number of deaths and injuries from an RDD might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion.

The size of the affected area and the level of destruction caused by an RDD would depend on the sophistication and size of the conventional bomb, the type of radioactive material used, the quality and quantity of the radioactive material, and the local meteorological conditions—primarily wind and precipitation. The area affected could be placed off-limits to the public for several months during cleanup efforts.

Biological Threat

Biological agents are organisms or toxins that can kill or incapacitate people, livestock, and crops. The three basic groups of biological agents that would likely be used as weapons are bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Most biological agents are difficult to grow and maintain. Many break down quickly when exposed to sunlight and other environmental factors, while others, such as anthrax spores, are very long lived. Biological agents can be dispersed by 1) spraying them into the air, 2) infecting animals that carry the disease to humans, and 3) by contaminating food and water.

Nuclear Blasts

A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around. A nuclear device can range from a weapon carried by an intercontinental missile launched by a hostile nation or terrorist organization, to a small portable nuclear devise transported by an individual. All nuclear devices cause deadly effects when exploded, including blinding light, intense heat (thermal radiation), initial nuclear radiation, blast, fires started by the heat pulse, and secondary fires caused by the destruction.

Decay rates of the radioactive fallout are the same for any sized nuclear device. However, the amount of fallout will vary based on the size of the device and its proximity to the ground. The heaviest fallout would be limited to the area at or downwind from the explosion, and 80 percent of the fallout would occur during the first 24 hours.

Hazards of Nuclear Devices

The extent, nature, and arrival time of these hazards are difficult to predict. The geographical dispersion of hazard effects will be defined by the following:

  • Size of the device – A more powerful bomb will produce more distant effects.
  • Height above the ground the device was detonated – This will determine the extent of blast effects.
  • Nature of the surface beneath the explosion – Some materials are more likely to become radioactive and airborne than others. Flat areas are more susceptible to blast effects.
  • Existing meteorological conditions – Wind speed and direction will affect arrival time of fallout; precipitation may wash fallout from the atmosphere.

Radioactive Fallout

Even if individuals are not close enough to the nuclear blast to be affected by the direct impacts, they may be affected by radioactive fallout. Blasts that occur near the earth’s surface create much greater amounts of fallout than blasts that occur at higher altitudes. This is because the tremendous heat produced from a nuclear blast causes an updraft of air that forms the familiar mushroom cloud. When a blast occurs near the earth’s surface, millions of vaporized dirt particles also are drawn into the cloud. As the heat diminishes, radioactive materials that have vaporized condense on the particles and fall back to Earth. The phenomenon is called radioactive fallout. This fallout material decays over a long period of time, and is the main source of residual nuclear radiation.

Fallout from a nuclear explosion may be carried by wind currents for hundreds of miles if the right conditions exist. Effects from even a small portable device exploded at ground level can be deadly.

Nuclear radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or otherwise detected by normal senses. Radiation can only be detected by radiation monitoring devices. This makes radiological emergencies different from other types of emergencies. Monitoring can project the fallout arrival times, which will be announced through official warning channels. However, any increase in surface build-up of gritty dust and dirt should be a warning for taking protective measures.

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)

In addition to other effects, a nuclear weapon detonated in or above the earth’s atmosphere can create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-density electrical field. An EMP acts like a stroke of lightning but is stronger, faster, and shorter. An EMP can seriously damage electronic devices connected to power sources or antennas. This includes communication systems, computers, electrical appliances, and automobile or aircraft ignition systems. The damage could range from a minor interruption to actual burnout of components. Most electronic equipment within 1,000 miles of a high-altitude nuclear detonation could be affected. Battery- powered radios with short antennas generally would not be affected. Although an EMP is unlikely to harm most people, it could harm those with pacemakers or other implanted electronic devices.

Immediate Action

  1. The three factors for protecting oneself from radiation and fallout are distance, shielding, and time.
    • Distance – The more distance between you and the fallout particles, the better. An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. A floor near the middle of a high-rise building may be better, depending on what is nearby at that level on which significant fallout particles would collect. Flat roofs collect fallout particles, so the top floor is not a good choice, nor is a floor adjacent to a neighboring flat roof.
    • Shielding – The heavier and denser the materials—thick walls, concrete, bricks, books, and earth—between people and the fallout particles, the better. While seeking shelter from any location (indoors or outdoors) and there is visual dust or other contaminants in the air, breathe though fabric to limit exposure.
    • Time – Fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you will be able to leave the fallout shelter. Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks, by which time it has declined to about one percent of its initial radiation level.
  2. Communicate that an explosion has occurred in the area. Initiate Take Cover Procedure.
    • Instruct staff and residents to get under or next to a sturdy table or desk if things are falling. If directed to Take Cover in a hallway that has a door or window at the end of the corridor, maintain a distance of at least thirty feet (30′) from the door or window and stay near the center of the building.
    • Avoid areas with large ceiling spans. Small rooms or interior hallways away from windows and doors are suitable for “taking cover” when an immediate threat is present.
    • When items stop falling, watch for weakened floors and stairways.
    • Stay away from damaged areas and areas marked “Radiation Hazard” or “HAZMAT.” Radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or otherwise detected by human senses.
    • See additional details at end of this section.

Common Staff Assignments

  • Relocate residents to an area of refuge.
  • Remain calm to not disturb the residents.
  • Recognize stairwells as safe areas and use these to relocate residents and visitors whenever possible.

Individual Staff Assignments

  • Notify Administrator and Director of Nursing if not on the premises.
  • Activate the Recall Roster if warranted.
  • Activate the Incident Command System (ICS) to manage the incident. The most qualified staff member (in regard to the Incident Command System) on duty at the time will assume the Incident Commander position. If severity of incident warrants, then appoint other positions of ICS structure.
  • Contact first responders and county emergency managers.
  • Facility management staff report to the Incident Command Post for a briefing and instruction.
  • Upon relocating all residents to a safe refuge, staff members should stay in close proximity of the residents while “taking cover.”
  • Maintenance staff prepare to activate Shutdown Procedures if warranted by the situation.
  • All other staff members should immediately secure their work areas by securing records, closing drawers and cabinets, shutting down electronic appliances, etc., and reporting to the nearest Area of Refuge away from all windows and doors.
  • All residents, staff, and visitors should remain in their refuge area until the danger has passed. This determination should be made by the Incident Commander.
  • Upon issuance of the “All Clear” announcement, residents should be escorted to their rooms.
  • Account for all staff members and residents.
  • If the explosion occurs in or adjacent to the facility, the Incident Commander may decide to activate Emergency Activation Procedures.
  • If evacuation occurs, staff members, residents, and visitors must be mindful of falling debris and not utilize elevators. They must not stand in front of windows, glass doors, or other potentially hazardous areas.

Preparing Ahead/Training

  1. Determine if public buildings in the community have been designated as fallout shelters.
    • If none have been designated, make a list of potential shelters.
    • Choose basements or the windowless center area of middle floors in high-rise buildings, as well as subways and tunnels.
  2. Protection from radioactive fallout requires taking shelter in an underground area or in the middle of a large building.
  3. Teach the 3 protective factors: distance, shielding, and time.
  4. During periods of increased threat increase your disaster supplies to be adequate for up to two weeks.
  5. Consider installing a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in the furnace return duct. These filters remove particles in the 0.3 to 10 micron range and will filter out most biological agents. If you do not have a central heating or cooling system, a stand-alone portable HEPA filter can be used.
  6. HEPA filters are useful in biological attacks. If you have a central heating and cooling system with a HEPA filter, leave it on if it is running or turn the fan on if it is not running. Moving the air in the facility through the filter will help remove the agents from the air. If you have a portable HEPA filter, take it with you to the internal room where you are seeking shelter and turn it on.
  7. HEPA filters will not filter chemical agents.
  8. Modern, central heating and cooling system’s filtration should provide a relatively safe level of protection from outside biological contaminants.
  9. Teach strategies if caught outside during an attack:
    • Do not look at the flash or fireball—it can blind you.
    • Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.
    • Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.

Additional precautions for biological/chemical attacks

Outdoors Indoors
  • Seek shelter indoors immediately in the nearest undamaged building.
  • If appropriate shelter is not available, move as rapidly as is safe upwind and away from the location of the blast. Seek shelter as soon as possible.
  • Listen for official instructions and follow directions.
  • If you have time, turn off ventilation and heating systems, close windows, vents, exhaust fans, and clothes dryer vents. Retrieve your disaster supplies and a battery-powered radio and take to shelter.
  • Seek shelter immediately, preferably underground or in an interior room of a building, placing as much distance and dense shielding as possible between people and outdoors.
  • Seal windows and external doors that do not fit snugly with duct tape to reduce infiltration of radioactive particles. Plastic sheeting will not provide shielding either from radioactivity or from blast effects of a nearby explosion.
  • Listen for official instructions; follow directions.

After an RDD

After finding safe shelter, those who may have been exposed to radioactive material should decontaminate themselves. To do this, remove and bag clothing (isolating the bag away from you and others), and shower thoroughly with soap and water. Seek medical attention after officials indicate it is safe to leave shelter.

Contamination from an RDD event could affect a wide area, depending on the amount of conventional explosives used, the quantity and type of radioactive material released, and meteorological conditions. Thus, radiation dissipation rates vary, but radiation from an RDD will likely take longer to dissipate due to a potentially larger localized concentration of radioactive material.

Biological Threat

Delivery methods include:

  • Aerosols—Biological agents are dispersed into the air, forming a fine mist that may drift for miles. Inhaling the agent may cause disease in people or animals.
  • Animals—Some diseases are spread by insects and animals, such as fleas, mice, flies, mosquitoes, and livestock
  • Food and water contamination—Some pathogenic organisms and toxins may persist in food and water supplies. Most microbes can be killed, and toxins deactivated, by cooking food and boiling water. Most microbes are killed by boiling water for one minute, but some require longer. Follow official instructions.
  • Person-to-person spread of a few infectious agents is also possible—Humans have been the source of infection for smallpox, plague, and the Lassa viruses.

Children and older adults are particularly vulnerable to biological agents.

Filtration in Buildings

Determine the type and level of filtration in the facility and the level of protection it provides against biological agents. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides technical guidance on this topic in their publication Guidance for Filtration and Air-Cleaning Systems to Protect Building Environments from Airborne Chemical, Biological, or Radiological Attacks. To obtain a copy, call 1 (800) 35NIOSH or visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Web site and request or download NIOSH Publication 2003-136.

After a Biological Attack

In some situations, such as the case of the anthrax letters sent in 2001, people may be alerted to potential exposure. If this is the case, pay close attention to all official warnings and instructions on how to proceed. The delivery of medical services for a biological event may be handled differently to respond to increased demand. The basic public health procedures and medical protocols for handling exposure to biological agents are the same as for any infectious disease. It is important for you to pay attention to official instructions via radio, television, and emergency alert systems.

Chemical Attack

Chemical agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids, and solids that have toxic effects on people, animals, or plants. They can be released by bombs or sprayed from aircraft, boats, and vehicles. They can be used as a liquid to create a hazard to people and the environment. Some chemical agents may be odorless and tasteless. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (two to 48 hours). While potentially lethal, chemical agents are difficult to deliver in lethal concentrations. Outdoors, the agents often dissipate rapidly. Chemical agents also are difficult to produce.

Signs of a chemical release include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • eye irritation
  • losing coordination
  • nausea
  • burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs.
  • the presence of dead insects or birds

After a Chemical Attack

Decontamination is needed within minutes of exposure to minimize health consequences. Do not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors to help others until authorities announce it is safe to do so.

A person affected by a chemical agent requires immediate medical attention. If medical help is not immediately available, decontaminate using the following guidelines:

  • Use extreme caution when helping others who have been exposed to chemical agents.
  • Contaminated clothing normally removed over the head should be cut off to avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth. Put contaminated clothing and items into a plastic bag and seal it.
  • Decontaminate hands using soap and water.
  • Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses. Put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate them, and then rinse and dry.
  • Flush eyes with water.
  • Wash face and hair with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing.
  • Decontaminate other body areas likely to have been contaminated. Blot (do not swab or scrape) with a cloth soaked in soapy water and rinse with clear water.
  • Change into uncontaminated clothes. Clothing stored in drawers or closets is likely to be uncontaminated.
  • Proceed to a medical facility for screening and professional treatment.