in case of chemical or biological attack


What Will Happen in the Event of a Chemical or Biological Attack?

A chemical attack

Chemical attacks are relatively easy to detect and can be spotted quickly. A number of systems are in place (or are being put in place) to alert us to the presence of toxic chemicals.

Having said that, with such a huge amount of potential targets to choose from, there’s every chance that a chemical attack will have done most of its damage by the time any detection system kicks in.

Chemical weapons agents would probably be delivered in gas form (with a crop duster or aerosols) or in liquid form (with a crop duster, aerosols or contamination of water supplies).

Another feasible scenario is that a common chemical agent like phosgene would be released in the air by blowing up a tanker or chemical plant. If you live close to a chemical plant, you should already be aware of procedures in case of an emergency.

A biological attack

The situation is different when it comes to biological attack.

There are few detection systems that can pick up a biological attack (although some advances are being made on this front). It is most likely that it will take several days (depending on the incubation period and the concentration of the agent) before we recognize that we’ve been attacked.

The most likely scenario is that we would become aware of a biological attack when doctors begin to notice an increase in patients exhibiting the same symptoms. It is hoped that our doctors will be better trained in the ways of biological agents so that they can be on the lookout for suspicious symptoms.

The exception to this is anthrax which is not contagious. In the event of an anthrax attack, the scenario would probably be closer to the description of a chemical attack (above).

Either a chemical or biological attack

If an attack occurs outdoors – whether it be a chemical or biological attack – the agents will travel with the wind. It will not take very long for the agents to be dispersed in the air and diluted to the point where they present no further danger. The amount of time it takes depends on a number of factors like wind-speed, humidity, the concentration of the agent, temperature, and so on.

If an attack occurs indoors (in a large building or on the subway), then the agent will be carried through the ventilation systems.

In the case of a chemical attack, once the gas has dispersed the situation is over. However, in the case of a biological attack it may be just the beginning.

In most cases the biological attack itself will pass by unnoticed and will only show up, as I’ve said, when people start displaying symptoms. By then, depending on the incubation period, the disease may be considerably spread – even to cities and regions well away from the initial attack.

Attacks using the biological agent anthrax or most of the chemical agents is more likely to take place indoors where sufficiently dangerous concentrations of the poison can be more easily reached.


Basic Rules To Surviving A Chemical or Biological Attack

These are the things you should do once you become aware that you need to protect yourself from a toxic gas chemical attack:

1. If you’re in a building and the attack occurs inside the building then head for the nearest exit.

If you’re in a building and the attack occurs outdoors, don’t attempt to exit – just follow the rules below.

If you’re outside and the attack is outside, immediately enter a house or building and follow the rules below.

If there’s no safe building nearby, try to determine the direction of the wind and move cross-wind. If you move down-wind you risk remaining exposed to the gas for a longer time. If you move up-wind you risk entering a more dense cloud of the gas. By moving cross-wind you have the greatest chance of getting out of the cloud quickly because the gas will move with the wind along a relatively narrow line.

If you’re in your car stay inside and attempt to drive away from the cloud (again cross-wind if possible).

Finally, avoid moving to low areas as the gas may become trapped there.

If you’re indoors, move to a room that’s as far away from the source of the gas emission as possible. Upstairs is better than downstairs because these gases tend to be heavier than air so they remain close to the ground.

Shut and lock all doors and windows. Turn off air-conditioners, heaters, ventilation systems, all electrical appliances, and close all water and gas taps. Seal ventilators with tape, and preferably do the same around the doors and windows. If possible, place damp towels at the bottom of doors.

Tune in to a local radio station that is broadcasting official emergency information.

Cooperate with official instructions and stay put until you’re given the all clear by an official authority (don’t rely solely on media reports, unless they are delivered by appropriate authorities). Be prepared to evacuate if given the official order to do so.

The points above apply mainly to the event of a gas attack or an attack involving the rapid spread of a non-contagious biological agent like anthrax.

In most circumstances, as we’ve already seen, the consequences of a biological attack will only begin to show up days or weeks after the attack itself.

In the event that you become aware of a biological attack having taken place, then you should follow these steps:

  • Go indoors immediately. Try to seal off a safe room to shelter in (as described in point 3 above).

  • Try to minimize contact with other people.

  • Do the same things you would do to prevent the spread of colds and flus: wash your hands often, avoid close proximity to an infected (or potentially infected) person, wash surfaces and clothing that an infected person may have touched and avoid touching your eyes. These simple hygiene practices will do wonders to decrease your chances of infection and are very effective at halting the spread of contagious diseases.

  • Try to get information on how contagious the disease is, and how far it has spread. Listen to your radio and try contacting you local emergency coordinator’s office for details (see Additional resources to find out how to locate your local coordinator). Follow any advice you’re given by the authorities and the medical profession.

  • If your family members are in different places you will need to use your judgement on how to proceed. If they are in a safe environment in their workplace or school, then leave them there until the situation is normalized. If you have to go outside to pick up members of your family, and you don’t have protective gear, then wear a damp cloth over your mouth and nose as a minimum first line of defense. Bear in mind, any member of your family could be infected and bring the disease home with them.

  • Tune in to a local radio station that is broadcasting official emergency information. Avoid using the telephone. It should be used for emergency calls only.

  • Be prepared to evacuate if given the official order to do so.

At this point, it depends largely on the nature and extent of the problem. In a worst case scenario, you may find yourself ‘trapped’ in your home for a considerable period of time.

Try your best to be prepared for this possibility. We will be looking at how you can prepare yourself for this scenario in the next section of this book.


  • If you have a baby or a young infant, don’t struggle to make him/her put on a gas mask. Strive instead, to get both yourself and the child to a safe place as quickly as possible. If possible, hold a wet t-shirt over his/her mouth and nose.

  • See the page Preparing a ‘safe room’ at home for information on how to have your home ready for an emergency shelter situation.

  • You should discuss all the points on this page with your family, with your child’s school, and with your work colleagues to ensure that no matter where you and your family are, you’re all in a good position to protect yourselves in the event of any kind of attack.

  • The National Institute for Chemical Studies has prepared a document on preparing an emergency plan for the workplace. You can download that document in PDF format by clicking here. To be able to read this document, you need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your PC which you can download for free from here.

  • You should also visit your local hospital and find out how well prepared they are to cope with an emergency. A recent study along the east coast by the Journal of the American Public Health Association revealed that only 20% of hospitals had adequate emergency plans.


How to Decontaminate Yourself After Exposure

Decontamination is the reduction or the removal of chemical or biological weapons agents that you’ve come into contact with.

If you’ve been contaminated with hazardous materials, you’ll greatly improve your chances of survival by conducting personal decontamination.

In most cases, taking off your clothes will remove 80-90% of the potential contamination. Then wash yourself with water (or soap and water if possible).

Here are the three primary skin decontamination methods.

  • Physical Removal : Scraping (with a piece of wood, for example) can remove bulk agent by physical means. Washing the skin with water or a water/soap solution will physically remove or sufficiently dilute most contamination. Be sure to scrub well (using a stiff brush, if possible).

  • Absorbent Materials: These can be used to reduce the quantity of chemical agent available for uptake through the skin. In emergency situations, dry powder such as flour, detergents or even soil may be useful. Flour followed by wiping with wet tissue paper is reported to be effective against the nerve agents soman, VX, and mustard gas.

  • Hypochlorite solutions: These are effective in the decontamination of skin or other materials. Disinfectants such as bleach or Lysol spray or Clorox (which contain chlorine) will destroy most biological agents and are effective against the blistering agents. For biological agent exposure, you’ll need to scrub yourself well with a chlorine solution for about 15 minutes. In the case of blistering agents, about 5 minutes should be enough.


  • Be sure to dilute the solution in water before you use it on your skin and rinse the solution thoroughly off your skin after use. You should use a 5% solution to decontaminate equipment and objects and a 0.5% solution to decontaminate your skin. A 5% solution is, for example, Clorox straight out of the bottle. A 0.5% solution is one part Clorox with 9/10 parts water.

  • NEVER decontaminate your face using hypochlorite solutions. Wash instead with soap and water. If possible, use an absorbent powder with wet tissue (as described above).

  • Chlorine is also available in tablet form. The tablets have the advantage of being easy to transport and store, and they have a longer shelf-life than liquid chlorine.

  • Ordinary laundry detergent with real chlorine bleach (as opposed to the non-chlorine type) is very effective against most agents.

  • Decontamination is an initial reaction to exposure. Once decontaminated, you should seek immediate medical attention.

  • There are some products available that can help you in the event of contamination or exposure. You can find details on the page Some products that may save your life.

  • Prepare a decontamination kit to include in your safe room with your emergency survival kit. The decontamination kit should include Clorox (or equivalent chlorine-based bleach), scrubbing brush(es), soap, damp swipes, plastic bin liners (to isolate contaminated clothing or materials), a change of clothing, detergent, tissues or cloths (to wipe surfaces) and an aerosol to spray surfaces (a used spray container like those used for window cleaners would be enough).

More information on decontamination:

PDF document detailing various decontamination methods
To be able to read this document, you need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your PC which you can download for free from here.

An introduction to methods and chemicals for decontamination


What is the Worst Case Scenario for an Attack?

Usually, the kind of crisis associated with a chemical or biological attack would be considered an ’emergency situation’ were it to last up to two weeks.

In most cases, the situation would normalize itself in less than 72 hours, and by then emergency units are operational, assisting people with shelter, water, food, clothing, and so on.

Crises that are longer than two weeks are considered ‘survival situations’.

Depending on its scale, a biological attack has the capacity to go beyond ‘normal’ emergency situations and turn into a survival situation.

Firstly, as we’ve already seen, there’s every chance that the biological attack will pass by unnoticed for several days or even weeks, giving itself plenty of time to cover a wide geographical region before action begins to be taken. This already makes containment of the disease more difficult.

Then it depends on the disease itself. Is it a common strand of a disease that can be treated with antibiotics? If so, the situation can be normalized in a relatively short period of time.

However, if it’s a new, more resistant strain of a disease (or a new disease altogether) then treatment may be more difficult or even impossible.

In any case, it will take at least 48 hours to determine the qualities of the disease and our ability to treat it.

Even if it’s determined to be a common strain of the disease, some vaccinations have been in storage for a long time, and it’s not sure that they will still be effective. If not, it can take months or, possibly, years to develop new vaccines.

It is this type of scenario that can lead to a sustained crisis and a survival situation.

It is worth noting, that the chances of a crisis escalating to the point where you’ll need to spend several months in a survival situation are very slim. However, a crisis that continues for several days or even weeks is possible.

For that reason, it is worth making some preparations in advance. It will put your mind at ease and, if a worst case scenario were ever to develop, you’ll greatly increase you and your family’s chances of surviving.


How to Prepare for a Chemical or Biological Attack

The worst case scenario for a chemical or biological attack could be a situation where there is extensive spread of a contagious disease (that medical authorities aren’t able to effectively treat) and where the continued spread of the disease is difficult to halt.

In this case, you may find yourself confined to a secure shelter (either at home or elsewhere), avoiding all outside human contact until the ‘all clear’ is given.

Depending on the nature of the situation, this could be a question of days, weeks or – in an extreme, but unlikely, case – even months.

To prepare yourself and your family for this type of situation, there are a number of steps you can take.

By taking these steps now, you can ensure that yourself and your family can survive an extended crisis – even in the event of scarce access to water, food, communications, electricity, medical help, and so on.

There are a number of things you will need to consider when preparing for a worst case scenario:

  1. Preparing a ‘safe room’ at home.
  2. Preparing water supplies.
  3. Preparing food supplies.
  4. Emergency energy, lighting and communication.
  5. Emergency survival kits.
  6. Gas masks and protective clothing.
  7. Medical, hygiene and baby supplies.
  8. Psychological preparation.

Over the next few pages we’ll look at each of these points in greater detail...


How to Prepare a ‘Safe Room’ at Home

In order to be fully prepared for an emergency situation, you should designate a ‘safe room’ or shelter in your home. This is the room that you can ‘seal’ yourself and your family into in the event of an emergency.

This safe room will be useful in the event of a sustained crisis, but should also be prepared for any kind of attack (short or long).

The room you select for this purpose should meet these criteria as closely as possible:

  • It should contain few doors and windows to the outside.

  • The room should be easy to seal off in the event of an attack.

  • If you live in a two-story home, the room should ideally be upstairs (as gases are heavier than air and will remain closer to the ground).

  • The room should be big enough for you, your family and your pets to be able to live together in relative comfort.

You should keep your safe room in a constant state of semi-preparedness by keeping essential emergency items stored there. At the very least, you should keep an emergency survival kit (see next section) there at all times.

Here are some of the items that you’ll need to store in your safe room or bring with you when you enter it:

  • Gas masks and protective clothing if you have them.

  • Strong duct tape to seal off doors and windows once you’re inside.

  • A first-aid kit and first-aid instructions. Ideally you, or someone in your family, should take first-aid lessons.

  • Emergency lighting (consider keeping an emergency lighting system plugged in in this room at all times, so that it will come on automatically in the event of a power cut).

  • A radio capable of receiving AM/FM and ideally short-wave. A TV might be useful and would certainly help pass the time, but is not essential.

  • Comfortable seating for everyone as well as mattresses, blankets and pillows.

  • Food and water or other drinks. Even in the event of a short stay, hunger and thirst are likely to set in, so be prepared. You can find out more about preparing food and water stocks for a sustained emergency in the next sections of this book.

  • Chemical toilets and other sanitation needs. Even if your safe room has bathroom facilities, there is always the risk that water supplies be interrupted or even contaminated. You’ll find additional advice on emergency toilets and sanitation at these web pages:
    Disaster Preparedness – Emergency Toilets
    Emergency Sanitation (FEMA)

    See the page Where to buy supplies for a survival situation to find emergency sanitation supplies.

  • A telephone, if possible, for emergency use. Be sure to include a list of important telephone numbers (police, fire department, hospital, emergency coordinator etc.)

  • Personal medicines for any members of your family on medication.

  • Cleaning tools (broom, garbage bags, etc.)

  • A portable fan in the event of hot weather.

  • A fire extinguisher.

  • Toys, books, games and so on.

  • You may also want to consider buying a room filter that has a HEPA and charcoal filter. These can be bought in most major department stores and are effective in preventing the build up in most chemical or biological agents.

It is very important that everyone in your family is fully aware of the safe room and its function in an emergency.

Everyone should be given pre-designated duties to perform in the event of an emergency (one person is responsible for food, one for seating, etc.). Write out a detailed list of everything you need, so that in the event of an emergency, nothing will be forgotten.

You should start preparing the items for your safe room sooner rather than later and you should conduct emergency drills with your family every three to six months.


How to Prepare Emergency Survival Kits

In order to be able to react quickly, and get through the crucial early hours of a crisis, you should prepare a family emergency survival kit.

The emergency survival kit should contain a first-aid kit and first-aid instructions, emergency food, water, water-purifying chemicals and a water filter, some source of light and the other items that you may want or need in order to survive (like duct tape to seal off the room, a radio, medicines, hygiene necessities, baby needs, candles, matches, a tin opener…).

The emergency survival kit should also contain an emergency decontamination kit.

You can buy ready-made survival kits or you can also take care of preparing them yourself.

Ideally, you should have enough identical ones, so that each member of the family can easily access one: at home, at work or school and in the car. At a minimum, you should have at least one in your ‘safe room‘.

Everyone in your family should know where to find the survival kit and know what it contains and how to use it.

Family emergency drills are an excellent way to familiarize everyone with use of the survival kits (they can also be fun and a great psychological help if a real crisis ever occurs). You should run a drill every three to six months.

IMPORTANT NOTEIt’s important to periodically change the food and water of the emergency survival kits with fresh food and fresh water (more information about this in the sections dealing with food and water supplies).

Your family emergency drills can also be an opportunity to consume outdated supplies before they are replaced.

You should also check that all the other contents of the kit are in good shape and functional.


How to Prepare Emergency Water Supplies

There are three things a body needs to stay alive:

  • Air: A person can go without air for only a few minutes.

  • Water: A person can survive without water for up to three days.

  • Food: A person can go without food for up to three weeks.

Let us firstly assume that the air is not contaminated and that you can breath safely (later we will look at surviving if this is not the case).

This leaves us with water and food. Water is considerably more important than food for our ability to survive a reasonable length of time.

This means that having a supply of safe water is essential to surviving a sustained crisis situation.

When it comes to water storage, you have basically two options: 1) buy bottles of water to store or 2) store tap water.

The first option is the most convenient. But, if you are to store enough water to ensure your entire families survival over a sustained period, then this will be expensive.

If it’s stored properly, tap water is every bit as good as bottled water and, of course, it costs a lot less.

Storing your emergency tap water supplies

Choosing the proper containers to store your water is essential. These are the main options available to you:

  • Buy plastic containers which can be found in most stores
    Be very careful to make sure that they are appropriate for water storage. If not, there is the risk that chemicals will penetrate the container and contaminate the water.

  • Disposable plastic soft drink bottles.
    Start collecting your soda and water bottles and build up your supply. Glass bottles are also safe, but are more difficult to store and too easily broken.

  • Use camping thermos jugs.

Preparing the water container for use

  • Carefully wash the container and let it completely dry before filling it.

  • Add some chlorine bleach, or hydrogen peroxide (about ten drops per gallon of water). This will kill most microorganisms, without having too much impact on the taste.

  • Fill the container completely to the top, to force out all air.

  • Store the water off the floor, in a place where it can’t freeze (frozen water will expand and break the container), away from direct sunlight, and away from chemicals.

Purifying your emergency water supplies

No matter how much water you store, in a sustained crisis, you risk running out. For this reason, it’s important that you have the means to purify more water.

There are some water-purification chemicals available and even simply boiling it can be effective. However, the easiest and most reliable way to make water safe to drink is by using a water filter.

About water filters

The most common water filters are ceramic filters impregnated with tiny quantities of silver that kill off harmful bacteria.

Some ceramic filters are operated by hand-pumping action. A hose is placed into the unfiltered water, and the purified water exits via a spout into an appropriate container.

Others rely on gravity. Two thermos jugs sit on top of each other. The dirty water is poured in the top one and the filtered water drips into the bottom one.

Some filters are a combination of a ceramic filter with a carbon filter that removes dangerous chemicals.

Some water filters also chemically treat the water to kill disease-causing viruses.

For places to compare and buy water filters see Where to buy supplies for a survival situation

How much water do you need to store?

The recommended quantity of water to store is one Gallon (4.5 liters) per person per day, and ideally another gallon for cooking and washing. Use your judgement when deciding how big a stock of water you can reasonably keep.

Probably the best approach is to stock enough water to keep your family going for a week or two and have a water filter ready in case this isn’t enough.

If you feel that you can reasonably stock enough water to keep your family going for a longer period, then go ahead and do so. The more the better.


Like food, stored water doesn’t keep for ever. Rotate your stored tap water every six months. Mark the fill date on each container so that you know when it’s due to be updated. Empty the containers, clean them as explained above, and refill them with fresh water.


How to Prepare Emergency Food Supplies

The food currently stored in your refrigerator and in your pantry has a relatively short shelf-life. This type of food will not keep you going very long in the event of a sustained emergency.

To be properly prepared, you need to store emergency food supplies specially formulated for survival situations.

As a minimum you should aim to store enough food to meet the survival needs of your entire family for a week. Again, as with water, if you can reasonably build up a supply to keep you going over a longer period, then do so.

The cost of preparing a large stock of food is inevitably quite high. Consider buying a little each week and building it up over time.

Start looking for emergency food storage space

Finding enough storage space can be a problem especially when you want to stock enough supplies for several people.

Examine each room of your house. Chances are you’ll find empty spaces that you had never considered useful but that will be perfect for storing your survival supplies (for example under beds).

The different types of emergency food you should store

  • Canned Goods
    Ready-to-eat soups, meats, vegetables and fruit. Stock a minimum of 3 cans per person per day.

  • Survival Food Bars
    One bar will provide you with more than the normal daily requirements for vitamins and minerals. Survival food bars are very high in protein which will help you cope with stress. A typical bar contains 400 kcal. They have a long storage life (often 5 years) and can be stored without deteriorating even in very cold or very warm environments.

  • Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MREs)
    Meals-Ready-to-Eat are army-style rations, sealed in triple-layered foil or plastic packs. They have a long storage life (usually 5 to 7 years) if stored in a cool environment (storing MREs at normal room temperature will cause the taste and nutritional values to deteriorate).
    Meals-Ready-to-Eat don’t require the addition of water (except to the drink base) and they don’t need any cooking or preparation.

  • Camping Pouch Products
    Camping pouch products are either freeze dried or dehydrated. They are packaged in an aluminized foil pouch and have a shelf life of about 2 years when stored at room temperature. Many of these products don’t require any cooking and only involve adding hot (or cold) water.

  • Long Shelf-life Food Supplies
    This is the type of food you will want to store to prepare for a long term survival situation. This food is either freeze dried or dehydrated, packaged in double-enameled cans and has an expected shelf life of 10 to 15 years.


  • Keep your food up to date. If some products are approaching the end of their shelf-life, then replace them with new ones.
  • Don’t forget that you’ll need a can-opener!
  • Don’t forget to also store food for your pets!
  • Keep in mind that dehydrated and freeze dried survival food need the addition of water.
  • You’ll find information on where to buy emergency food supplies on the page Additional resources


How to Prepare Emergency Energy, Light and Communication

The loss of electricity and communications is something we more readily associate with a nuclear attack than a chemical or biological attack.

However, in the event of a long-term, sustained crisis, then anything can happen. If the disease was on the rampage and medical treatment wasn’t available, then we could (in theory at least) find ourselves in the situation where there are simply no people available to operate essential services.

Please note, however, that this scenario is unlikely. The biological agents in existence today, would not cause enough widespread devastation to stop essential services for a long period.

However, we don’t know what new terror tomorrow may bring, so it’s best to be fully prepared.

Generating Electricity

Portable Generators
In the event of a power failure, you will need to have a portable generator. When choosing one keep in mind what really needs to be powered (the refrigerator, a few lights, a radio). A portable generator is used where the device requiring electricity is plugged directly into the generator’s power outlets using an extension cord.

Generators are available fueled by gasoline, diesel, and propane. Keep in mind that the use of a generator is a short-term solution due to the amount of gasoline or other fuel you can safely store.

IMPORTANT NOTEGenerators emit deadly carbon monoxide and so should be placed outside the house where there is sufficient ventilation.

Alternative Power Sources
Electricity can be generated using alternative sources like wind energy or water energy. However, the most efficient source of alternative energy is generated from solar power.

Solar electricity is generated when the sun shines on solar (Photovoltaic) panels. Solar panels range in size and power capability from a very small panel, capable of charging a couple of AA size batteries or powering a small radio — to larger panels that could power several essential appliances.

Another approach to using solar power is to equip yourself with a number of essential appliances (radio, lighting, etc.) with their own built-in solar panels.

See the page Where to buy supplies for a survival situation for places to find out more about solar energy and solar appliances.

Emergency Lighting

In order not to find yourself in the dark, the very minimum you need is:

  • A supply of candles. Ordinary candles are fine, but long-burning candles are recommended. Don’t forget to also store water-proof matches and/or a few cigarette lighters.

  • A few flashlights (battery operated, windup or solar powered).

  • Emergency lighting. Ideally, your emergency lighting should be left plugged into strategically selected outlets in your home so that it will turn on automatically when power fails. Don’t forget to also store spare batteries and bulbs. See Additional resources for suppliers of emergency lighting.


If a crisis situation occurs, you need to know what is happening around you to help you plan. The minimum you need is an AM/FM radio. A radio capable of receiving short-wave bands is recommended.Of course, a mobile phone can be indispensable in this kind of situation. A CB radio can also be useful in a long-term survival situation. A police scanner can be useful to stay abreast of the developing situation.


Gas Masks

When we think of chemical or biological attacks, the first things that usually spring to mind are gas masks.

Some people run to the local Army-Navy surplus store and buy a gas mask secure in the knowledge that they will be safe in the event of an attack.

This is a mistake.

Looking at the movies you get the impression that there’s nothing more to gas masks than pulling it over your face and you’re safe.

The reality, however, is altogether different.

Gas masks are complex pieces of equipment. To use them inappropriately is potentially more dangerous that the chemical they’re supposed to protect you from.

On this page, I’ll attempt to lay aside the myth of the gas mask and put you in a position to make a reasoned decision on whether you should use them or not.

Do you need a gas mask?

This is the six million dollar question.

Most experts would advise that stocking up on gas masks for the whole family is not worth it.

An appropriate gas mask will protect you from breathing in most chemical or biological agents, BUT there are some things to bear in mind before you run out to buy one:

  • A gas mask will be effective if you’re wearing it before exposure to the agent or immediately upon exposure. If you’re inexperienced in the use of gas masks, or if you take to long to find it, you may be putting your life more in danger than if you simply moved quickly to escape the cloud. Of course there’s every chance that you will not know what kind of poison is in the air and may not have the appropriate filter in your mask. This may lead to a false sense of security.

    In the case of a biological attack masks are of little use. In most cases a biological attack will go undetected for at least several days making the gas mask virtually redundant.


  • It’s also worth bearing in mind that gas masks are quite expensive. You can expect to spend about $200 for an effective mask. Then you need to decide if (1 you’re going to carry the mask with you everywhere you go which would be uncomfortable, impractical and probably not too popular an idea with the kids or (2 you’re going to have one mask for home, one for work, one for the car, and so on which would be very expensive.

In the case of a biological attack, breathing through a doubled-up t-shirt will greatly increase your chances of survival in an emergency situation. Unfortunately, this method isn’t effective against most chemical agents.

In conclusion, I would suggest that a gas mask, used properly, would be useful in the event of an attack (provided you know how to use it and you’re aware of the attack in time to put it on). However, I would not feel compelled – despite current threats – to rush out and invest large amounts of money in them.


  • Gas mask filters have a limited life-span. Most of them have just a few hours of active use (depending on the amount of dangerous substance being filtered and the relative air humidity). At this point the filter needs to be changed. Never buy a second-hand mask as you will not know how much life the filter has left in it.

  • You’ll need precise instructions on using your gas mask. There’s more to it than just pulling it over your face. Inappropriate use may be more dangerous than the substance you’re trying to protect yourself against. Ideally you should get some training on the correct use of gas masks and both you and your family should practice using them regularly.

  • You should be clean-shaven when putting on your gas mask. A beard (or even stubble) may enable the poisons to infiltrate the mask.

  • If you’ve had no training in the use of gas masks, there’s one important point to remember – take the plastic seal off the filter before putting the mask on. During Operation Desert Storm (1990) eight people lost their lives because they forgot to remove the seal (they thought they were being poisoned, when in fact it was the mask that was smothering them).

  • Some gas mask filters have larger intake openings designed for people with lung/breathing problems.

  • Increasingly, gas masks are available in various sizes – even for children and babies. If you’re buying gas masks for your family, then be sure that each one has a perfect fit. Some masks are equipped with drinking systems, and masks that enable easier speech (via ‘voice-mitter’) are also available.

    Don’t buy masks via mail-order or over the Internet as you can’t be sure that they’ll fit properly. Always buy them in person from a professional who knows what he/she is talking about. Be sure to get a mask fitted for everyone in the family. To my knowledge, there are currently no gas masks available for pets…

  • Bear in mind that, while gas masks are effective against most chemical and biological agents, they do not assure protection against everything. Be sure to get a gas mask that is certified to be effective against chemical and biological weapons agents.

  • Generally, for biological agents to be effective, they need to be between 1 and 5 microns in diameter. For this reason, regular surgical masks, which are relatively cheap, would protect you against almost all biological threats. Protection against chemical agents, however, requires a gas mask.

  • If you have a baby or a young infant who is reluctant to put on a gas mask during an attack, then don’t waste time struggling. Strive instead, to get both yourself and the child to a safe place as quickly as possible. It’s for this reason also, that it’s vital that you practice proper gas mask usage with your family — particularly young children.

Buying a gas mask

There are a number of important points to bear in mind when buying a gas mask:

  • While there have been some advances lately in the production of gas masks for women, children and people with smaller faces, a lot of the masks on the market are designed with the adult male (military) face in mind.

    Be sure to buy a mask that fits perfectly otherwise it will only give you a false sense of security (there’s no point in a filter that keeps out bacteria at 0.3 microns if you’ve got 1mm of space between your face and the mask (which is why you have to be clean-shaven before putting on the mask). Of course, you would need to have a mask fitted individually for every member of your family.

  • Make sure that your gas mask is certified against chemical and biological warfare agents. But, bear in mind that no matter how good the gas mask is, the filter will not protect you against everything. You may need to get different sets of filters with your mask to have the broadest protection possible. Be sure to discuss this issue thoroughly with potential suppliers before buying.

  • Don’t buy your gas mask from surplus ‘Army-Navy’ type stores. The gas masks you’ll find here have most likely been used in military exercises, may be out of date and very possibly contain flaws in the structure (small cracks or holes in the rubber). If you are buying a mask, buy one from a reputable manufacturer and buy it in person with every member of your family available for a fitting.

  • The best masks are those with HEPA filter* (ideally coupled with chromium-free impregnated carbon, that filters both inorganic warfare agents like cyanide, chlorine and phosgene, as well as organic agents like VX, sarin, tabun, mustard gas and lewisite). Some gas masks can even protect you against acid gases and ammonia.

*High-Efficiency Particulate Air

Gas Mask Suppliers
NOTE: These websites are a useful resource for researching the range and types of gas masks available. However, gas masks should be bought in person with each member of the family getting a proper fitting mask in the company of a professional.

  • Biologik Gas Mask Company
    Retail chemical and biological gas masks for industrial and personal use.

  • California Toxic Mold MAAC, Inc.
    Offers gas masks, filters, and accessories.

  • CivilianGasMask
    Sells civilian gas masks based on U.S. military designs. Also provides masks for infants and children.

  • GasMaskExpress
    Sells protective masks that filter gas and chemicals for use by journalists, policemen, firemen, military personnel, and the general public.

  • Israeli Gas Masks
    Offers masks and nuclear, biological, and chemical protection equipment for adults, children, and infants.

  • Shalon Chemical Industries
    Israeli manufacturers of gas masks and other nuclear/biological/chemical protective equipment.


Protective Clothing

Appropriate protective clothing can prevent exposure through the skin.

Protective suits usually come with built-in boots and hood. They can protect against liquid and vapor chemical warfare agents, as well as against biological warfare agents.

Several sizes exist, including those for children.

Protective boots are usually designed especially to accommodate the extra bulk of a protective suit, and remain relatively easy to put on even if you’re wearing protective gloves. Protective boots are usually knee high and have a high chemical resistance.

Protective gloves are extremely solid, they can be as thick as 25mm and have a particularly long chemical resistance, resisting most toxic/hazardous chemicals.

Like gas masks, I would need to question the practicality of buying protective suits. Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to carry one around with you everywhere you go (you’re kids would definitely draw the line on that one!), and the cost of keeping a suit everywhere is prohibitive.

And, like gas masks, you would need to know about the attack in time to get your protective clothing on. And again, you may be putting yourself in danger as you struggle to put on the suit when you could, instead, be making sensible efforts to escape the gas cloud.

Protective Clothing Suppliers

  • American School Of Defense
    Detection equipment, decontamination equipment, protective suits and accessories, protective masks and filters.


Some Products that May Save Your Life

On this page you’ll find some information on medicines and other products that are currently available and that could be beneficial to your health and well-being in an emergency situation.These products might be a good addition to your survival kits and should certainly be considered for your safe room.

I’m not a trained medical professional. I mention these products for your information so that you’re aware that they exist. You should discuss these products with your doctor before you consider using them.

MedicationStabilized oxygen

Oxygen is the source of life and energy to all cells. When your oxygen level is low, cells lose their natural immune system and toxins begin to devastate bodily functions.Oxygen also acts as a guardian and protector against unfriendly bacteria and disease organisms. One of oxygen’s major functions is to break down and eject unwanted materials. An oxygen-rich body is a difficult fortress to assail for biological agents.

Stabilized oxygen is very efficient as an anti-inflammatory, broad-spectrum, bactericidal, fungicidal and virucidal agent. Taking stabilized oxygen will help the immune system to fight off harmful organisms.
olloidal Silver
Colloidal Silver is pure silver suspended in a distilled water solution. Silver is powerful in the prevention of disease development and is also a natural, universal antibiotic. It is a natural disinfectant and broad-spectrum anti-microbial agent.

Colloidal silver acts as a catalyst, disabling the enzyme that all one-celled bacteria, fungi, and viruses use for their oxygen metabolism (it suffocates them). No known disease-causing organism can live in the presence of even minute traces of the chemical element silver.

Colloidal silver has been shown to be effective against more than 650 different disease-causing organisms (bacteria, viruses, molds, fungi, and parasites).

Other products

Antibiotic Treatment for Biological Warfare
This webpage features descriptions of treatments available for various diseases as well as the manner in which those treatments should be dispensed.

Anthrax Protection Medication
FDA approved medication to protect against Anthrax

Aromatherapy – essential oils

Stay up to date on developments in the treatments available against the chemical and biological agents at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.


Other Things to Prepare for a Survival Situation

Some miscellaneous supplies that you shouldn’t forget to include in your preparations for a survival situation.

  • Medical: First aid kit, Aspirin, Paracetamol or Ibuprofen, special medications if needed and a first aid manual.

  • Hygiene: Pre-moistened towelettes, all-purpose liquid soap, tooth brushes and paste, disposable razors, feminine hygiene items, latex gloves, disinfectant.

  • Toilet/sanitation facilities: You should include chemical toilet facilities in your safe room. Even if the room already has a toilet, there’s always the risk that the water supply will be interrupted or contaminated. Don’t forget to store toilet tissue rolls. For more information on this, see the page Preparing a ‘safe room’ at home.

  • Clothing: At least one complete change of clothing for each member of the family.

  • Baby needs: Baby formula and plastic bottles, disposable diapers, pre-moistened wet wipes, baby blanket, two or three complete change of baby clothes.

  • Recreation : Toys for the children, playing cards, pens and paper, books, games,…


How to Psychologically Prepare for a Terrorist Attack

The first thing you’ll need to be able to cope with in the event of a terrorist attack is fear.

Fear can diminish your ability to react in the appropriate way.

The best way to make sure that fear won’t compromise your family’s safety in the event of a terrorist attack is to prepare yourself, so that you’ll be fully ready to react when the time comes.

Preparing yourself first means overcoming your own fear of the unknown.

Proper mental preparation will greatly increase your chances of survival because you will be able to take immediate protective measures in a rational and confident manner.

A widespread contagious disease would be a hugely traumatic event, which can be very difficult to cope with on any level.

You need to discuss with your family the impacts such a situation would have on your lives, and on the world around you. Talking about such a theoretical event may be difficult, but if a tragedy were ever to occur, those discussions would be of huge benefit to you all – especially your children. Kids need to be given the opportunity to express their fears and ask questions.

The possible impacts of a biological terrorist attack are numerous.

Here is a list of subjects that can be raised in a family discussion to help everyone to be prepared:

The practical issues related to a terrorist attack

  • Accepting the change in habits (for everyone) that such a situation would lead to – whether short-term or long-term.

  • Coping with the difficulty of living together 24 hours a day if forced to.

  • Dealing with issues like personal hygiene and waste handling.

  • Coping with extreme weather (even if you are sheltered in your home, you may find yourself without electricity or the means to stay warm).

  • How to deal with issues like food, cooking, and the inevitable change in normal eating habits.

  • Learning to cope in the event that you are cut off from communicating with the rest of the world.

The psychological impact of a terrorist attack

  • Coping with the concepts of death, injury and illness. Not only to yourselves, but also to friends, family, neighbors, and so on. This may be particularly difficult for your children.

  • Dealing with the worry and uncertainty about the well-being of your friends, family or loved ones.

  • Worrying about the way the crisis will evolve: your helplessness in face of the events, the need to trust governments to react to the terrorist attack and solve the crisis, the worry that things will get worse, and so on.

  • Accepting that everyone will have to contribute to the survival effort which may mean having to do things that you wouldn’t otherwise do.

Potential impact on the world around you following a terrorist attack.

Depending on the nature of the terrorist attack, you may be forced to deal with any or all of the following…

  • Coping with contamination of the water supply.

  • Coping with contamination of the air.

  • Coping with contamination of the ground.

  • Coping with economic consequences.

  • Coping with electricity or communications failure.







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