5 Resources to Help You Stay Alive in the Event of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) Incident


Accidentally spilled some chemical on yourself while cleaning and it starts to burn? Ever pass a semi-truck plastered with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Placards and wonder what’s really inside? Heard on the news about some leak or spill of a certain chemical in your area and wonder if your family is safe?

Well here are 5 resources that are well worth packing in your bug out bag, downloading on your smart phone, or keeping in your house.


1. 2012 Emergency Response Guide (ERG). DOT, Transport Canada (TC), and the Secretariat of of Transport and Communications of Mexico (SCT) have all teamed up to put together the ERG. They publish a new version every four years, usually with only minor updates. I currently have the 2008 ERG and do not plan on getting the 2012 one. The first few pages are white and have instructions on how to use the ERG, emergency contact phone numbers, the hazard classification system with color pictures of the placards, and identification charts of rail cars and road trailers. The yellow and blue pages have chemicals listed in ID number and alphabetical order, respectively. Some of the chemicals listed will be highlighted green – I’ll explain why shortly. The orange pages are then the actual guides for related chemicals. For example, chlorine and fluorine both fall under guide 124. The orange guide pages include health and fire/explosion hazards, initial evacuation distances, and emergency response information. The green pages are tables for initial isolation and downwind protection distances for Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) materials – any chemical highlighted green in the yellow or blue pages. NOTE: A large spill is considered to be a 55 gallon drum or larger.

Here’s the scenario – After dinner, you sit down and turn on the news only to see the camera zoomed in on a rolled over semi-truck with a DOT Placard with the number “1017” on it. From what the reporter is saying, this leaking container is only 2 miles from you. You grab your ERG and look up “1017” in the yellow pages only to find that is chlorine, and it’s highlighted green. You flip back to green pages to chlorine and see that the nighttime, downwind protective distance for a large spill is 5 miles. You then grab your loved ones and bug out bag and get your ass out of there!


2. NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.  This book is put out by the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and National Institute for Occupational Safey and Health (NIOSH). The first few pages include instructions on how to use the book, definitions of abbreviations and symbols used throughout the book, and codes for first aid data. There are also several appendices in the back; the most notable of which is OSHA Respirator Requirements for Selected Chemicals. The chemicals include arsenic, benzene, asbestos, etc. This is of course designed for people working with these chemicals, but if you think you might come into contact with them and want to protect yourself, the information is there. The majority of this book is a listing of chemicals with important information about those chemicals. Some of it is more technical than you might need (ie: molecular weight, boiling point, etc), but some of it is very useful. Each chemical has a section for respirator recommendations;  incompatibilities and reactivities; exposure routes, symptoms, and target organs; and first aid.

Given the same scenario above, the NIOSH would tell you that chlorine enters your body through inhalation and/or skin or eye contact; symptoms include burning of mouth, nose,  and eyes, cough, dizziness, etc.; it targets your eyes, skin, and respiratory system. It also tells you that unless your eyes/skin is frozen (chlorine is typically shipped as a liquefied gas at extremely low temperatures), you need to thoroughly rinse with water and seek medical attention, and if breathing has stopped to provide artificial respiration. These are all needed pieces of information to monitor and care for yourself and your family in the event you are exposed to a certain chemical.


3. WISER App. The WISER application is free for download on both the android market and Apple’s app store. This is basically an electronic version of parts of the ERG and NIOSH book. You can search for materials by name or ID number or just browse categories. Information it provides includes DOT hazard classification, identification, treatment, health effects, properties, environmental effects, etc. I highly recommend downloading this app and playing around with it to become familiar with it in the case of an emergency. I have it on both my phone and iTouch. We all know batteries die, signal gets lost, and phones get broken, which is why it is also imperative to have hard copies of the ERG and NIOSH accessible to you.


4. Army FM 3-5: NBC Decontamination.  I suggest downloading this and becoming familiar with some of the basics of decontamination. The most important thing about decontaminating yourself is this – if you can avoid it, you don’t have to decon yourself. Always try to stay away from any sort of possible chemical incident. The best way to avoid biological hazards simply is good personal hygiene aka good ol’ soap and water. If you don’t have any soap, pack some hand sanitizer in your bug out bag.

5. Army FM 3-4: NBC Protection: This includes information on personal protective equipment (ppe), chemical agent detecting devices, and first aid information regarding chemical casualties. Some of the images and equipment are out of date. For example, the masks with hoods attached are no longer in use in the military. The principles still remain the same though.

With all of these resources combined, you will be able to better protect yourself and family in the event of a catastrophic CBRN event.

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