As independent and self-sufficient as a survivalist is, there are still three things that strike fear into our hearts: bears, internet outages, and terrorism. Traditionally, our view of terrorist events usually included firearms and explosives. Over the last few decades, we have added vehicles, aircraft, and watercraft to the list. These lists are areas of concern, no doubt, but we like to take comfort in the fact that they are tangible threats that we can see and comprehend.
What is even more dangerous?
What is often overlooked, and likely more dangerous, are the invisible tools of terror that we cannot detect and avoid. Chemical weapons have been used by military and terror organizations for centuries, and early forms of biological warfare date back to the Trojan War. Weaponized chemical and biological agents not only impact the immediate victims—they raise widespread fear through the uncertainty of contamination and lethality. To make matters worse, first responders’ tasks are complicated by the specialized training and equipment needed, which can slow the recovery process.
Though the specifics of a chemical or biological agent’s structure and effects on the human body vary widely, they are very similar in many ways. Agents can be delivered as a gas, aerosol, liquid, or powder. They can spread by an explosion, food contamination, insect bite, or even infectious transmission. The contamination of the human body comes through the skin, eyes, mouth, or lungs. Chemical agents tend to have an acute onset measured in seconds to minutes, while biological agents may not display symptoms for days or weeks. Symptoms vary, but often include irritation, blisters, headache, nausea, cough, vomiting, and fever.
What if you know or suspect that you are in the casualty zone for a chemical and biological attack?
If you know or suspect that you are in the casualty zone for a chemical and biological attack, your immediate actions should be to protect yourself and those around you. Reduce your exposure by covering your skin, shielding your eyes, and protecting your breathing pathway with a mask or cloth. Attempt to egress the area and notify others (including emergency responders) of the suspected danger. Although a few agents are activated by water, washing your hands and face is generally advisable after a suspected attack.
Once out of immediate danger, your difficulties may only be beginning. Chance are that you won’t know the nature of your attack for quite some time, and it may even be a combination of agents. Chemical irrirants, such as tear gas, have a rapid onset and relatively swift recovery; however, it may take days or weeks to realize that the gas also contained an infectious substance. You will have to determine whether it is safer to egress the area to distance yourself from the danger, or to remain sheltered in place in your home to limit further transmissible exposure with other people. Given what we have learned from our recent pandemic, anecdotal wisdom would point to the latter as being the safer option across the population.
Need of emergency kits
Emergency kits are useful for a variety of scenarios, and this is no different. You should maintain sufficient water, food, and batteries on-hand for several days of isolation in any situation. A communication method is also important to stay updated with emergency responder guidance and reach out for medical care if needed. As the attack is characterized, medical specialists should release guidance about what symptoms to be on the lookout for. If you think you were exposed and are developing these symptoms, seek medical care immediately; otherwise, do not seek medical care if it is not needed, as this unnecessarily overloads the medical system.
What other actions we can take?
In addition to keeping your emergency kit on hand and having an egress plan, there are other actions we can take to reduce our collective vulnerability. First, stay up to date with your immunizations—this makes it more difficult to contract and spread contagious diseases. Next, ensure you are consuming water and food from quality sources. Finally, practice good daily hygiene. Soap is, by far, the single medical invention responsible with saving the most lives, so put it to good use.
If there’s some good news about a chemical or biological terror attack, it’s this: your worst indication as a victim might only be a runny nose. Just make sure to wash your hands after you blow your nose.