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Guidelines for Responding to a Chemical Weapons Incident

NCJ Number
Date Published
36 pages
This document provides guidelines in dealing with critical incident management decisions for all response personnel, consistent with an actual chemical weapons (CW) emergency response.
Some indicators of a possible CW incident are: an explosion with little or no structural damage; reports of a device that dispersed a mist or vapor; multiple or mass casualties exhibiting similar symptoms with no apparent reason or trauma; reports of unusual odors; dead animals; or discarded personal protective equipment. Responders should take several immediate steps to protect themselves: approach upwind and upgrade of the incident; stop at a distance and collect information; alert follow-on responders; direct all personnel to use respiratory protection; be aware of possible secondary devices; avoid contact with liquids; and request HazMat, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), rescue, police, bomb squad, mutual aid, and other resources. The rapid removal of casualties from the contamination, triage, and decontamination areas is essential to reducing additional agent-related injuries. For decontamination to be beneficial to the exposed victims, it must be performed within minutes of the agent exposure. Decontaminating victims involves using large volumes of water, the only decontaminant expected to be immediately available to the first responder. Hospital actions should include locking down the hospital to avoid contamination and subsequent hospital shutdown; establishing a single entry point; establishing triage; and using pre-established medical treatment protocols for CW. To allow the existing medical system to provide care for those who need it most, communities should consider establishing an alternative treatment center for the less serious and “worried well” population. Additional guidelines for intelligence, investigation, and the handling of the media are presented.