April - Chemical/Biological Preparedness
Every year, the Farmington Hills Fire Department responds to several
hazardous material spills, most of which result from vehicle accidents
involving automotive fluids such as gasoline, diesel fuel, oil, and
The Chemical Manufacturers Association estimates that in an average
year, one out of every three trains and one out of every ten trucks is
carrying hazardous materials.
Hazardous materials incidents can be transportation related or fixed
at a commercial site. These can pose a potential risk to life, health
or property, and hazards can exist during production, storage,
transportation, use or disposal.
During a hazardous materials incident, you may be asked to evacuate,
such as in the event of a chemical spill or gas pipeline rupture. It is
important to listen for specific instructions regarding what to do in
each and every incident. What may be effective protection in one
may not be appropriate for another. You may also be asked to
An informed public is a safe public.
– Shari Garms, EPC Member
If you witness a hazardous materials accident, call 9-1-1. Stay away
from the incident site. If you are outside during an incident, try to stay
upstream, uphill and upwind. In general, try to go at least one-half
mile (10 city blocks) from the danger area; for many incidents you will
have to go much further. If you must remain in your car, keep car
windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.
After a hazardous material incident:
If you have evacuated, don’t return home until you are told you can do
so. When you can return home, open windows, vents, and turn on fans to
provide ventilation. If you think you might have been contaminated, seek
medical help and/or follow decontamination instructions from local
authorities. Remove all exposed clothing and place it and your shoes in
tightly sealed containers.
Sheltering-in-place means to take cover in a building you are
already in rather than to evacuate during a chemical or hazardous
materials release. If you are to shelter in place, an announcement
will be made on local television and radio stations.
Unlike sheltering in place during severe weather, sheltering in place
during a chemical emergency will not last longer than a few hours,
and this process is meant to buy time while the hazardous material
dissipate, and so that other emergency measures can be taken.
During almost all hazardous materials incidents involving
danger to the public, an order will be given to evacuate, and
not to shelter in place. Nevertheless, it is important to prepare
for either an evacuation order, or a shelter in place order.
The best preparation for a hazardous materials event is for
you and your household to be prepared to shelter-in-place,
and/or to evacuate. And the
best preparation for either of these events is for you to have your home
emergency preparedness kit ready to use, and ready to go. So in April,
your worksheet will be easy if you’ve already assembled your kit. If you
haven’t, this is a great opportunity to do so. See January: Emergency Supply
Kits for Home and Car for instructions as to what to include in your own
personal emergency kit.
- Review and update your household’s family emergency kits. (See
January: Emergency Supply Kits for Home and Car.)
- Have a household drill on quickly securing your home, in case you
are told there is time to do this before an evacuation. Close all
windows, shut vents, and turn off attic, heating, and air conditioning
fans. Unplug appliances. Know how to minimize damage to water
pipes during winter by turning off the water main, draining your
faucets, and turning off inside valves for external faucets and
opening the outside faucets to drain. Close and lock your doors.
- Prepare a shelter-in-place room in your home.
- Choose a shelter-in-place room. This room should be above
ground, large enough to accommodate all household members
and pets, and have the fewest possible exterior doors and
- Assemble and store a shelter kit in your designated room. The
kit should include plastic sheeting, duct tape, scissors, and
enough towels and/or modeling clay to stuff into cracks.
- Make an instruction sheet and post it in your designated room
that says: “Stuff towels tightly under each door and tape around
the sides and top of each door. Cover each window and vent in
the room with a single piece of plastic sheeting, taping all
around the edges of the sheeting to provide a continuous seal. If
there are any cracks or holes in the room, such as those for
bathroom pipes, fill these with modeling clay.”
- Have a household drill on sheltering in place. Get household
members and pets in as quickly as possible. Turn off air
conditioners and ventilation systems. With your emergency
supplies kit, go to your shelter-in-place room. Pretend you are
preparing the room for a 3 – 5 hour stay (however, we don’t
recommend that you actually prepare the room - this is a drill
only!). Listen to your