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What is a terrorist attack?

A terrorist attack is a surprise attack involving the deliberate use of violence against civilians in the hope of attaining political or religious aims.

Next to a fully stocked disaster supply kit, knowledge is the most important part of being prepared for a terrorist attack. Read on to learn more about what you can expect from various types of attacks, and what you can do if they occur.

Chemical Weapons Attack

What are chemical weapons?

Man-made agents, in gas or liquid form, which attacks the body’s nerves, blood, skin or lungs causing symptoms such as vomiting, blistering, loss of bodily control and in some cases death. A chemical attack can affect the contaminated area for several minutes or several days depending on factors like the concentration of the agent, whether the attack is indoors or outdoors and the weather.

Recognizing a chemical attack

There are some fairly obvious indications that a chemical attack may be taking place. You may notice a strange smell in the air. You may notice people suffering from some of the symptoms of an attack (coughing, choking, gasping for air, suffering from pain in the eyes, falling unconscious, convulsing, etc.). You may start to suffer from some of these symptoms yourself. It may seem to be getting dark. You may notice a cloud of gas, hear an explosion, spot a crop duster where it shouldn't be, or something else unusual. You will hear about the attack via radio, TV or other alert systems.

What should I do during a chemical attack?

These are the things you should do once you become aware that you need to protect yourself from a toxic gas chemical attack:
  • 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
  • If you’re outside and the attack is outside, immediately enter a house or building
  • 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
  • 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, unless given the word to evacuate, you should shelter in place
  • Cooperate with official instructions and stay put until you’re given the all clear by an official authority. Be prepared to evacuate if given the official order to do so

Biological weapons attack

What are biological weapons?

Harmful biological agents, such as a pathogenic microorganism or a neurotoxin, that are used as a weapon to cause death or disease usually on a large scale. Examples include a pathogenic attack which is capable of causing disease and neurotoxins which are an equally dangerous poisonous complex of protein that acts on the nervous system.

Recognizing a biological attack

Depending on the nature of the biological attack, there's every chance that you will not notice anything unusual. If the attack is with anthrax (which doesn't transmit from person to person), then you may notice unusual activity like those described above during a chemical attack. However, if the attack involves spreading a contagious disease, then the terrorists will probably use a subtle approach. In this scenario, it will probably be days or weeks later - when more and more people start to suffer the initial symptoms of the attack - before you realize that it happened. At this point it will be difficult to determine if you've been affected.

If you've any reason to suspect that you've been subject to a biological attack, seek immediate medical attention. Call your doctor or local hospital before visiting. This will prevent you spreading the disease to others - especially important medical staff. Follow whatever advice they give you on how to proceed.

Note: If you know that an attack has happened in your region, be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms. If you suffer these symptoms, call your doctor or local hospital immediately.

What should I do during a biological attack?

In the event that you become aware of a biological attack having taken place, then you should follow these steps:
  • Unless given the order to evacuate by local authorities, go indoors into a building that is safe immediately. Follow the shelter in place instructions
  • Try to minimize contact with other people
  • Do the same things you would do to prevent the spread of colds and flues: 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, nose, and mouth
  • Try to get information on how contagious the disease is, and how far it has spread. Listen to your radio. Follow any advice you're given by the authorities
  • If your family members are in different places you will need to use your judgment 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
  • 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

Nuclear weapons attack and what should I expect from a nuclear attack?

Blasts and shockwaves

- The atmospheric air pressure surrounding a detonation can cause a blast or a shockwave, which can move at alarming speeds. Looking directly at the blast can cause temporary blindness, retinal burning and permanent eye damage. The blast can also kill those in its path, and a fallout shelter will not necessarily protect you against the terrific force of a blast.

Fire risk

- The effect of the blast combined with the pulse of the nuclear weapon can result in the ignition of combustible materials, so fire is a high risk particularly in areas very close to the detonation.


- The initial radiation following the nuclear blast can prove particularly hazardous, especially to those in close proximity. This is the radiation that forms during the first minute following detonation. In addition to this, the electromagnetic radiation following the blast can damage or destroy electrical equipment, cables etc. Fallout is the often-radioactive particles stirred up by or resulting from a nuclear explosion and descending through the atmosphere

What should I do during a nuclear attack?

The initial blast - The blast from a nuclear explosion can cause injury and death, and the nearer you are to the blast the higher the risk. You will need to shield yourself and your family from the force of the explosion as well as from the heat and radiation that is being emitted. There are a number of places that you can use to shelter in such as a basement, in a car or under furniture. If you are actually out and about, you should seek shelter in a ditch or behind a hill. It is important to keep the time that you are exposed to the dangers of a blast to a minimum, so you should look for appropriate shelter as quickly as possible.

After the blast - It is important to have some sort of shelter in mind as this is what will protect you against the hazards of contamination. You will need to find shelter that is as far as possible from the blast and also look for shelter that is upwind from the blast. You should ensure that the shelter that you have in mind also has food and water that is uncontaminated, such as your disaster supply kit. You may need to stay away for a long period of time depending on the extent and severity of the contamination.

Surviving a nuclear attack inside the city - There are some important basic guidelines that need to be followed in the event of a nuclear attack wherever you live. However, if you are in a city then you need to consider some additional points. Firstly, you should consider your location. If you live close to a place that could be considered a primary target (e.g. a government building) then a shelter is unlikely to protect you against the blast of an attack because you will be too close. You should therefore make plans for evacuation and you need to ensure that you find out what type of warning system the city operates in order to ensure that you can evacuate as soon as is necessary.

You will also need to find out where you can go especially if your home or first choice for shelter is unsafe – perhaps to a friend or relative or maybe to a communal shelter within the city. Again, you should check whether there are any buildings that officials plan to use as shelters in the event of an emergency. If you do not live all that close to a primary target but you still live in a city, then you should consider a shelter or at least a room that you can use as a shelter. If you live in an apartment you may not have an ideal room, such as an interior room with no windows, to use as a shelter. In this case you should speak to the building manager for advice on a location in the apartment complex that can act as a shelter should the need arise.

If you do have your own home in the city rather than an apartment then you may find that you will need to take shelter there for a while following a nuclear attack. You should never assume that you will be evacuated right way – the sheer number of people living and working in the city could mean that the streets may become too jammed to effectively evacuate immediately following the attack. Be sure to have a disaster supply kit for situations like these.

If you are out and about in the city when a nuclear attack occurs, you should literally dive for cover and do not look up at the blast as this could blind you. Find a ditch; run to the nearest building – anywhere that you might be able to find shelter as low down as possible. If you are in a car, you should wind down the windows to avoid the possible injury from breaking glass and get down on to the floor of the vehicle, shielding your face and eyes at all times.

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.
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