Tuesday, September 27, 2005

General NBC Threats - and Perhaps an Imminent Pandemic

I'm going to resume our on-again, off-again series on threats a family might want to consider in their preparedness planning. For similar posts on other threat possibilities, click on the August 2005 archives link in the right column.

Right up front, I want to point out the importance of an imminent pandemic threat that I will address shortly, so if you are not aware of it yet, please be sure to read on through to that section here.

NBC stands for nuclear, biological, chemical. The term is often used in military or law enforcement circles, referring to such purposeful attacks on a population or a locale. However, NBC also encompasses accidents that would release one of these types of harmful, toxic substances. So too, we will throw in naturally occurring virus or disease outbreaks in the human population--which, again, I will address later in this post.

However the "NBC" happens, we are talking serious, potentially life-threatening situations that you want to be at least minimally prepared for.

What to Do

Your course of action will obviously depend upon the exact set of circumstances in any NBC event.

I'm going to avoid backtracking on the nuclear/radiological situations since we addressed that type of threat in late August. Certainly, a situation involving radiation carries with it a unique set of solutions that one must be prepared to enact. Please be sure to familiarize yourself with that possibility and prepare accordingly.

In a real or suspected biological or chemical event environment, there are some basic, common objectives (to many bio/chem situations) one should pursue:

1. Though you will probably not be able determine the EXACT nature of a threat, try to quickly assess your immediate situation and calmly take action. Judge whether there might be an immediate local threat to your health. If there is, calmly determine to evade the threat.

2. Depending upon the nature of the threat, protect your eyes and cover your nose and mouth with a mask (try to keep a gas mask or surgical mask and duct tape handy) or at least breathe through some cloth to help filter out dangerous particles in the air. Note that a chemical threat is only going to be filtered out by an appropriate, fitted gas mask.

3. If you and the threat are inside, get outside ... or if that is not possible, move away from the source and open windows to minimize the danger and let in fresh air. Try not to touch any surfaces against your skin.

4. If you are outside, determine the position of the threat's origination and the prevailing wind direction. Move with haste away from the point of origin AND from the areas the air currents are carrying the toxicity ... most likely in a direction perpendicular to that lengthening, developing "fallout" area.

5. At the earliest opportunity, if you were possibly exposed to a chemical or biological substance, remove the clothing you were wearing, thoroughly wash yourself down head to toe, and seek medical attention.

As I've said repeatedly here before, it is key to remain calm so that you can make wise choices. But in many cases it will also be beneficial to control your respiration rate, avoiding additional air intake into your lungs that could prove to be contaminated.

Preventive Moves

  • You could find yourself exposed to or at risk for biological or chemical anywhere you go. Therefore, if at all possible, have at least some minimal protective gear handy--such as an N95 surgical mask and rubber/vinyl gloves. Carry a new (not outdated) top-quality gas mask in your car and have one fitted for each person in your household that is readily accessible. Make sure everyone knows how to put theirs on and how to use it and when.
  • At home, the ridiculed plastic and duct tape measures can indeed be useful in some cases, so it's a very cheap preparedness measure to have at the ready should the need arise. If there is a widespread contamination event taking place outside (that would preclude an effective evacuation), first, put on your mask, then close up your house, turn off your air conditioner or furnace, put out any fires in your fireplace or wood stove and turn off any gas appliances (which can create a negative air environment and serve to pull air into your home from outside). Then tape up a room and cover ALL openings to prevent contamination from seeping into your expedient shelter. Tip--in some cases, a HEPA vacuum cleaner can serve as a decent air-filtration/positive-air-pressure device should you need to stay in the taped up shelter for any length of time. Simply place the hose of the vacuum outside the plastic sheeting and tape around it to again secure your environment. Assuming you have electrical power, you can run the vacuum at least periodically to bring in filtered air. Note that you do not want to do this in the event of a chemical threat, since the HEPA filter will not remove chemical toxins.
  • It is worth mentioning (especially for people who live in proximity to chemical factories or toxic storage facilities or even near actively utilized railroad tracks) that there are NBC shelters available at varying costs. Our full-fledged steel shelter that is made to withstand a whole range of threats, including NBC environments with an integral NBC positive air pressure and filtration system, can be had for as little as under $15,000. We also have access to inflatable Anti-Bacteriological Chemical Home kit tents with integral positive air pressure and filtration system for under $700.

A Pandemic Threat

Now this is one where I must depart from my usual effort to avoid "scare-mongering." It's not that I am aiming to do that here, but there is now a real and imminent threat out there of which no one should be ignorant.

Generally, there is always a possibility of an emerging fast-spreading disease that could potentially sweep through an unprotected population.

But today in fact, there is currently a great deal of fear regarding the pending development of a disastrously deadly avian flu that could breakout of Asia and become human-transmissable. They say it could happen as soon as this winter and that we have little protection from if it happens.

It would sweep the globe. Right now, the fatality rate from the yet isolated cases of the H5N1 virus is approximately 55%. Contrast that with the catastrophic effect of the Spanish Flu pandemic in the early 20th century which had an estimated 2-3% fatality rate, and one gets the sense of how serious such an event could be.

Some of the same basic preventive measures used in the previously outlined NBC preps could be applied if it becomes apparent that a deadly flu or other communicable disease outbreak is occuring. The main difference may be that the danger from a pandemic could be extant for a very prolonged period of time. So it would be especially important to be well-prepared in all areas to sustain your family through whatever period is necessary.

1. Obviously, in a pandemic situation, you're going to want to isolate you family members from the rest of the world as much as possible. Stay away from crowds at the very least and away from other people indoors as much as you can.

2. Most other people will be doing the same thing so you could expect the wheels of the economy and society itself to come off for at least a period of weeks or months.

3. Have on hand a good supply of surgical masks of at least an N95 quality rating (when worn in public, duct tape a good seal to your face). Masks with eye shields are a plus. When going out, wear disposable gloves. Have on hand antibacterial hand soaps and cleaners and use them thoroughly when you may have been exposed to someone sick or to an area that might have been so contaminated within the previous several hours.

4. At the very least, practice good, common-sense hygiene after interacting with others. Good nutrition is also important.

5. Attempt TODAY to secure your family an adequate supply of Tamiflu, the only antiviral authorities today believe may minimize the deadly impact of the avian flu. There is not enough on hand in the world to protect even a small segment of the overall population, but in the U.S. supplies stand at a level that will help less than 1% of the population.

Once an outbreak occurs, Tamiflu will be strictly controlled and exceedingly expensive if it is available at all. In the U.S., a prescription is required. Be advised, it CAN still be had from online pharmacies elsewhere in the world at the moment. It is not a preventive medication--you will need to strictly follow dosage protocols AFTER you are exposed and show symptoms of the flu. Note that you will need to plan to perhaps extend the daily dosages from the normal 5 days to 8 days according to preliminary research on this particular virus strain--a very tough bug to overcome.

6. There are those who put a great deal of faith in the anti-viral capabilities of blackberry extract, particularly the brand Sambucol. At the very least, order substantial quantities of that as soon as possible and use it when exposure becomes probable.

7. Prepare as best you can to be able to allow for your family to endure long periods of isolation within your home. The objective is obviously to minimize family members' exposure to the flu virus. The bad news is, the virus may remain in the population for a long period of time so that the only way you will be able to overcome it is to become infected and somehow survive it ... hence the need for the Tamiflu and Sambucol. Still, avoidance for as long as possible is common sense, as with time, a vaccine or an effective antiviral might become available. Have plenty of food and needed medications on hand. Have quantities of cash available. Be able to transact as much business as possible online or by phone. Arrange to be able to work from home if possible. Have needed quantities of gasoline stored.

Of course, more common sense measures will occur to you as you think this through.

As always, these blog posts are not meant to be comprehensive documents that would be anyone's sole source of information. They are meant as primers, intended to initiate thought processes, prompting a reader to do more searching and learning, and ultimately take appropriate actions to prepare for potential crises that could impact their own families.

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