Tips to Survive a Chemical or Biological Attack

As many of you know, in April 2018, Syria has attacked its own people with chemical weapons again.  Inspectors positively identified Chlorine and are still testing to determine if Sarin was used as well.  Biological and chemical weapons have been around since World War I and are still in use today.  However, the images of the dead men, women, and children show the suffering they endured before death.  While in the US Marines, I was trained to deal with an NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) attack – and I wanted to compile a list of things that ordinary civilians should consider if you’re concerned about a chemical or biological attack.

First and foremost, stay informed.  Sign up for CDC and WHO alerts for travel advisories and tips for keeping yourself safe.  Also, don’t count on a vaccine being available.  New strains of viruses require new vaccines and can take months even years to develop not to mention producing and distributing them on a large scale.


Stay current on your vaccines and get your annual flu shot.  The current vaccine won’t protect you from every flu or any new strains but it can help you by protecting you from some strains.  Tamiflu and Relenza have shown the potential to be effective against Avian flu however, mutations in the virus may render it ineffective over time. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently in addition to using alcohol based disinfectants.

Avoid coming in contact with birds or poultry and any domestic animals in case they’ve come in contact with the infected.  If you do work with animals, you should wear gloves  and respirators  to protect yourself.  It’s always a good idea to have protective clothing that goes beyond just gloves and respirators.


In the military we were trained to use birds to detect airborne poisons, sort of like canary’s being used in mines.  We would also use a special tape that changed color once it came in contact with specific chemicals.  It’s hard to detect what type of chemical weapon is being used until it’s too late.

Chlorine gas (pulmonary agent) – Chlorine gas can be recognized by its pungent, irritating odor, which is like the odor of bleach. The strong smell may provide adequate warning to people that they are exposed. Chlorine gas appears to be yellow-green in color.

Mustard gas (blister agent) – As a pure liquid, mustard gas is colorless and odorless, but when mixed with other chemicals, it looks brown and can smell like garlic, mustard or onions. Mustard, known as a blister agent, causes chemical burns at the cellular level.

Sarin gas (nerve agent) – Odorless, colorless, and tasteless. This poison enter through the skin, inhalation and ingestion, and death is very fast.

You can take steps to deal with this in case this terrible event occurs.

Lock down your house – close and tape off all windows and doors, turn off vents, close and tape off air ducts, and have protective clothing ready.  If you are away from shelter you can use a wet cloth to cover your mouth and nose if you smell bleach.  Chlorine is soluble in water and won’t be as effective when wet.  Designate a room in your house for decontamination – If you do come in contact with chemical weapons, you should remove all clothing immediately and wash yourself with soap and water.

Educate yourself and your family.  If you have children, you should talk to them and give them instructions on what to do in case you are incapacitated or die.  Talk to relatives and have a communication plan in place.  Remember, the more you sweat in peace, the less you’ll bleed in chaos.

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