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Consumer Level HazMat Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness for Consumer Level HazMat Situations

You've heard me talk about this thing called Situational Awareness plenty of times. But, what's it mean and how do we apply it to Consumer-Level Hazardous Materials situations?

Let's start with a reminder of what Consumer Level HazMat situations are. Simply put, these are conditions created, either intentional or accidental, when chemicals available to the general public via retail purchase are used, combined, or discarded, that create a hazardous chemical environment or immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) situation. In other words, Consumer Level HazMat situations are derived out a creative use of everyday materials.

Situational awareness in these events is not only key to successful mitigation, but paramount in accomplishing the our response strategy of life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation.

We can break Situational Awareness for Consumer Level Hazmat down into three easy to remember points:

One: Avoid Optimism Bias...the belief that "it can't happen to me, us, or here" is key to keeping yourself safe in any situation. We are often lulled into a false sense of security when events involve materials we can buy at any store. Make no mistake, household chemicals and product available at retail centers can and do pack the same potential as toxic industrial chemicals. It is this false belief that causes many civilians  and responders to fall victim to these products. Responders have the added scourge of complacency to deal with...that's another story.

Two: Its NOT "terrorism"...and it doesn't have to be! After several years of meaningless terrorism training, the traditional response community of fire and EMS have been led to believe that only intentional events require us to deploy our "terrorism" training. The fact is that many materials that fall into the consumer category can be used for illicit purposes. The fact is that we do not have to wait for an intentional act in order to use the knowledge, skills, and materials learned in "terrorism" training. We can and should be using this information (and finding ways to use it) every day. The result will be better preparedness and response to accidents as well as intentional events.

Three: Think Rule of Outcomes. Rule of Outcomes thinking requires us to think past the cause of the event and understand the common outcomes to a variety of events. We should be thinking the these types of events are going to need some level of decontamination, protective clothing, specialty care and transport, management of multiple patients, working in hostile environments or protracted times, and a coordinated multi-jurisdictional response...just to name a few. Rule of Outcomes thinking also tells us that the every-day calls for service will continue to come in and they'll do so when your resources are taxed.

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