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Emergency management thrives in FW

Terrorists may never target Federal Way with chemical or biological weapons, but if they do, a little education about the subjects could go a long way.

Emergency management director Ray Gross and South King Fire and Rescue deputy chief Jerry Thorson passed along some words of advice to mostly Federal Way volunteers Sept. 25 during a weapons of mass destruction presentation at City Hall. The presentation was provided at request, Gross said.

A terrorist strike employing the use of chemical or biological weapons could have unpredictable results, Gross said. But the desired effect of such an attack is clear: Terrorists aim to scare their targeted population, he said.

“They are trying to create that fear and that reaction to stop our way of life,” Thorson said.

Chemical and BioloGiCAL weapons

Chemical weapons are poisonous gases, liquids or solids used to harm people, animals or plants, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) Emergency Resource Guide. Examples include mustard gas and nerve agents. Chemical agents can be dispensed through an aerosol method, in a vapor form or by direct contact with skin. Exposure may cause a shortness of breath, skin or eye irritation, blistering or nausea, among other things, according to the resource guide. Chemical weapons were used in warfare during World War I and the Vietnam War.

Biological weapons are organisms or toxins used to harm people, livestock or crops, according to the DOH Emergency Resource Guide. These kinds of weapons are hard to detect because symptoms of infection often mimic that of influenza, Gross said.

Following Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorist attacks using anthrax — an acute infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacteria — were confirmed in the United States. Letters containing anthrax, in powder form, were mailed to news media offices and two U.S. senators. Five people died from the disease.

A chemical or biological attack can be alarming, but quick thinking could mean the difference between life and death. The first thing to remember is to be alert of one’s surroundings and resist giving into the pressure of curiosity, Gross said. If an unusual smell is detected or a suspicious person seen, call authorities, he said.

“Don’t be curious,” he said. “Don’t go to see what it is.”

Move away from agents that can travel with the wind, Gross said. Do not try to rescue anyone affected by biological or chemical weapons, as the rescuer could become the next victim, he said. If possible, find a place to safely seclude oneself from the weapons, Gross said. A home bathroom without windows is a good place to do this, he said. Make sure a radio and food are available.

Remember not to eat or drink foods or touch one’s skin, especially the eyes, nose, ears or open cuts or sores, before the agents can be washed from the body, Thorson said. Soap and water is a way to fight off the effects of many chemical weapons.

South King Fire and Rescue personnel are trained to handle a weapons of mass destruction scenario, Thorson said. Each command officer with the fire district has hazardous material training, he said. The district also has access to a portable trailer where exposed residents can rinse the chemicals from their bodies with a warm shower taken in privacy, he said.

Additionally, neighboring fire departments and districts have similar equipment and training as SKFR personnel. In a large-scale attack, these agencies may be called on to assist Federal Way residents. The fire district has also identified areas, such as The Commons mall and transit center that, because of the crowds that gather there, run the risk of being terrorism targets.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to protect oneself and prepare for an emergency.

“If we are overwhelmed, it will be a while before any first responder is able to get to you,” said Bill Gates, SKFR Board of Commissioners vice president.

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Check out what’s happening in emergency management:

• Winter weather this year will be combatted with snow and ice machinery bought in 2007. A third plow vehicle will address problem areas reported by citizens. It will help provide drivers quicker relief from snow and ice.

• Federal Way volunteers, involved with the feeding agency The Soup Ladies, visited Texas after recent hurricanes to assist in emergency management and feeding.

• Animals in disaster workshop: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S. The city and the Humane Society will host a workshop to discuss options for disaster protection and relief for pets.

• High voltage/natural gas safety presentation: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S. The city and Puget Sound Energy will discuss safety measures to take during an emergency.

• Weapons of mass destruction: Time and date to be announced. The city will host a presentation about explosives and incendiary weapons. This is the third of a four-part series and will likely happen in December.

• Three ways Three days: The American Red Cross may again visit the city to educate residents on how to prepare for a natural disaster. Residents should expect to provide for themselves for up to three days during an emergency.

Anyone interested in volunteering, attending presentations or inquiring about a topic of interest related to emergency management should contact Ray Gross at (253) 835-2712 or ray.gross@cityoffederalway.com

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