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Comparative Study
, 22 (1), 35-41

Comparative Study Illustrating Difficulties Educating the Public to Respond to Chemical Terrorism

Comparative Study

Comparative Study Illustrating Difficulties Educating the Public to Respond to Chemical Terrorism

Sarah Hildebrand et al. Prehosp Disaster Med.


Background: In recent years, the perceived threat of chemical terrorism has increased. It is hoped that teaching civilians how to behave during a chemical incident will decrease the number of "worried well" patients at hospitals, reduce secondary contamination, and increase compliance with the instructions of emergency services. The governments of the United Kingdom and Israel sent booklets to every household in their respective countries. In Israel, the civilian population was issued chemical personal protective equipment (CPPE).

Methods: The effectiveness of these public education programs was assessed using a scenario-based questionnaire that was distributed to 100 respondents in Birmingham, UK and Jerusalem, Israel. Respondents were asked how they would behave in three deliberate chemical release scenarios and how they would seek information and help.

Results: Only 33% of the UK respondents and 22% of the Israeli respondents recalled reading the government booklets. When asked what they would do after being contaminated in a deliberate release, approximately half of the respondents ranked seeking medical care at a hospital as the most appropriate action. The preferred sources of information in the wake of a chemical strike were (in descending order): radio, television, and the Internet. Approximately half of the respondents would call emergency services for information. Forty-one percent of the UK respondents and 33% of Israeli respondents stated that they either would call or go to the nearest hospital to seek information.

Conclusions: The public information campaigns in both countries have had a limited impact. Many citizens claimed they would self-present to the nearest hospital following a chemical attack rather than waiting for the emergency services. A similar response was witnessed in the Sarin attacks in Tokyo and the 1991 Scud missile attacks in Israel. Current UK doctrine mandates that specialist decontamination teams be deployed to the scene of a chemical release. However, this takes > 1 hour, and it requires at least 30 minutes to don hospital CPPE. Therefore, it is imperative that hospitals are equipped to cope with unannounced self-presenters after a chemical attack. This requires CPPE and protocols that are easier to use.

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