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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most likely agents that will be used in a biological attack?

Although it is unknown what agents will be used in a biological attack, several have been identified as potential weapons. The agents with the greatest potential for use in a biological attack are classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as "Category A" agents because of their high potential to harm people and cause fear and panic. The "Category A" agents are: Anthrax, Smallpox, Plague, Botulism, Tularemia, and Viral Hemorrhagic Fever. Please see Potential Agents for more information about each of these.

What other agents may be used in a terrorist attack?

Conventional weapons such as explosives have been the most common form of terrorism in American history. Terrorists may also try to use chemical and radiological substances to cause harm.

How do I get information in the event of terrorist attack?

Government officials will instruct the public on what actions to take after an act of terrorism. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) will be activated and broadcast over radio, television and the Internet. This website ( will be updated continuously with important information after such an event if it takes place in Contra Costa County.

Who will respond to a bioterrorist attack?

The initial responders in a bioterrorist attack will include local Public Health departments, county Emergency Medical Services, law enforcement, fire and FBI offices.

What should I do to prepare?

Bioterrorism may be obvious or concealed. Nevertheless, there are things that you can do to anticipate for the unexpected. Such things include:

  • Being aware of your surroundings and report suspicious activities to your local law enforcement agency.
  • Being informed about terrorism and possible agents that may be used for bioterrorism. This web site provides you with information and additional links pertaining to the different means of bioterrorism.
  • Having a family preparedness plan. Planning guidelines for such emergencies are also provided in this web site. Please visit our section on Making an Emergency Kit to learn how to create a family communication plan and to print out the family communication card for each of your family members.

What should I consider in a family preparedness plan?

A family preparedness plan may include the following:

  • An emergency communication plan. Since local phone lines are likely to be overloaded, an out-of town or state contact person will help maintain contact with family members. Ensure that the whole family has the contact person's information such as a phone number, an e-mail address, cellular phone or pager number.
  • An alternate meeting place. A predetermined meeting place will decrease confusion should your area be evacuated.
  • Putting together a disaster preparedness kit. The events of September 11th proved that in critical times, vital services may be disrupted for up to 72 hours.

What should I include in a 72-hour survival kit?

Below is a list of critical items for a 72-hour survival kit: Additional items may be added to fit your family's individual needs.

  • One gallon of water per person for 3 to 5 days
  • Water purification kit
  • First aid kit, including instruction booklet
  • Prescription medications
  • One week supply of food that does not need to be refrigerated
  • Manual can opener, cooking supplies and utensils
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Shoes and extra clothing
  • Portable radio, flashlight and spare batteries
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses
  • Extra pair of house and car keys
  • Sanitation supplies, toilet paper, soap, trash bags
  • Fire extinguisher and basic tools
  • Special items for infants, elderly, and disabled family members
  • Food, water and restraint (leash or carrier) pets
  • Keep important documents in a waterproof container
  • Cash and Change

How can I help my children cope in the event of such an emergency?

Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible. Be honest and open about the disaster, but keep information age-appropriate. For more details, see our page on Helping Children Cope with Disaster Related Anxiety.

When do I evacuate a building?

Evacuate whenever a fire alarm sounds, if you see or smell fire or smoke, or you have been instructed to do so by emergency personnel. Leave the building immediately if any of these situations occur. Do not assume that it is a false alarm. Remember that the building may need to be evacuated for reasons other than fire (chemical spills, violence, bomb threat, etc.)

When should I shelter-in-place?

Contra Costa County has a system of warning sirens which may indicate that you should shelter-in-place at your current location for maximum safety. Please visit the Contra Costa County Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER) website for complete details.

What should I do if I suspect an exposure to a biological agent?

Public health officials may not be able to provide information right away about a biological attack. It will take some time to determine what agent was used and who is in danger. Meanwhile, there are things that you can do to protect yourself. Stay informed by watching TV, listening to the radio or using the Internet for official news concerning the following:

  • Where the agent was released
  • Who is affected
  • Whether to evacuate or shelter in place
  • Whether or not medications or vaccines are distributed
  • Where to find medical attention should you become sick

What should I do if I suspect an exposure to radiation?

Try to limit your exposure to the radiation. A shield between yourself and the radioactive materials will absorb the radiation and therefore decrease the radiation you are exposed to. The farther away you are from the site of release and fallout, the lower the radiation exposure. The lesser the time spent in the area of release, the lesser risk for absorbing the radiation.

What should I do if I suspect an exposure to a chemical agent?

If you think you may have been exposed to a chemical, remove clothes immediately and wash with soap and warm water making sure not to scrub the chemical into your skin. Seek medical attention right away.

I still have questions. What should I do?

Please ask us. We welcome your questions and comments.