Human-caused hazards

Deliberate human-caused hazards

Although the risk of a terrorist incident in Canada is low, the events of September 11, 2001 have increased awareness and concern over possible incidents. Governments, first responders and citizens need to understand and be aware of the types of terrorism-related events that could threaten public safety. It is important to be prepared for any emergency and to know how to react if one does occur. The advice below provides some practical steps you should take in a variety of situations.

Biological agents

Biological agents are bacteria or viruses that can be deliberately dispersed in such a way as to cause disease and/or death in people exposed to the agents. A person exposed to a biological agent should obtain immediate medical attention.

In combating the personal health implications of bio-terrorism, treatment is better than prevention. Taking antibiotics ahead of time is not recommended. This could lead to an increased risk of side effects in the general population, an increase in drug resistance of the bacteria, and a shortage of drug supplies.

If you experience sustained or unusual symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. If you have been exposed or think you might have been exposed to a biological agent, but you are not ill, you should still contact the public health authorities as quickly as possible. Public health official will assess and manage the risks for anyone that has been potentially exposed to a dangerous substance. If need be, post-exposure treatment with antibiotics might be recommended by health officials.

Bomb threat

If you receive a bomb threat, stay calm and try to get as much information as possible. Although this might be difficult, try to note any unique features about the voice and any background sounds you hear over the telephone. Keep the caller on the line as long as possible and record every word that is said. Try to note the following:

  • If the speaker is male or female;
  • If the speaker has an accent;
  • If the voice is disguised, muffled or funny sounding;
  • If the voice is shrill or deep;
  • Any background noises (traffic, bus passing, bell ringing, fax or printer sounds), and;
  • Any indoor vs. outdoor sounds, etc.

Call the police and your building management (if applicable) immediately afterwards.

After you’ve been notified of a bomb threat, do not touch any suspicious package. Leave the area where the suspicious package was found. Notify the police immediately. After evacuating a building, avoid standing in front of windows or other potentially hazardous areas. Do not block the sidewalk or street, which will need to be kept clear for emergency officials.

In the case of an explosion, get out of the building as quickly and calmly as possible. If items are falling off bookshelves or from the ceiling, get under a sturdy table or desk until the situation has stabilized enough for your safe passage. Remember: ensure you own safety before trying to help others.

Chemical release

Persons exposed to certain chemicals (household, industrial or war chemicals) could suffer injury, disease or death. Hazardous chemicals can be released by accident or through a deliberate act of criminal intent. In either case, it is important to listen to the directions of emergency responders. Sometimes you should seal yourself inside the building you are in (“Shelter-in-place”), and sometimes you should move to higher elevations or evacuate the area. Emergency responders are trained to identify hazards and provide appropriate guidance to the public. Chemical agents that could be used by terrorists vary from warfare agents to toxic chemicals commonly used by industry.

When an accidental chemical spill occurs, an evacuation of nearby homes and businesses is often ordered as a precautionary measure to safeguard the health and safety of the people in that area. Stay away from the accident. Advise the police. Remember to listen the radio, emergency responders will provide the necessary instructions.

If you suspect a chemical substance has been released in a closed area, such as a building, avoid breathing any of the fumes and evacuate as quickly as possible. Immediately call 911. Decontamination might be required before you can receive medical attention. Listen to advice from emergency personnel.

Exposure to a chemical substance, may require and quarantine and the attention of medical authorities. Because the type of chemical may not be known right away, treatment is based on symptoms. Keep track of symptoms (breathing and heart rate, perspiration, dizziness, skin tone, deliriousness) and communicate them to medical help and public health agencies.


For the safety of you and your family, every household should have a home escape plan.
Your Personal Preparedness Guide

The following information will be helpful in the event of a fire.

  • Stay low to the floor, as the smoke and heat will rise to the ceiling first, and exit the building as quickly and safely as possible. Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling. Stay below the smoke at all times.
  • If you approach a closed door, use the palm of your hand and forearm to feel the lower, middle and upper parts of the door. If it is not hot, brace yourself against the door and open it slowly. If it is hot to the touch, do not open the door – seek an alternate escape route, as the path behind the door will not be safe.

Nuclear emergency

A nuclear emergency could result from either a threat or an actual accidental or intentional release of potentially harmful radioactive materials. In either situation, the risk to health results with exposure to radiation. It is important to remember that the likelihood of a nuclear or radiological incident of any kind is remote because of the stringent controls in place for the movement and use of radioactive materials.

All levels of government, as well as operators of nuclear facilities in Canada, have emergency plans that are ready to be implemented.

As with any emergency situation, remain calm. In the event of a nuclear incident of any kind, the degree of risk to health from exposure to radiation would be quickly determined, and the appropriate governments would take immediate measures to limit dangers of exposure. Canadians would be informed immediately of exactly what they should do.

You may be told, for instance, to minimize the outside air from entering your home. If so, immediately close doors and windows and turn off air exchangers and heat recovery units. If you were outside around the time of a nuclear emergency, as soon as possible, remove your clothes and seal them in a plastic bag. Rinse your hair and body in the shower and then put on clean clothes from a closed drawer or closet. Find you emergency supplies kit, turn off appliances and stay indoors until advised otherwise.

Depending on the incident and risk to health, you could be visited by emergency services personnel who would appropriately advise you what actions to take.

Listen to the radio for information on the actions governments are taking to protect your health and safety and for possible evacuation instructions.

Suspicious packages

Suspicious packages could be delivered to your home or workplace, therefore it is good to be vigilant and know what to do. You know what kind of mail and packages you usually get. Look for things that are out of the ordinary. The following might help in identifying a suspicious package:

  • Mailed from a foreign country
  • Fictitious or no return address
  • Strange odour
  • Protruding wires
  • Excessive postage
  • Misspelled words
  • Addressed to a business title only (i.e Manager or President)
  • Rigid or bulky
  • Badly typed or written
  • Special endorsements
  • Lopsided or uneven
  • Oily stains, discoloration or crystallization on wrapping
  • Has noise coming from it
  • Leaking

The contents of a letter or package may cause concerns if

  • You see powder or liquid
  • It contains a threatening note
  • It contains an object that you did not expect or cannot identify

If you are worried about a package or letter you have received

  • Do not open the letter or package
  • Leave the letter or package where it is
  • Get everyone out of the room and close the door
  • Call 911
  • If applicable, tell building security/superintendent
  • Wait in a safe place until emergency personnel arrive

If you have opened a suspicious package

  • Leave it where it is
  • Disturb any substance it contains as little as possible
  • Remove any clothing that has powder or liquid on it and seal it in a plastic bag
  • Get everyone out of the room and close the door
  • Wash your hands or shower with soap and water
  • Call 911
  • If applicable, contact building security/superintendent;
  • Wait in a safe place until emergency services personnel arrive

The emergency personnel and public health authorities will give you advice about what to do next.