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U.Va. Offers Emergency Preparedness Advice in Wake of FBI Warning to Colleges and Universities
Rotunda in snow
Photo by Rob Smith

February 13, 2003 -- On Tuesday, FBI director Robert Mueller testified before Congress that colleges and universities may be particularly vulnerable to a terrorist attack. The current U.S. terrorism status is "code orange," the second-highest stage of alert, and government officials have said there is clear and specific evidence that a terrorist attack may occur in the near future.

What does that mean? Officials urge people to go about their normal business, but also be prepared to react quickly.

Do’s, don’ts and resources in an emergency

In the event of a local terrorist incident, the American Red Cross has advised that people be prepared, including planning escape routes and stockpiling emergency supplies.

According to the Red Cross, families should create an emergency communications plan, with an out-of-town contact person far enough away to not be affected by a local incident. Families should also establish a meeting place in case the area around the home is evacuated. Parents need to be familiar with school disaster plans.

Families should also have a disaster kit of essential supplies, to be used either at home or if evacuated. This should include first-aid supplies and prescription medications, a change of clothing, a battery-operated radio with spare batteries, sleeping bags, food, bottled water and tools. The Red Cross also suggests cash and important family documents, such as birth certificates, licenses and passports, be included. Copies of documents should also be kept in a safe deposit box or with out-of-town family members.

For more complete instructions, the Red Cross offers a brochure on family disaster kits (stock number A4463). More information from the Red Cross is available at

In the event of an emergency, people are advised to:

• Remain calm and be patient.

• Follow the advice of local emergency officials.

• Listen to news broadcasts for instructions.

• If the disaster occurs nearby, check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.

If you are home when a nearby disaster occurs, check for damage using a flashlight. Do not light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches. Check for fires and other hazards. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If a leak is suspected, turn off the main gas valve, open windows and get everyone outside quickly.

• Shut off damaged utilities.

• Secure pets.

• Call the family contact and otherwise stay off the telephone.

• Check neighbors, especially the elderly or disabled.

If evacuated, people are advised to listen to emergency instructions, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy shoes, take the disaster supplies kit and pets with them, lock the house, use designated travel routes and avoid downed power lines.

If people are told to stay in their homes, the Red Cross advises sealing the house as much as possible, with plastic over windows, duct tape seals on doors and vents. Turn off heating and air-conditioning systems and close the fireplace damper. Family members are advised to go to an interior room with the disaster supply kit and listen to the radio for instructions.

In addition, the Red Cross is advising that people learn basic first aid and limit exposure, especially for children, to television coverage of any incident.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, disaster relief workers realized there can be significant casualties and infrastructure damage, heavy law enforcement involvement, strains on mental health resources, extensive media coverage, workplace and school closings, travel restrictions and extensive clean-up requirements.

The University’s Emergency/Critical Incident Web site contains advisories, local emergency numbers, warnings, resources and more tips about what to do in an emergency.

For more information about the specific effects of chemical or biological agents, the following Web sites may be helpful:

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• U.S. Department of Energy:

• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

• Federal Emergency Management Agency:

• Environmental Protection Agency:

For more information on putting together a disaster plan, request a copy of the brochure titled "Your Family Disaster Plan" (A4466) from the American Red Cross. Also available is "Before Disaster Strikes … How to Make Sure You’re Financially Prepared" (A5075) for specific information on asset protection.

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Last Modified: Thursday January 19, 2017
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