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Ready DC
Ready DC

Hazardous Materials Incident 

A hazardous materials incident occurs when a chemical or other substance that may harm people’s health has been released into the air, water, or ground. Hazardous materials include explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons, and radioactive material. Hazardous materials incidents can occur accidentally while they are being produced, stored, transported, used, or disposed. They can also be released as part of an intentional attack. 

Though most hazardous material incidents are often quickly, easily, and safely contained, they are serious events that can cause death, injury, and long-lasting health problems, as well as damage to buildings and property. 

For more information:



  • Stay Informed through local radio, television or official social media accounts. Sign up for AlertDC to receive updates wherever you are.
  • The District of Columbia has an Emergency Planning Committee (EPC), which is responsible for creating emergency response plans for hazardous materials incidents in the area. Contact the EPC to find out more about chemical hazards and what can be done to reduce risks posed by these events. 
  • Create and review your family emergency plan
  • Be prepared to shelter in place, if ordered to do so by District Officials. Prior to an incident, identify a room where you could take shelter. The room should be above ground, large enough to accommodate all household members and pets, and have the fewest exterior windows and doors possible. 
  • Assemble an emergency kit. Make sure to include a radio or other device that you can use to receive instruction from public authorities, plastic sheeting, duct tape, and scissors in case you need to seal off a room during a hazardous materials incident. 


Use the following tips to help you and your family during a hazmat incident:

  • Call 9-1-1 to report emergencies if you see or smell a hazardous materials incident. 
  • Listen to local radio and TV stations for detailed information and instructions from public safety officials carefully. Sign up for AlertDC to receive updates wherever you are.
  • Stay away from the incident scene to minimize the risk of contamination. Remember that some toxic chemicals are odorless. 
  • Do not attempt to clean up any hazardous material spill unless specifically trained and outfitted to do so. 

If asked to evacuate:

  • Listen to local media and follow instructions on evacuation routes, short-term shelters and procedures.
  • Do so immediately. 
  • If specific evacuation routes are given, follow these routes because alternate routes may not be safe. 
  • If there is time, close all windows, vents and turn off attic fans to minimize contamination in the house. 
  • Take only essential items, including your emergency kit, and bring your pets if safely possible. 
  • Help any neighbors who may require special assistance. 

If asked to shelter-in-place:

  • Bring pets inside. 
  • Close and lock exterior doors and windows.  
  • Close or turn off vents, fireplace dampers, exhaust fans, heating or cooling systems, and as many interior doors as possible. 
  • Go into a pre-selected shelter room with your emergency kit. 
  • Seal gaps under doorways, windows, air conditioning units, bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, and stove and dryer vents with wet towels or plastic sheeting and duct tape. 
  • Close drapes, curtains, and shades in the room if you are warned of a possible explosion. Stay away from windows. 
  • If there is a chance gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or towel. 
  • Remain in the room until authorities advise you it is safe to leave. 

If you are caught outside:

  • Stay upstream, uphill and upwind. Try to move at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area.
  • Stay upstream, uphill, and upwind. 
  • Try to go at least half a mile away (about 8-10 city blocks) from the area and encourage others to stay away from the area.  
  • Cover your mouth with a cloth and try not to inhale gases, fumes, and smoke. 
  • Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified. 
  • Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquid, airborne mists, or condensed solid chemical deposits. 

If in a vehicle:

  • Stop and seek shelter in a permanent building.
  • If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed. Shut off the air conditioner and heater.

If you are exposed to a hazardous material:

  • Call 9-1-1 and seek medical treatment immediately if exposed to a hazardous      substance or are experiencing unusual symptoms 
  • Follow the decontamination instructions provided by local authorities. You may be advised to take a thorough shower, or you may be advised to stay away from water and follow another procedure. 
  • Individuals exposed to hazardous material should avoid contact with others. Advise those who comes into contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance. 
  • Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers. Do not allow them to contact other materials. Call local authorities to find out about the proper disposal methods for these materials. 

Additional information is available at: 



Use the following tips to help you and your family recover after a hazardous materials event:

  • Stay Informed through local radio, television or official social media accounts. Sign up for AlertDC to receive updates wherever you are.
  • Return home (or discontinue sheltering in place) only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation. 
  • Continue to monitor the media for emergency information. 
  • Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property. 
  • Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to local authorities. 
  • Do not eat or drink food or water that may have been contaminated. 
  • Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions, and those who may need additional assistance.  

Additional Resources: