Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mass decontamination (abbreviated mass decon) is the decontamination of large numbers of people, in the event of industrial, accidental, or intentional contamination by toxic, infective, caustic, polluted, or otherwise unhealthful or damaging substances.
An example is when large numbers of persons fleeing from the September 11, 2001 attacks were detained by officials, so that they could be cleansed by fire department and emergency staff. Their shoes, clothing, jewelry, and other personal effects were seized from them, the contaminated people were washed, and given replacement clothing.
Scenes of mass contamination are often scenes of mass hysteria, with hundreds or thousands of victims in a state of panic. Therefore, mass decontamination may require police, security, or rescue supervision to help control panic and keep order. Successful municipal decontaminations are greatly aided by a close collaboration between police and fire departments. An organised, informed and aware populace can be better prepared for possible emergencies, and is less likely to panic. In some situations volunteers may be needed to augment or replace rescue/security personnel to help maintain calm and/or assist with decon procedures.
Military groups, church groups, Boy Scouts groups, Girl Guides, businesses, etc. can prepare for possible contaminations by performing drills of decontamination procedures. This can have the effect of decreasing the likelihood of panic, and allowing for faster, more successful decontamination.
Mass decontamination equipment
Mass decon is performed by way of decontamination tents, decontamination trailers, or fixed decon facilities. Most hospitals and airports have at least one mass decon facility. Some newer airports have a mobile decon facility that can generate decon foam in large quanties.
LAX - Los Angeles International Airport has a decon system with four soap cannons to spray down hysterical crowds. The facility features pop up tents so that once soaped, the victims can file on either side of the rig (one gender on each side) to rinse in specially designed showers where they can remove all clothing, dry off, and receive replacement clothing or other suitable modesty garb (i.e. makeshift clothing).
Real-world examples of mass decontamination
Although there have been many mass casualty decon drills, the September 11th attacks resulted in a true need for mass decon. This need was met with these (and other) techniques ( - external link):
- To prevent these patients from escaping our decon system, the entrance to the terminal was closed, and all pedestrian traffic from the ferry dock was diverted to a holding pen we constructed using police barricades already at the scene.
- When the first group of 300 patients arrived, they were covered with a dry, white powder. We placed them into the holding area and processed them two at a time through the handline decon.
- The first formal hazmat assets (Nutley Fire Department and Middlesex County Hazmat) arrived on scene, and set up mass decon tents. After the tents were operational, the handlines were demobilized, and we began to process patients in earnest. With the resources and knowledge of these two hazmat agencies, we were able to process 1015 patients rather than two at a time. This resulted in our ability to decon almost 300 victims per hour.
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