What If There’s Another Chemical Attack? Preparing Families in Syria for the Unthinkable

Do you know how to recognize a chemical attack or the best way to respond if one occurs?

Unfortunately, neither do people in Syria. Because until a month ago, most of them had as much experience with chemical attacks as you do.

No one should have to know how to respond to these atrocities. But tragically, the people in Syria now need to know these things. Since the horrific chemical attack on April 4, the region has experienced a relentless barrage of airstrikes by the Syrian government.

The threat of another chemical attack is all too real.

Our team in Syria recently did a survey in the area to see how much people know about chemical attacks and how to respond to them. This is just one of several ways you’re showing up for victims of last month’s attack.

Why does it matter if we do a survey in the wake of a lethal chemical attack? Because the results show the vast majority of people in the area aren’t prepared if there’s another one. They don’t know how to recognize the telltale signs or the best way to respond.

After all, it’s not like this is an everyday occurrence for them.

So as part of the response you generously made possible, we’ve been conducting educational workshops, even as fresh airstrikes fall in the vicinity.  We’re handing out informational leaflets to prepare people for the awful possibility of another chemical attack—in the hopes of saving lives.

Over 3,000 people have already attended our trainings. They’ve learned how to recognize a chemical attack, how to respond, how to put together a makeshift gas mask, and what to expect in the days and weeks following an attack.

For those of us who do not live with conflict every day, it’s easy to get the impression that people in places like Syria and Iraq are used to war. That it’s somehow become “normal.” That they know from experience what to do when bombs fall or when sarin gas is released over their town.

But people in Syria aren’t born knowing how to deal with conflict, any more than you and I are. They don’t do chemical attack drills in schools as a matter of routine.

Syrians are normal people doing their best to live normal lives—just like you and I. And knowing what to do when there’s a chemical attack is not part of anyone’s “normal.”

Your level of knowledge about chemical attacks is probably about the same as it is for people in Syria—because prior to April 4, most of them had ever experienced one, either.

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It’s sobering to think that this is something we have to equip people to deal with. It doesn’t feel like cause for celebration in the same way that delivering food to newly liberated families or turning the water back on for a city does.

But this is part of unmaking violence, too. It is long, slow, unsteady work. Sometimes you just have to give people what they need to hold on and hold out until we can start building—together—the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

And for families in Syria right now, one of the things they need to hold on is knowledge—knowledge that could mean the difference between life or death in the event of another chemical attack.

Thank you for providing that. Please continue showing up for families on the front lines in Syria.

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So if you were in their shoes, do you think you’d know how to recognize and respond to a chemical attack?

This is the survey our team in Syria used. See how many questions you get right. The answers are in the first comment—no cheating!

As you go through this survey, remember that the people who need to know these things are your neighbors, your friends, your family. Their kids are just like your kids. They have jobs, homes, and goals for the future.

By providing training and information on how to deal with potential threats, you’re giving them the tools they need to survive. To protect their children. And to be empowered instead of helpless in the tragic event that evil drops from the sky again.

Chemical Attack Preparedness Survey

1. What are the signs of a chemical attack? List as many as you can think of.

2. What should you do if a chemical attack happens? List as many things as you can think of. 

3. How should you create an improvised gas mask if there’s a chemical attack?

4. Does a chemical attack have a color, odor, both, or neither?
A. Color
B. Odor
C. Both
D. Some have neither

5. What should you do first in a chemical attack?
A. Cover your mouth and nose
B. Cover your mouth and eyes
C. Cover your nose and ears
D. Cover your body

6. Where should you go if possible?
A. Outside
B. Upstairs
C. Downstairs
D. In a cellar

7. What precaution should you take with your eyes?

A. Wash with cold water
B. Wash with warm water
C. Wash with soap
D. Close your eyes

8. How long can a chemical attack make a place unsafe?
A. One day
B. One week
C. Up to 3 weeks
D. More than 3 weeks