HazMat Emergency Preparedness Training and Tools for Responders

HazMat Emergency Preparedness Training and Tools for Responders

Any community might be subject to a disaster, whether natural or of human origin. Community responses to these disasters tend to be more efficient and effective when prior planning takes place. Disaster planning is only as good as the assumptions and information on which it is based. Experience from hundreds of actual disasters shows that planning assumptions often are incorrect. Disaster planning based on incorrect assumptions can create an illusion of preparedness. Disaster plans, when developed, should be tested and revised as necessary.

This web page discusses training programs and tools developed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to help communities develop sound, evidence-based assumptions in preparing for hazardous materials (HazMat) emergencies and disasters.


Managing Hazardous Materials Incidents

Volume I – Emergency Medical Services is a planning guide to assist first responders in managing contaminated patients in the pre-hospital setting.

Volume II – Hospital Emergency Departments is a planning guide to assist emergency department personnel in managing contaminated patients in the hospital setting.

Volume III – Medical Management Guidelines provides chemical-specific treatment information for acute exposure to 40 chemicals for first responders and hospitals.

Community Challenge is a two-part companion video that illustrates the guidance documents’ procedures for the pre-hospital and in-hospital settings (Vols. I and II).

Toxicological Profiles

This series of 150 peer-reviewed publications details the known adverse health effects of specific chemicals. Each profile describes health effects; chemical and physical properties; manufacture and use; environmental data; sampling methods; and regulatory requirements and guidelines. Information is summarized in easily accessible tables and graphs. ATSDR ToxProfiles 2002 contains all the current profiles on CD-ROM.

ToxFAQs are two-page summaries of the most commonly asked questions about a specific chemical. These FAQ Sheets, written in layman terms, can be used for risk communication with the general public.

Assessment of Chemical Exposures (ACE) Teams

State and local health departments can request help when responding to large-scale toxic substance spills. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) can provide resources through its Assessment of Chemical Exposures (ACE) teams.

Comprehensive Disaster Assessment And Readiness Tools (CDART)

The Comprehensive Disaster Assessment and Readiness Toolkit (CDART) is a suite of scenario-driven app-based surveys and
Tools that help standardize how to evaluate if public health and healthcare facilities are prepared for an emergency.

Rapid Response Registry (RRR)

State and local health departments can utilize ATSDR’s Rapid Response Registry (RRR) brief survey form and electronic database to assess Immediate health and safety needs and promptly register responders and other persons exposed to chemical, biological, or nuclear agents from a disaster.

The Importance of Evidence-Based Disasters Planning [PDF, 496 KB]

This article examines several common assumptions about disasters, compares them with research findings, and discusses the implications for planning.

Training Programs & Materials

Below are trainings that ATSDR offers to assist communities in preparing for hazardous materials (HazMat) emergencies and disasters. To learn more about obtaining the content for these trainings, contact ATSDR.

Evidence-Based Disaster Lecture Series (Lessons Learned)

Introductory training in disaster planning helps communities define and sharpen their planning assumptions. This lecture series focuses on lessons learned from real-world experiences during actual disasters. For example, many planners assume that in a disaster, well-trained professionals will be among the first to respond and care for victims. In reality, untrained bystanders (e.g., coworkers, family members, neighbors) are often the first at the scene offering assistance and transportation. Such lessons are emphasized so that planners learn to anticipate how their community is likely to react under real disaster conditions, and plan accordingly.

Community Mapping GIS Program

Using computer-based GIS programs, public health and safety personnel can map locations of agency jurisdiction boundaries; facilities that produce and use chemicals; and, hospitals, schools, and other special use facilities. Links to data sources can identify the location of chemicals as well as list resource contacts and emergency numbers.

Mapping technology can also help predict the dispersion of chemicals in the event of an uncontrolled release. Computational models linked to a GIS can download real-time weather data to predict the most likely path chemical plumes may take. This information can help local officials make evacuation decisions and select locations to control access to dangerous areas. The number of affected persons can be readily estimated, and sensitive subpopulations (like children and the elderly) can be quickly identified and located. Communities can benefit from these powerful tools and up-to-date information on their local threats and resources. ATSDR can present and demonstrate the advantages of these mapping systems to communities.

Case Studies in Environmental Medicine

Designed for health care professionals, Case Studies in Environmental Medicine (CSEM) is a series of 38 instructional modules on managing clinical exposures to chemicals. The CSEMs describe the clinical presentation of chemically exposed patients, and include generic topics such as the taking of an exposure history. Each self-instructional module is approved for continuing education credits for health care professionals.

Technical Assistance for Plans, Drills, and Exercises

Community planners can obtain ATSDR technical assistance in designing, implementing, and evaluating realistic scenarios for testing some or all components of their disaster plans. ATSDR reviews response and contingency plans with community staff for hospital emergency departments, emergency medical technicians, public health officials, and hazardous materials teams. ATSDR has assisted local scenario design teams in developing victim cue cards describing realistic symptoms, behaviors, and clinical signs. ATSDR also can provide on-site evaluators to assist communities in achieving their objectives.

Training To Manage Stress During Technological Disasters

These courses help prepare communities to deal with various manifestations of psychosocial stress induced by HazMat accidents or terrorist attacks. HazMat events present considerable challenges, even for experienced personnel, because threats come from hazards that are often invisible and unfamiliar. This training is based on evidence-based research findings from technological (non-natural) disasters as well as from ATSDR’s first-hand experience with communities affected by HazMat sites and releases. Stress management training provides skills and strategies for how to identify stress and cope with the emotional issues and aftermath related to chemical threats. Training can be tailored specifically for first responders, medical personnel, and communities.

A First Responder Course, tailored to the needs of the participants, can include topics such as self care during an incident, physical and psychological stressors, normal responder reactions to a technological disaster, and strategies to help responders and community members deal with the stress of an invisible threat.

A Medical Personnel/Health Department Course, tailored to each department’s needs, can include topics such as (a) self care while providing care to others during a technological disaster and (b) response and strategies to help the community cope with the stress of an invisible threat.

Analysis of Surveillance Data From HazMat Incidents

ATSDR’s Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system 1991-2009 and National Toxic Substance Incidents Program 2009-2016 captured incident data as well as data on health outcomes from HazMat accidents and uncontrolled releases in up to 16 states. Analysis of these data can assist disaster planners by providing valuable insights into the kinds of chemical releases likely to occur in their communities as well as the types of releases most commonly associated with injuries and the types of persons most likely to be injured. Public Use datasets are available to conduct analyses on specific chemicals, types of industry, or injuries in the participating states. On the Webpages are also annual reports and journal articles.

Risk Communication Training

This resource provides a framework for developing an effective risk communication plan in a public health crisis. The training addresses the role of risk communication in response operations, public perception of risks, and development of specific messages to accomplish identified goals.


A public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), ATSDR protects the public’s health from toxic substances. Based in Atlanta, ATSDR has 10 regional offices that coordinate its services with regional, federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, and the public. ATSDR can provide on-site response assistance from its headquarters and its regional offices. ATSDR provides technical assistance to other federal departments, tribal, local, and state agencies on public health issues related to emergency preparedness.

ATSDR represents HHS on the National Response Team (NRT.) The NRT (http://www.nrt.org/) includes 16 federal agencies whose representatives meet regularly to develop national environmental response guidance and policy in support of regional and local federal response teams. Other HHS agencies that can be involved include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the HHS Office of Emergency Response (OER).

How To Contact ATSDR

For 24/7 HAZMAT assistance, please call the CDC Emergency Operations Center at 770-488-7100 and ask to speak with the ATSDR HAZMAT Duty Officer.