Explosions, either accidental or intentional, are one of the more frightening potential disasters. Thankfully, they are a rare phenomenon but that rarity can keep people from learning about the best ways to stay safe in the aftermath of an explosion. This article will cover the most common causes of explosions, how to prepare for possible explosions and how to stay safe in the aftermath of an explosion should one happen near you.
What Can Cause an Explosion?
At their most basic, all explosions are caused by an extreme release of energy that expands rapidly and violently. For example, a gas explosion is one of the most common types of household explosion. In a gas explosion, the flammable gas used for heat or cooking leaks within the home. When a spark is applied to that collected gas, it combusts, but since it is contained in a small area, that combustion turns into a fireball that tries to escape its confinement.
The source of the energy involved in an explosion often comes from flammable materials such as petroleum products or other chemicals. That said, explosions can occur because of other chemical reactions, too. The reaction of pure elemental sodium to water creates an explosion. Pressure is another possible cause of explosions. A boiler, such as those used in steam power, can explode if the steam pressure inside becomes too high.
One surprising source for explosions is dust. When flammable airborne dusts are confined, a spark can cause them to combust, creating an explosion. Several historic explosions in coal mines and grain elevators have been caused by flammable dusts.
Explosions tend to have four stages, though due to the speed explosions occur at these four stages can happen in under a single second. The first stage is the fireball. This occurs only in combustion related explosions and is the initial point of the combustion. The fireball creates a concussive wave of air that rapidly expands away from the point of the explosion.
The third stage is fragmentation. Here, the concussive wave comes into contact material in the environment both damaging it and moving it along with the wave. This can reach speeds of 18,000 feet per second.
Once the air has been pushed away in a concussive wave, a temporary vacuum is created and the air that vacated the area of the explosion will return. The return is not as violent as the initial concussive wave as it does not have the explosion’s rapid energy release, but it can create further damage or injury.
How to Prepare for Explosions
While most explosions are unexpected that does not mean that you cannot prepare for them. Generally, having a well-prepared emergency kit and a family emergency plan will be your best preparation. For those that regularly work or live near potentially explosive material, handling those materials safely will be the best way to prevent an explosion. Regarding potential intentional explosions, situational awareness can prevent tragedy or at least minimize the damage.
Intentional explosions or bombs are some of the rarest types of explosions and are usually hidden inside a package or bag. Take note of unaccompanied bags or packages when you are at public events and alert authorities when they are suspicious. If you receive an unexpected package in the mail be wary if it is from an unfamiliar sender, especially if it has excess postage, odd labeling or other suspicious characteristics.
Suicide bombings are another, even rarer, type of intentional explosion. Most of these bombings use explosive-laden vests that the bomber must hide under clothing. Take note of people who are wearing unexpectedly heavy clothing, such as an overcoat in summer. Many suicide vests are triggered with a hand device, so the bomber would have a switch or button in their hand that leads up their arm to the device. If you see someone carrying something like that, do not approach them and immediately inform the authorities.
Using Dangerous Items
Safety regulations require warning labels and specific safety training for jobs that require the use of potentially explosive material. Following these rules to the letter will be the best way to prevent an explosion. If you use an automobile or have gas appliances in your home, familiarize yourself with the smell of gasoline or the gas used in your home. If you detect that smell in your home or with gasoline in your garage or car, ventilate the area to disperse the gas. This will help to prevent an explosion. Once the area is ventilated, turn off the gas line and try to find the leak, or contact the appropriate authorities.
Emergency Kits and Plans
An emergency kit can be used not only in the aftermath of explosions but also after many other types of disasters. A good emergency kit will have a three day supply of food and water. A gallon of water a day for each person should be sufficient. An emergency radio, flashlight, batteries and a first aid kit are other essentials for an emergency kit. Keep your major emergency kit at the home, but it is also smart to keep a smaller one in the car.
Like an emergency kit, an emergency plan will be of use beyond explosions. An emergency plan spells out how your family will respond to an emergency. This almost always includes where to meet in case of an emergency and even how to get there. For people that require special consideration, such as a disabled family member, the emergency plan can include specifics on helping them reach the meeting place.
How to Stay Safe in the Aftermath of an Explosion
Your first priority after an explosion is your own safety. If possible, try to put a sturdy barrier between you and the explosion. Once the explosion occurs follow the guidelines for earthquakes and move under a sturdy table or desk even if you are outside. Explosions can create structural damage to buildings as well as propel debris into the air that can injure unsuspecting victims.
After the initial explosion, check yourself for injuries. If you are cut and bleeding, apply direct pressure to the wounds to stop the bleeding. If you are bleeding heavily in an extremity, apply a tourniquet to slow the bleeding. This should only be done when absolutely necessary as it can lead to limb damage. Your goal here is not completely treating your wounds, it is to treat the immediate dangers and enable you to evacuate the area of the explosion.
Before evacuating the area, look for any signs of fire or other hazards. Cover your nose and mouth to protect yourself from inhaling anything toxic. Many buildings contain asbestos that can damage the lungs when inhaled
When smoke is present, stay low and under the smoke as you leave the area. Test the handle of any door you try for heat as you evacuate and be wary of damaged floors, walls and ceilings. Explosions cause structural damage and some of that damage might weaken the structure.
Do not take elevators after an explosion and avoid being near windows. The structural damage to the building caused by the explosion can make elevators unsafe to ride in. Fire moves up and elevator shafts provide a convenient way for fire to travel. If a fire is involved in the explosion, elevator shafts will probably be unsafe. Structural damage can place greater pressure on the glass in windows. This puts them at risk of spontaneously shattering after an explosion.
If you are trapped in debris after an explosion, the first thing you need to do is to stay calm. try to assess your injuries and prevent any bleeding if you can. Your initial reaction will be to yell for help but you should avoid using your voice so you do not inhale any dangerous dust. Tapping on pipes or using a flashlight or your phone’s light will help rescuers find you just as well as yelling.
Helping Others in the Aftermath of an Explosion
You should help others as you, but there are some things to bear in mind. Moving an injured person, especially a person with a back or neck injury, can make the injury worse. It is best to avoid moving them unless there is an immediate risk to their life such as a fire. If there is no immediate risk, it is best to let the emergency medical technicians handle them.
Due to the potential structural damage, attempting to free someone who is trapped in debris is not recommended unless there is an immediate risk to their life. Moving debris can worsen the structural integrity of the building and put not only the trapped person, but everyone in the area at risk. As with severe injuries, it is best to leave this to the professionals unless there is imminent danger from fire or some other risk.
Ideally, you will never have to follow through with the above guide on how to stay safe in the aftermath of explosions. Explosions are rare and most people will never be in one, but as the boy scouts say: be prepared. If you are prepared, you will be in a better position to survive should disaster strike.