By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook
Recently, I came across an interesting article in a local outlet about hazard cleaning. As the name implies, it’s the cleanup and sanitization of hazardous environments such as accidents and spills, operation rooms, and some types of landfills, among other contaminated settings.
Many of these exist around us: I’ve been into abandoned warehouses and fabrics and circulated with law enforcement agents in drug hotspots, crime, accident, and suicide scenes, accumulator homes, and animal fighting rings right here in my town. Years ago, I entered a crackhouse with friends to rescue one from our group.
It’s shocking what you can find in these places, however, it never occurred to me who is left to deal with the aftermath (or how) once the authorities are done ceasing or containing the activity and investigating the occurrence. No one in these situations ever mentioned about it, and I never asked – probably because I was overwhelmed or upset. Once you see some stuff up close takes a while to get accustomed, and we never really unsee it.
Therefore, the article piqued my interest also for two other reasons. One, I immediately started imagining a variety of SHTF (and post-SHTF) scenarios in which it could become more than an ordinary necessity. Two, despite the obvious association, I have never seen an article about hazard cleaning in preppersphere. I’m not saying there isn’t, just that I haven’t found one until now.
Selco has explained how to handle dead bodies before, but today, let’s discuss how to clean up after somebody dies.
What happens after someone dies?
When researching the subject, I’ve found tons of legal advice on what to do, who, and which agencies to notify when someone dies. The US government has a page providing a list of agencies to tell when someone dies for legal and bureaucratic procedures.
That’s very important: it can be an emotionally overwhelming situation, and from the point of view of preparedness, it’s indeed a good idea to think of that before a death occurs to plan and understand the steps of this challenging process. However, this is about other practical matters.
Hazard cleaning is necessary when someone dies inside a home or other private ground.
To be clear, and for all purposes, I’m considering a scenario in which there’s a deep crisis, and things may not be running as normal as in good times, but there’s still the rule of law. If it’s a total SHTF like a war or what Selco went through, hazard cleaning (or any cleaning) may be something entirely different.
Also, it’s essential to notice that initial procedures to care for the dead differ slightly from country to country, thanks to differences in legislation, culture, but also circumstances (how the person in question died).
As a rule, if it was from natural causes or in the presence of the family, a funeral home will remove the body and take care of everything. If the family doesn’t have the means to pay for the service, local or state authorities may be called instead.
If the person died alone or it’s suspected that a dead person inside a home was the victim of suspicious and/or violent causes, the police are called, the scene isolated and protected, and there may be an investigation. A coroner or medical examiner is brought in to identify the body and determine the causes and circumstances.
In some cases, the authorities are also responsible for removing, transferring, storing the body, and contacting relatives or acquaintances. Whichever the case, from that point on, the responsibility for cleaning a loved one’s house after death falls on the family members, usually the next of kin. That’s when hazard cleaning companies enter the scene.
If the death was violent, a thorough cleanup might be necessary.
In the article, a local professional cleaner tells stories and goes on to describe some established hazard cleaning standards and procedures, recalling some difficult or unusual situations she faced in her career.
To start, there is no national certification or government regulation within the hazard or crime scene cleanup industry, which follows some established protocols and technical procedures common in industries and hospitals. The professionals possess the certifications offered by the company according to their program.
It’s sensitive work, so professionals also receive training to conduct themselves professionally in uncomfortable situations and be able to show the family compassion, understanding, and utmost respect to avoid further traumas.
Here are some facts about cleaning up after a death.
I also researched companies offering services and training in the US and Europe and interviewed a few professionals. Most attended courses in North American institutes, including the technician that contributed to the aforementioned article:
- Blood, body parts, and fluids are hard to remove entirely and can carry pathogens. Professionals specializing in hazard cleaning aim to ensure a property is thoroughly cleaned, sanitized, and free of bacteria and potential pathogens.
- On average, a body begins decomposing in just two or three days. The process is slower in colder climates and faster in warmer and humid ones.
- Depending on the crime, body parts can be found in different rooms, which requires a very detailed investigation and cleaning to preserve others living in the space down the road.
- Some people are found dead after days, weeks, or even months, which means even more pathogens may exist in the environment but also in adjacent rooms, possibly even in neighboring units (for instance in an apartment building).
- Simple house cleaning – washing and scrubbing surfaces with water and common cleaning items – is ineffective and harmful. It spreads the fluids (blood, fat, and others) and pathogens and further traps contaminants to surfaces. These can remain hazardous for months or even years after the fact.
- Likewise, residues must be carefully contained and discarded following strict guidelines, similar to what happens in hospitals. Professional items are used for that, too. Consider knowing and having some of these items as preparation.
- The smell is strong and repulsive and can be even worse if the person is sick or taking some medications. The cleaner I interviewed explained that dead humans’ odor differs from dead animals, and people who have been sick or using certain medications can have stronger or distinct odors. She showed a special equipment commonly used that releases a gas which reacts with and “burn” the odor particles.
- For various reasons, professionals never work alone; at least two are always present onsite. Sometimes, a guard or even the police is assigned to the premises until the service is completed for security.
- Hazard cleaners follow strict biohazard and disposal guidelines to help protect themselves and others from pathogen exposure. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is mandatory and includes a double layer of gloves, biohazard suits, respiratory masks, eye protection and protective footwear. They are trained on types, the proper way to wear, how to clean, and care for PPE.
- Disinfection is done with more potent, professional-grade products like those used in hospitals, though some professionals mentioned that regular, quality household products can be used in less severe cases.
- Biological indicators and reagents are used to detect and highlight hidden, trapped or stubborn fluids in more porous materials such as wood floors, fabrics, mattresses, furniture, and other surfaces.
- Blood and other residues may not get away no matter what, in which case items must be discarded (and incinerated) and surfaces replaced. Extra care and detail is dedicated to personal belongings and memorabilia.
- Cleaning and sanitizing may not be enough, with some places requiring a thorough renovation (painting, resurfacing, and so on). That’s usually the case in severe accumulator places. I also saw that happen when a worker fell from an apartment balcony in the building where I lived with my parents in the 1990s. The area had to stay closed for almost two weeks.
- Some professionals are called to remove and clean from dead animals too. Procedures are similar in most cases, particularly if there’s blood and parts.
- Finally, price varies according to the extension, surfaces to be cleaned, disinfected, and deodorized, and how long the body has been on settings, among other factors. Some places can take up to ten or twelve hours to be cleaned. It can go from a few hundred up to thousands of dollars.
Is hazard cleaning something worth preparing for?
As usual, the answer is “it depends”. I wanted to bring awareness to the topic. As I mentioned in the beginning, this may be an issue in some scenarios, though I’ll be the first to admit it’s something very specific to invest in. Depending on where one lives or what one expects, it may be worth getting basic knowledge and a couple of items for basic hazard cleaning. For everyone else, just knowing it’s a thing and having a couple of useful phone numbers and websites stored may be enough.
It’s important to understand the basics.
Back in the day, death was a natural matter, and families took care of things directly. They’d clean and prepare the dead person for the mourning and handle burial proceeds. Many had property grounds for members of the family. That’s still relatively common in rural settings and as well as some cultures.
Modern society, in general, has a hard time dealing with death. Most people don’t want to think or talk about these things, much less discuss the practical details of post-mortem processes. It’s never easy, especially when it’s someone close, and can be even more traumatic if the case involves violence and blood.
That’s why companies and professionals exist to provide hazard cleaning services, another convenience of modern society. If you didn’t know about it, now you do. I didn’t, and upon researching it, I thought that maybe if things hit the fan for real one day, many of us may have to contend with this grim reality, perhaps directly, and if that’s the case, I hope this helps.
Do you have any knowledge about this subject? Do you have anything to add? Do you have supplies put aside for this purpose? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor