Understanding Personal Safety

Increase Your Knowledge

Over 15 million people in the U.S. have their identity stolen each year.


What is personal safety and why is it important to discuss as part of someone's overall health and wellness? Personal safety extends to every aspect of our lives. Personal safety is an umbrella term that refers to the awareness and prevention of any physical or psychological harm, or threat of harm.

Unfortunately, crime happens every day. For those who have been the victim of a crime, the effects can be a variety of things including but not limited to physical, psychological or financial. Victims may require extensive medical care, mental health counseling, financial assistance, and other forms of help. While there can be no guarantee of personal safety, there are ways to take precautions to reduce risk. Educating yourself on threats to personal safety and learning prevention tips will help you lead a safer and more secure life.

This section covers 4 major topics of personal safety:
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Internet safety, including social media, cyberbullying and online dating
  • Identity theft
  • Personal injury prevention

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Physical and sexual assault can take many forms. Some are obvious like robbery or rape and others can be subtle like verbal assault, stalking or harassment. With the pervasiveness of our digital culture, it is common for our lives to overlap with our online activities. While actions surrounding physical assault require face-to-face interactions, actions within the realm of sexual or verbal assault can happen in person or online. To support safe and inclusive environments on college campuses, two major laws exist - The Jeanne Cleary Act and Title IX - to support this intent.

What is Physical Assault?

Approximately 55 million people are involved in violent crimes every year. The most serious assaults are known as aggravated assaults, assaults with a deadly weapon, or assaults with intent to kill. Less serious offenses are called simple assaults. In many cases, simple assaults can quickly become serious assaults or homicides if the initial altercation is not scaled back and resolved quickly. Recently a new trend has emerged with digital assaults. The prevalence of social media has made it easy for people to harass or stalk their victims through social media platforms.

Getting Help
Sadly out of the 55 million people victimized, only 12% received assistance from a victim service agency. Know there is help available. Call 9-1-1 if you are in immediate danger. Online resources such as the Office for Victims of Crime provide a listing of services available.

What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is any type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent. Sexual assault includes rape and attempted rape, child molestation, and sexual harassment or threats. It doesn't always take physical force to sexually assault a victim. Attackers can use threats or intimidation to make a victim feel afraid or unable to refuse them. It is also sexual assault if the victim is drunk, drugged, unconscious, or too young (ages of consent differ from state to state) or mentally disabled. In instances in which a female was the rape victim, a man was the perpetrator 98% of the time. For male rape victims, a man was the perpetrator in 93% of the instances. (Source: Black, Basile, Breiding, Smith, Walters, & Merrick, 2011).

If You Are a Victim of Sexual Assault, You Might:
  • Feel afraid, ashamed, angry, sad, lonely, betrayed, or depressed.
  • Feel guilty and confused if you knew or had a relationship with the attacker, even though the assault was not your fault.
  • Feel like you have no friends or that your friends won't believe you.
  • Want to hurt someone else or yourself.
  • Feel like taking steps to defend yourself.
  • Feel helpless to stop the assault.
  • Feel hopeless about whether anything can be done.
  • Be afraid to go anywhere that the attacker might be.
  • Feel anxious all the time.
  • Feel bad about yourself or your body.

Getting Help
Rape is a crime of violence and a devastating experience, but it is survivable. Remember that being a victim of sexual assault is not your fault. It is important to:
  • Tell a trusted friend or adult.
  • Seek immediate medical attention. Trained medical personnel can perform a "rape kit" exam to gather evidence for police and prosecutors. If you want to report the assault, it is important not to shower, change clothes, or clean up before going to the hospital.
  • Have a medical exam. Even if you don't want to report the assault, an exam makes sure there are no injuries, pregnancy and discovers if you were drugged.
  • Call a local victim service provider. A local rape crisis center or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE is there to help. If you want to report the assault, call the police.

For additional resources on sexual violence, visit the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization at RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

How to Protect Yourself
Sexual violence can have lasting, harmful effects on victims and their family, friends, and communities. The goal of sexual violence prevention is simple-to stop it from happening in the first place.

Assault Prevention Tips:
  • Always be aware of your surroundings; Limit smart phone distractions.
  • Lock the doors to your house or car.
  • Don't leave out valuables where they could be easily seen by criminals.
  • Travel with a buddy.
  • If possible carry easily accessible pepper spray or a small can of Lysol.
  • Carry a personal safety alarm.
  • Scream and shout if attacked. Screaming "FIRE" is most effective.
  • When calling for a ride, always use a taxi or licensed vehicle and check the driver's details.
  • When using UBER, check the drivers photo and license
  • Work cooperatively with law enforcement.
  • Report things out of the ordinary.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Tell someone if you are assaulted.
  • Victims are never to blame

Many prevention approaches aim to reduce risk factors for sexual violence. It is also important to employ safety strategies when online dating. Please review the online safety section (insert hyperlink to section) of this web page for more information. The most common and effective prevention strategies focus on the victim, the perpetrator, and bystanders.

Victims: Gain knowledge, awareness, or self-defense skills to reduce the risk of an incident.

Perpetrators: Learn education and behavioral strategies to reduce the likelihood of engaging in sexually violent behavior.

Bystander: The presence of a bystander makes a completed rape 44% less likely (Clay-Warner, 2002). Bystander prevention strategies aim to change social norms that support sexual violence and empower peers to prevent an assault from occurring. Programs like Coaching Boys Into Men and Bringing in the Bystander help change social culture through education.

Safety on College Campuses - The Jeanne Clery Act and Title IX

Over the years, college campuses have strived to become inclusive and safe environments for all students. Two major laws exist that support this intent -The Jeanne Clery Act and Title IX.

The Jeanne Clery Act: A consumer protection law passed in 1990, requires all colleges and universities who receive federal funding to share information about crime on campus and their efforts to improve campus safety as well as inform the public of crime in or around campus. This information is made publicly accessible through the university's annual security report.

Title IX: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

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The internet is a great place for learning, entertainment and staying connected to family and friends, but it is also poses many dangers. By practicing basic internet safety and responsible digital citizenship, you can minimize risk and enjoy your time online. Be in control of your online presence by learning safety tips for social media and online dating, as well as digital citizenship and bullying awareness. Identity theft is discussed here.

Internet Security
Weak passwords, clicking before thinking or using public Wi-Fi to access personal information can leave you vulnerable to online threats that can wreak havoc on your personal life, finances or business.
The two most common online threats include:
  • Phishing schemes: These can be on email or social media and are engineered to have you click on something which then redirects you to a different URL. Phishing scams can look like they are from a popular retailer or bank. The goal is to access account information. These can best be avoided by "thinking before clicking". If something doesn't seem right, or sounds too good to be true, don't click on it.
  • Ransomware: This threat is on the rise and it locks you out of your computer and threatens to delete your digital existence unless you pay by a certain time." Don't give in to ransomware. Have a regular practice of backing up your files and contact a computer expert for help.

You can minimize your risks online by following these top five internet security tips:
  1. Create a strong (long and unusual) password and don't use it for multiple sites.
  2. Never include sensitive or personal information in an email - ever.
  3. Know the signs of a phishing scam. When in doubt, throw it out and think before you act. Be wary of communications that implores you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true or asks for personal information.
  4. Use a trusted firewall and DO not access financial or private account information while using a public or free Wi-Fi account.
  5. Always check legitimacy of websites when you shop. Be wary of sites with horrible design or pop ups, and ones that don't allow you to pay through things like PayPal or with a credit card.

What to Do
If you have fallen victim to a phishing scam or your computer has been hijacked by ransomware:
  • Use your anti-virus software to scan your computer.
  • Back up your information.
  • Change your passwords.
  • Monitor your financial accounts.
  • Contact a computer expert for help.

Social Media
For many people, social media sites such as Facebook, Instragram and Twitter are staples in their everyday lives. When Pew Research Center began tracking social media adoption in 2005, just 5% of American adults used at least one of these platforms. By 2011 that share had risen to half of all Americans, and today 69% of the public uses some type of social media.

Unfortunately with the joy of sharing and connecting online also come dangers. Did you know that 15% of Americans have never checked their social networking privacy and security account settings? Not doing so puts the control of your postings in someone else's hands. Since words and images can have unintended consequences, it's important to remember that wat you post can be seen far beyond your immediate social circle. Employers, school officials, and even people with bad intentions can access the information you post. Employment, acceptance into a college and even scholarships can be lost when poor judgment leads to distasteful (and possibly criminal) posts.

In light of the increasing situations of cyberbullying and online harassment, many communities are teaching school aged children about digital citizenship. Digital citizenship is not much different from traditional citizenship. Digital citizenship encourages social media users to act responsibly online - be kind, respectful and responsible. Visit CommonSenseMedia.org for more information, trusted advice, and innovative tools that will help keep media and technology a positive force in all kids' lives.

To ensure the most positive social media experience possible, make safety a habit. Follow these basic social media safety rules:

  • Use strict privacy settings. Teenagers and children especially post things to gain a response from others. No information is truly private in the online world.
  • If you don't want everyone to know about something, do not post it. Others can share your status or photos, or save them and send to whomever they choose.
  • Do not post complaints about work or other people. It is likely to get back to your employer or the other person, and it can hurt your job or your social life.
  • Think before you post. If you have any doubts about whether a comment or photo is appropriate for public viewing, it is best to not post it. What you put on the Internet is permanent and can never be deleted.
  • Educate yourself and others to the real world consequences of your digital profile. Inappropriate postings have cost people their jobs, scholarships and more.
  • Avoid posting your location, personal information or routine habits online to prevent this information from getting into the wrong hands.

A dark reality of social media is cyberbullying. People use this digital space to humiliate others or post inappropriate content. Cyberbullying can range from embarrassing or cruel online posts /digital pictures, to online threats, harassment, and comments, to stalking through emails, websites, social networks and text messages. Cyberbullying is especially cruel because it can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, when you are alone or with a group.

Blogs are the biggest offender when it comes to allowing things to be posted anonymously - a major draw to bullies. Those with ill intent also create fake accounts on social media platforms so their hurtful actions cannot be traced. Unfortunately, rumors, threats and photos can be disseminated on the Internet very quickly. Although there are those that search out opportunities to bully, many of us may have unintentionally bullied someone. It's best to remember The Golden Rule which can be applied to social media as well, "Post only about others as you would have them post about you."

Every age group is vulnerable to cyberbullying, but teenagers and young adults are common victims. It is extremely important for adults to monitor their children when it comes to technology as you never know what could be happening online.

What to Do If You Are Bullied

If you find yourself a victim of cyberbullying it is important that you know you are not to blame, and:
  • Tell someone - a friend, parent, councilor, teacher. 56% of teens who have experienced cyberbullying have not reported it. You do not need to go through it alone and creating a sense of community and connections around yourself will help you. Victims of cyberbullying are at an increased risk for low self-esteem, health problems, substance abuse and possible suicide.
  • Avoid escalating the situation: Responding with hostility is likely to provoke a bully. Depending on the circumstances, consider ignoring it or changing your email address. If the issue continues, you may have a strong case for legal action.
  • Document cyberbullying: Keep a record of any online activity (emails, web pages, social media posts, etc.), including relevant dates and times. Keep both an electronic version and a printed copy.
  • Report cyberbullying to the appropriate authorities: If you are being harassed or threatened, report the activity to the authorities: your local police department, school officials if appropriate or FBI branch. There is a distinction between free speech and punishable offenses.

Online Dating
More and more often meeting that special someone starts online. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of American adults have used online dating sites and/or mobile dating apps. Usage by 18- to 24-year-olds has increased nearly threefold since 2013, while usage by 55- to 64-year-olds has doubled. Beyond dating sites, people are meeting on networking platforms such as social media, gaming sites, and activity forums.

Predators lurk behind false identities to lure innocent victims just looking for love. The emotional bond created online can leave one vulnerable to falling victim to money scams, unknowingly participating in a relationship that includes infidelity (27% of online dates lie about their relationship status), or at the most extreme abduction. Following smart online dating protocols can help keep you on the right side of love.

Since talking online can build a strong connection with someone you've never met in person, it's important to not have a false sense of security when preparing to meet that person offline for the first time. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) offers these tips:
  • Pick a public place. Choose a public setting that is easy to find. Give the person time to earn your trust before you meet in a private location, like their home.
  • Do some research. A quick online search can help you confirm details this person has shared in previous exchanges and may give you a better visual to help you recognize them in person. You can also run a search on the National Sex OffenderPublic Website (NSOPW), a national resource that pulls data from state, territory, and tribal sex offender registries.
  • Go in with an exit strategy. Be prepared to return home safely. Meet the person at the destination instead of accepting a ride. Have cash on hand and a number for a taxi company or ride sharing app. Be responsible for your own ride home so if you start to feel uncomfortable you can leave at anytime.
  • Tell someone about your plans. Let a friend know where you're going, when you're going, and how long you plan to be there. You can arrange for them to check in with you via text at a certain point, giving you the opportunity to leave the meeting if needed.
  • Hold off on revealing personal information. Don't offer up too much personal information or history on the first encounter. Be wary of someone who asks for details that seem too personal, such as questions about your finances or your home address.
  • You're allowed to be skeptical. If you start to feel uncomfortable or uneasy, acknowledge these feelings. Don't feel pressured to push aside your concerns for the sake of giving someone a chance. Trust your gut. RAINN has tips on how to respond if you feel pressured.
  • It's OK to lie. If you want to exit the situation immediately and are concerned about raising flags or upsetting the other person, it's okay to lie. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, scared, or threatened. Tell them you have an appointment to make, you're not feeling well, or that you have a family member to tend to.
  • Take extra steps when traveling a long distance. If you are traveling a long distance to meet the person for the first time, ask the person to video chat to get a better sense of how they communicate in a face-to-face situation. If you don't know someone in the area you're visiting, consider bringing a friend along. Plan to stay in your own lodging, like a hotel or a friend's house, and keep this address to yourself. Be responsible for your own transportation throughout the trip. Let someone from home know where you're going and when they should expect you back.

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Identity theft is a serious crime and it is on the rise. According to a recent report, in 2016 the overall fraud incidence impacted an additional 2 million people over the previous year. Identity theft happens when someone uses information about you without your permission, usually for financial gain. They could use:
  • Your name and address,
  • Credit card or bank account numbers (86% of identity theft victims experienced the fraudulent use of existing account information),
  • Social Security number, or
  • Medical insurance account numbers.

It is essential you protect your identity (even if you think you have nothing worth stealing) because you will be financially responsible for what the thief does while using your personal information. This is true even if you are unaware outstanding bills exist. It is very difficult to prove you didn't do something when there are records of purchases in your name.

About 7% of persons age 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2014.

How Does Identity Theft Happen?
This is a common scenario on how identity theft happens: A thief applies and gets approved for a credit card using your name. He/she changes the address so the bills go to him/her, but never pays it. The credit card company thinks you are not paying the bills and your credit score gets damaged.

Learn about one victim's story here:

Some ways an identity thief can use your name and information:
  • buy things with your credit cards
  • get new credit cards
  • take out auto loans
  • open a phone, electricity, or gas account
  • steal your tax refund
  • get medical care
  • pretend to be you if they are arrested

A thief does not intend to pay for anything which leaves you financially responsible for any unpaid bills and the damage done to your credit score.

Protecting Yourself
It is important to be aware of how a thief can access your information in order to protect it. Some common ways are:
  • Stealing your garbage or mail.
  • Stealing your information from a business or medical office.
  • Stealing your wallet or purse.
  • Tricking you into sending information in an email (phishing scams). Phishing is when scam artists send fake text, email, or pop-up messages to get people to share their personal and financial information. For more information on phishing, check out the online safety section of this website.

Therefore it is important to:
  • Never give out your social security or account numbers to unsolicited parties.
  • Guard your financial information, including statements and account numbers.
  • Shred any financial documents or receipts instead of throwing them in the trash.
  • Review banking statements frequently.

People who frequently shop online or use social media are 46% more likely to be victims of identity theft. For a complete list of common scams and frauds visit: https://www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds.

How can you tell is someone has stolen your identity?
  • Read your bills. Look for charges for things you did not buy.
  • Watch your bank account statement. Look for withdrawals you did not make and for any changes you do not expect.
  • Check your mail. Did you stop getting a bill or start getting a new bill you did not know about?
  • Get your credit report. Look for inaccuracies and accounts or other information you do not recognize.

If you feel that someone has stolen your identity it is important to act fast to limit the damage. IdentityTheft.gov can help you start the recovery process.

What to Do if You Are a Victim
According to IdentityTheft.gov, if someone is using your personal information to open new accounts, make purchases or get a tax refund you should:
Step 1: Call the companies where you know fraud occurred, explain that someone stole your identity, ask them to close or freeze your accounts then change your logins, passwords and PINS for your accounts.
Step 2: Place a fraud alert. A fraud alert is free and will make it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. To do so, contact one of the three credit bureaus (that one company must tell the other two). You will receive a n letter from each credit bureau confirming a fraud alert has been placed on your file.



Step 3: Get your credit report. Visit Annual Credit Report (1-877-322-8228) or call one of the three credit bureaus directly.



Step 4: Report identity theft to the FTC.

Step 5: File a report with your local police department.

For more detailed information and next steps visit IdentityTheft.gov. IdentityTheft.gov is the federal government's one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.

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Many of the leading causes of accidents and personal injury are unintentional. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accidental injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Among those, unintentional falls and motor vehicle accident deaths are in the top three with unintentional drug overdose/poisonings as the number one area of concern for the CDC as well as the National Safety Council.

  • Poisoning/Drug Overdose - There is an alarming trend of poison-related deaths and injuries - especially in children. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), the increased risk is linked to the wide availability and use of opioids/ prescription pain relievers, as well as emerging poisoning hazards such as liquid nicotine, and single use laundry detergent packets. Visit the FutureHealth opiod page to learn more about the opioid epidemic. Learn safety tips for poison control in your home here.
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents - Driving under the influence, reckless driving, road rage and distracted driving due to Smartphone use are all preventable causes of car accidents. A recent National Safety Council survey provides a glimpse at the risky behaviors drivers are doing. While 83% of drivers surveyed believe driving is a safety concern, a startling number say:
    • They are comfortable speeding (64%).
    • Texting either manually or through voice controls (47%).
    • Driving while impaired by marijuana (13%).
    • Driving after they feel they've had too much alcohol (10%).

  • Slips and Falls: Slip and fall accidents are dangerous at any age but the elderly are more likely to suffer serious injury. Distracted walking caused by the use of Smartphones has increased by more than 11,000 since 2000, according to the National Safety Council.
  • Accidental Drowning: Each day, approximately 10 people die from accidental drowning, two of which are children under the age of 14. Even if a drowning does not result in death, it can result in permanent brain damage and other long-term disabilities.
  • Fires and Burns: Although the accidental injuries and deaths by fire have decreased dramatically. Injuries and burns still account for a large number of emergency room visits. A majority of these injuries and fatalities are accidental, and as much as 73 percent occur in the home.

Although not all occurrences of unintentional injury or death can be prevented, following some general prevention and awareness tips can help. Also, putting a focus on personal responsibility, mindfulness, and anger management strategies can play a huge part in helping you from becoming a statistic.

Personal Awareness Tips
  1. Learn the best routes between your work location and your car. Take the safest route, not the fastest route.
  2. If possible, travel in groups of two or more at night and walk in well-lit, heavily traveled areas.
  3. Stay on the part of the sidewalk that is farthest away from shrubs, dark doorways, and alleys.
  4. Share your schedule with trusted friends and family, effectively creating a buddy system.
  5. When you go out, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.
  6. Wherever you are, stay alert to your surroundings and the actions of people around you. While we'd like to think we can let our guard down sometimes, the facts indicate we must be mindful even in familiar places.
  7. Follow your instincts--if something doesn't feel right, change directions, go into a public building, or call the Police (911).
  8. Do not leave your belongings unattended, even for a few minutes. If you work at a service point, make sure you secure your belongings either out of sight or in a restricted access area (locked office, etc.).
  9. Avoid displaying large amounts of cash or other tempting targets such as jewelry or expensive clothing.
  10. Always lock your bike or rent a bike locker to store your bike.
  11. Always lock your car and keep valuables out of site. Check the back seat before getting in.
  12. Park in well-lit, well-traveled areas of the parking lot.
  13. Do not wear headphones that prevent you from being aware of your surroundings.
  14. Check your credit report once a year to make sure that all the charges are accurate and your personal information hasn't been stolen.
Personal Responsibility
Personal responsibility can take many forms. In regards to safety, it means taking control of your personal well being. There are many ways to do this from physical and mental fitness, to practicing situational awareness, mindfulness and anger management.

Physical and Mental Fitness
Being aware is more than just taking specific awareness actions. It's also about your overall physical and mental fitness. The fact is that regular exercise can improve you cognitive processing speed and make you better able to handle a crisis and be more attentive in general. For example, boosting balance reduces chances for a fall that can result in soft-tissue, finger or hand injury. A healthy mindset can help you become more resilient to the disappointments and challenges that come with everyday life.

Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is just simply knowing what is going on around you. It is taught to soldiers, law enforcement, and medical professionals but the average person can benefit from it as well. Practicing situational awareness can help you make better decisions in all aspects of your life and avoid unintentional personal injury because you:
  • learn to predict events,
  • identify elements around you,
  • trust your gut instincts,
  • avoid complacency,
  • be aware of time,
  • monitor the performance of others,
  • and continually assess the situation.

In today's multi-tasking, fast paced world, focusing on the present moment may be all you need to avoid minor accidents. One way to do this is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness requires quieting the constant chatter in your head so that you can focus on what is going on in front of you. When applied to safety, it means focusing on the task at hand, not what you'll be doing next or later in the day.

Anger Management

Everybody gets angry, but out-of-control rage isn't good for you or those around you. Besides the harm anger can do to your body like insomnia, digestive problems and even more serious ailments like heart disease, when you can't control your anger, you may find yourself getting into situations that endanger yourself or others like fist-fights or driving recklessly. When you feel strong emotions starting to boil over, try these techniques from the American Psychological Association. If you feel that you have problem with controlling your anger seek help by talking to your doctor.

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Asking for help is a sign of strength.


Below is a compilation of resources and websites about personal safety. Check out the "Understanding Personal Safety" video for a comprehensive overview of personal safety, inspiring stories from survivors as well as things you can do to minimize risk here.

Physical & Sexual Assault
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) - The nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.
  • 1-800-656-HOPE - The National Sexual Assault Hotline from RAINN.,
  • Veto Violence - The CDC's Facebook page on violence prevention.
  • National Sexual Violence Resource Center - A comprehensive selection of relevant and timely resources on sexual violence, prevention, and related topics.
  • Prevention Connection - A national online project dedicated to the prevention of sexual assault and domestic violence.


Internet Safety
  • CommonSenseMedia.org - Information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to keep media and technology a positive force in all kids' lives.
  • Facebook Family Safety Center - Robust resource and community promoting the safe use of social media and Facebook.

Identity Theft
  • USA.gov - An official government website that provides important information on identity theft.
  • Common Scams and Frauds - A listing from USA.gov of common scams and frauds.
  • IdentityTheft.gov - Information on identity theft issues as well as resource to help start the recovery process.


Personal Injury
  • CDC - Accidental Injury statistics.
  • www.poisonhelp.org - An interactive online tool from The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) which provides quick, expertly vetted answers to questions about poisoning.
  • National Safety Council - A robust resource for all safety related topics.
  • Mass 2-1-1 - An easy to remember telephone number that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community. If you wish to report any of these behaviors, click here.

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