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New York city's nerves are exposed. The dread is palpable. Sit next to somebody with a bad cough on the subway or spot a "suspicious"-looking bag being held by a "suspicious"-looking person, and the mind goes haywire.

And who can blame us?

One of the most vivid fears embedded in daily subway commuter's minds is the terror attack perpetrated by Japan's Aum Doomsday Cult in 1995. Using a tank of serin gas, the cult released the deadly nerve agent in a Tokyo subway in March 1995, which resulted in 12 deaths and 5,500 injuries. If one milligram of serin is ingested, you can die. One milligram.

With that image and the seemingly inevitable carnage about to befall New York City, many New Yorkers have taken to walking, cabbing it or bussing their jittery asses to work. The thought of underground catastrophe is just too much for many to bear.

"I'm not going near the subway for the rest of my life," Carlos Ramirez, 24, who works in Battery Park. "I don't care if it's 20 below. If I'm walking, I know I can still run."

But, according to some experts, there are some ways to keep yourself alive if the thinkable does happen.

Subway Smarts

Police officer and terror/safety expert Neal Rawls, author of the book Be Alert, Be Aware, Have A Plan: The Complete Guide to Protecting Yourself, Your Home, Your Family says the first thing to do if shit starts going down on the N-Train is NOT to panic.



Anyway, he became more helpful.

"If one person clutches their chest and goes down, it's probably an individual medical problem rather a mass attack," Rawls says. "If groups of people begin having trouble breathing, grabbing their throats, etc., you need to move away from the area quickly."

He added that one of the major causes of casualties during the Tokyo subway attack was people not recognizing the situation and subsequently attempting to aid stricken people, thus becoming victims themselves.

"If you determine there's an attack, you want to somehow move yourself up in elevation, whether you're in a subway, a building, or on the streets," he says. "Poison gas is made to be heavier than air, so it won't disperse in the atmosphere but will settle on its intended target."

And unlike a fire situation -- where you get down low to avoid smoke that rises -- in a gas attack you need to get up high to avoid gas that settles.

"If the train is moving, the more compartments you can put between you and the car where the gas is released, the better," he says.

There are many different gases out there, likely ones we don't even know about yet. Nothing we can do about those. But Rawls said the some of the ones we do know about can be less deadly if you act quickly.

"If you come into contact with something like mustard gas, which burns the skin along with eyes and throat, as soon as you're out of the area you must take off your clothes and wash your skin with COLD water as soon as possible," Rawls says.

Got that? COLD water.

"Don't use hot water; it will open the pores of your skin," Rawls says. "Don't be modest -- use whatever is available to wash quickly, even if it's a public fountain."

If any sticky, burning sap-like material settles on your skin (like mustard gas), scrape it off with something and immediately flush the area with cool water.

Again, cool water saves the day.

OK. So we've got an isolated attack in one car covered. Don't help anybody, go vertical and use cold water. Check. But what if there is an attack on a larger scale? Say they release a whole giant assload of deadly, poisonous, burning, brain-boiling, nerve-twitching, chest-exploding gas throughout the whole subway tunnels?

Not likely, Rawls says.

"If it did occur, the gas would settle in a certain area, then move from there according to the drafts in the tunnels. So it still wouldn't necessarily be an instantaneous, all-encompassing thing," Rawls says.

Well, that's kind of good news.

Communication Breakdowns? UPOC's Got Your Back.

One of the most traumatic and frustrating situations New Yorkers had to deal with the morning of 9/11 was trying to communicate with their families. Panic, chaos and fear tied up many New York City phone lines, and most cell phones were rendered unusable because of all the traffic.

Thanks to the UPOC, a wireless communities company located a block from Ground Zero, offers a NYC Terror Alert text messaging group.

If something happens, or you hear something on the news, or you just see something, you can send a short message service (SMS, or text message) to the group. Currently, there are more than 600 members in NYC, including all 38 UPOC employees. Members are incredibly reliable about keeping this information up to date, and many have access to police scanners

As soon as anything remotely terror related happens, mobile phones all across NYC start buzzing with these text-based alerts.

According to Peter Shankman, a UPOC representative, the system passed a perfect test when the roads around the United Nations were shut down a few weeks ago.

"One member of this group works right across the street, and we had it on our phones before the news had it on TV," Shankman says.

Shankman also says almost every UPOC employee (and thousands of UPOC members nationwide) have started "family" groups. These include parents, wives, husbands, siblings, girlfriends, etc. These are private groups and aren't seen in the public UPOC directory.

"Both my parents as well as my fiancée and my best friend work in the city," Shankman says. "If something were to happen, any of us could send a message to the entire group. The first message we're all required to send is a "check in" message: i.e., 'I AM OK - EVERYONE CHECK IN.'

"Once all of us have checked in, we can make a plan. 'GET OUT OF NYC - MEET AT CHAMBERS AND WEST STREETS TO WALK ACROSS BRIDGE.' It involved teaching my parents how to SMS, but I believe it could be well worth it."

And because it doesn't use voice, it's much less power-sensitive. So when the cell phones are overloaded, SMS still works. Shankman says that he used the SMS service on 9/11.

"I was on a plane on 9/11, on the runway at Newark, and used SMS to get through to my parents to let them know I was alive, and it was in fact not my plane," he says.

So, nobody panic. Everything is under control. Really. We mean it.