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Shelter in Place

Thursday, 14 August 2014 01:00 Written by 

Certain types of events, such as chemical accidents and terrorist attacks, may make going outdoors dangerous. Likewise, you may want to limit the outdoor environment from entering your home. Shelter in Place is the act of taking immediate refuge, whether it is at your home, work, or vehicle, and limiting your exposure to the threat. Depending on the type of emergency, Sheltering in Place may also involve sealing the room, or vehicle, from outside contaminants. Ideally, you should have a Shelter in Place plan for both your home and work locations, but you should also be able to react to an emergency away from these areas. The keys to successfully Sheltering in Place are to understand how to react to each situation, the supplies that are needed, and how to mitigate the challenges that you will face.

There are two primary definitions when discussing Sheltering in Place. The traditional definition involves sheltering following the release of Chemical, biological, or radiological contaminants into the environment, usually sheltering for a short time period in a pre-designated area. The second definition involves storms, natural disasters, law enforcement operations, or civil unrest, with a duration that can last for days, weeks, or longer. 

Since 2010, there has been multiple Sheltering in Place situations across the United States, with most involving chemical spills and chemical explosions.  An increasing trend for Shelter in Place involves mass shooting incidents, terrorist attacks, and law enforcement operations responding to these types of events. Lastly and while rare, Shelter in Place has been called for wildlife actions. Since there multiple reasons why you may need to Shelter in Place, there are also varying levels of preparation and response for a given threat; each scenario poses different challenges. 

Reasons to Shelter in Place

The ultimate goal of sheltering in place is to reduce the threat to you and/or your family. These threats may include: 

  • The release of hazardous chemical, biological, or radiological agents, whether the release was accidental or intentional. Accidental releases may include a truck carrying a hazardous material is in involved in a wreck, a chemical factory catches on fire, or a nuclear power plant melts down. Intentional releases may involve a terrorist or military attack. 
  • Storm or natural disaster
  • Civil unrest / riots
  • Mass shootings
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Wildlife

Sirens, Alarms, and Common Sense

An event that requires Sheltering in Place should be followed by local authorities alerting the public. If you live in tornado alley, you are probably familiar with the loud sirens used to alert the populace of a possible tornado. Also, facilities that handle dangerous materials are required to have sirens and alarms in case of an accident. With all of the available means to alert the public during times of disaster, it is also the responsibility of each person to monitor their environment and determine if Sheltering in Place is necessary.

Here are the most commons means of how local authorities alert the public. 

  • Outdoor sirens
  • Radio or television news stations
  • Emergency Alert System broadcasting on radio or television
  • All-Call telephoning, an automated/recorded message on your phone
  • Cell phone text messages
  • NOAA Weather alerts
  • Loud speakers mounted on buildings and/or vehicles

Once local authorities call a Shelter in Place, the alert will normally include an explanation of why a Shelter in Place has been called and directions to follow. Listen closely so that you can take the appropriate actions.

Establishing a Shelter

First, identify a room that will be used for the shelter. If possible, the room should have as few windows and doors as possible. Another consideration is having easy access to windows, vents, and outlets in case you need to seal the room. The room should also be as large as possible, with access to a water supply and/or restroom facilities. A master bedroom is an ideal location; however please ensure to account for the following considerations:  

  • Chemical and Biological Event – If you are faced with these types of events, the room should be located high in the structure, so to avoid gas vapors that sink.
  • Tornado – If faced with a tornado, an underground shelter is ideal. If an underground shelter is not available, the shelter should be located on the ground floor or basement.
  • Flooding – If faced with severe flooding, ensure your shelter is above the flood plain, and that the building is designed to withstand floods.
  • Hurricanes / Extreme Winds – If faced with a hurricane, the shelter should be located away from windows and towards the interior of the building. Ensure your shelter is not directly under trees that could be forced down by heavy wind.  Lastly, if flooding is expected, ensure your shelter is not located in the basement of your home, if your home is prone to flooding. 

Shelter Supply List

  1. First aid kit – See Basic First Aid Kits
  2. Food – A three day supply for every individual in the shelter, preferably food that does not require refrigeration. If refrigeration is required, have a cooler filled with ice. Additionally, if you have infants, ensure formula and water is located inside of the shelter.
  3. Water – A three day supply of water for every individual. At a minimum you should have 1 gallon of water per person, per day. If you have pets, ensure to account for their water needs.
  4. Flashlight – Hand cranked or battery powered. If battery powered, ensure you have spare batteries located in the shelter. Have a handheld and lantern styled flashlight. 
  5. Emergency Radio - Hand cranked or battery powered. If battery powered, ensure you have spare batteries located in the shelter. Most emergency radios can also serve as a flashlight.
  6. Telephone, to include cell phone and a main telephone line.
  7. Towels - Used to cover door sill in case of chemical or biological threat.
  8. Plastic sheeting –Used to cover doors, windows, vents, outlets, or any other hole which may allow hazardous materials inside of the room. Large sheeting or window-sized sheeting
  9. Duct tape and scissors – Used to secure plastic sheeting and towels. 
  10. Entertainment – Board games, deck of cards, etc. 
  11. Bucket – If a bathroom is not available, a bucket can be used. For more comfort add a toilet seat.  
  12. Personal hygiene supplies – At a minimum have hand soap, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper.  
  13. Pets – If you have pets, ensure you also store pet food and water, and a means to clean up after them. 
  14. Blankets – If it is cold outside, ensure blankets are located inside of the shelter. It will be unsafe to use fuel based heating devices, due to the risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. 

Shelter in Place Procedures (Residence and Business Locations)

Studies show that the faster you get out of the elements, the more likely your chances of survival. Therefore, you must act quickly to any directions received by local authorities. 

  1. Ensure all individuals and pets are inside of the building.
  2. Ensure all windows are locked, which may aid in creating a better seal from outside contaminants. 
  3. Turn off air conditioner, heater, and fans. 
  4. Close fireplace damper, and/or seal off the fireplace exhaust hole.
  5. Enter the Shelter in Place room, and close the door. 
  6. Turn on emergency radio, and keep telephone close in case of an emergency. Listen to the radio for any further announcements or instructions.
  7. Using plastic and duct tape cover any doors jambs, windows, outlets, vents, or other hole which may allow contaminants to enter the room. 
  8. Place a towel between the floor and the door sill. 
  9. Depending on the reason you are Sheltered in Place, you may or may not want to use the local water supply. If under chemical or biological threats, or if severe flooding has occurred, use the local water supply only for toilet flushing purposes. Use bottled water for drinking, cooking, and hygiene purposes. If you have well water, determine if the threat has compromised your ability to safely use the water. However, you water supply, public or well, may become compromised if you lose power; therefore have a bottled water supply on hand. 
  10. Do not use any heating or cooking means which may cause carbon monoxide to build up in the shelter. This includes most fuel stoves, heaters, charcoal, or the burning of a fireplace. We recommend using a butane stove if cooking indoors; but use it sparingly. 
  11. Listen to the radio for authorization to leave your shelter, and any directions to follow to avoid contaminants 

Shelter in Place Procedures (Away from Shelter)

  1. If you are away from your Shelter in Place location when a chemical or biological event occurs, follow instructions from local authorities, which may include traveling to the nearest shelter.
  2. If you have children, and they are at school, more than likely they will be sheltered there. Depending on the situation, the school will not likely release your child, so do not travel to the school until notified to do so. 

Additional Information

Chemical Agents: Facts About Sheltering in Place 

Last modified on Thursday, 14 August 2014 18:16
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