Sheltering In Place

What “sheltering in place” means

Some kinds of chemical accidents or attacks may make going outdoors dangerous. Leaving the area might take too long or put you in harm’s way. In such a case it may be safer for you to stay indoors than to go outside.

“Shelter in place” means to make a shelter out of the place you are in. It is a way for you to make the building as safe as possible to protect yourself until help arrives. You should not try to shelter in a vehicle unless you have no other choice. Vehicles are not airtight enough to give you adequate protection from chemicals.

How to prepare to shelter in place

Choose a room in your house or apartment for your shelter. The best room to use for the shelter is a room with as few windows and doors as possible. A large room, preferably with a water supply, is desirable—something like a master bedroom that is connected to a bathroom. For chemical events, this room should be as high in the structure as possible to avoid vapors (gases) that sink. This guideline is different from the sheltering-in-place technique used in tornadoes and other severe weather, when the shelter should be low in the home.

You might not be at home if the need to shelter in place ever arises, but if you are at home, the following items would be good to have on hand. (Ideally, all of these items would be stored in the shelter room to save time.)

  • First aid kit
  • Food and bottled water. Store 1 gallon of water per person in plastic bottles as well as ready-to-eat foods that will keep without refrigeration at the shelter-in-place location.
    • If you do not have bottled water, or if you run out, you can drink water from a toilet tank (not from a toilet bowl).
  • Flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries for both.
  • Duct tape and scissors.
  • Towels and plastic sheeting.
  • A working telephone

How to know if you need to shelter in place

  • You will hear from the local police, emergency coordinators, or government on the radio and television.
  • If there is a “code red” or “severe” terror alert, pay attention to radio and television to know if an immediate shelter-in-place is announced for your area.

If you are away from your shelter-in-place location when a chemical event occurs, follow the instructions of emergency coordinators to find the nearest shelter. If your children are at school, they will be sheltered there. Unless you are instructed to do so, do not try to get to the school to bring your children home.

What to do

Act quickly and follow the instructions of your local emergency coordinators. Every situation can be different, so local emergency coordinators might have special instructions for you to follow. In general, do the following:

  • Go inside as quickly as possible
  • If there is time, shut and lock all outside doors and windows. Locking them may provide a tighter seal against the chemical. Turn off the air conditioner or heater. Turn off all fans, too. Close the fireplace damper and any other place that air can come in from the outside.
  • Go in the shelter-in-place room and shut the door.
  • Tape plastic over any windows in the room. Use duct tape around the windows and doors and make an unbroken seal. Tape the vents closed and any electrical outlets. Sink and toilet drains should have water in them (You can use the sink and toilet as you normally would). If it is necessary to drink water, drink stored water, not water from the tap.
  • Turn on the radio. Keep a telephone close at hand, but don’t use it unless there is an emergency.

Sheltering in this way should keep you safer than if you are outdoors. Most likely, you will be in the shelter for no more than a few hours. Listen to the radio for an announcement indicating that it is safe to leave the shelter. After you come out of the shelter, emergency coordinators may have additional instructions on how to make the rest of the building safe again.