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Shelter in Place


"Shelter in place" means to take immediate shelter where you are, whether that may be at home, work, school or in between destinations and usually for just a few hours. Local authorities may instruct you to "shelter in place" if a situation makes it unsafe to be outdoors or move from place to place.

How can I be prepared?

    When at home

    Choose an interior room* in advance for your shelter. The best room is one 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.

    Contact your workplaces, your children's schools, nursing homes where you may have family and your local town or city officials to find out what their plans are for "shelter in place." Find out when warning systems will be tested. When tested in your area, determine whether you can hear or see sirens and/or warning lights from your home.

    Develop your own family emergency plan so that every family member knows what to do. Practice it regularly and assemble a disaster supplies kit that includes emergency water and food supplies.

    When at work

    Help ensure that the emergency plan and checklist involves all employees. Volunteers or recruits should be assigned specific duties during an emergency. Alternates should be assigned to each duty.

    The shelter kit should be checked on a regular basis. Duct tape and first aid supplies can sometimes disappear when all employees know where the shelter kit is stored. Batteries for the radio and flashlight should be replaced regularly.

    In General

    Learn CPR, first aid and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

How will I know when I need to "shelter in place"?

Fire or police department warning procedures could include:

  • "All-Call" telephoning—an automated system for sending recorded messages, sometimes called "reverse 9-1-1."
  • Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcasts on the radio or television.
  • News media sources—radio, television and cable.
  • NOAA Weather Radio alerts.
  • Residential route alerting—messages announced to neighborhoods from vehicles equipped with public address systems.

How do I "shelter in place"?

The appropriate steps depend on the emergency situation. If you hear a warning signal, listen to local radio or television stations for further information. You will be told what to do, including where to find the nearest shelter if you are away from your "shelter in place" location.

    When at home

    If you are told to "shelter in place," act quickly and follow the instructions of local authorities.
    In general:
  1. Bring children and pets indoors immediately. If your children are at school, do not try to bring them home unless told to. The school will shelter them.
  2. Go to an interior room*, close and lock all outside doors and windows. Locking may provide a tighter seal.
  3. If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds or curtains.
  4. Turn off the heating, ventilation or air conditioning system. Turn off all fans, including bathroom fans operated by the light switch.
  5. Close the fireplace or woodstove damper.
  6. Get your disaster supplies kit and make sure the radio is working.
  7. Take everyone, including pets, interior portion of the building

When in your vehicle

  1. If you are very close to home, your workplace or a public building, go there immediately and go inside.
  2. If you are unable to get indoors quickly and safely, then pull over to the side of the road. Stop your vehicle in the safest place possible. If it is sunny outside, it is preferable to stop under a bridge or in a shady spot to avoid being overheated.
  3. Turn off the engine.
  4. Close windows and vents.
  5. If possible, seal the heating, ventilating and air conditioning vents with duct tape or anything else you may have available.
  6. Listen to the radio periodically for updated advice and instructions. (Modern car radios consume very little battery power and should not affect your ability to start your car later.)
  7. Stay where you are until you are told it is safe to get back on the road. Be aware that some roads may be closed or traffic detoured. Follow the directions of law enforcement officials.

When at work

Check with your workplace to learn their plans for dealing with a hazardous materials emergency. Their "shelter in place" plans should include the following:

  1. Employers should close the office, making any customers, clients or visitors in the building aware that they need to stay until the emergency is over. Close and lock all windows, exterior doors and any other openings to the outside.
  2. A knowledgeable person should use the building's mechanical systems to turn off all heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. The systems that automatically provide for exchange of inside air with outside air, in particular, need to be turned off, sealed or disabled.
  3. Unless there is an imminent threat, employers should ask employees, customers, clients and visitors to call their emergency contacts to let them know where they are and that they are safe.
  4. If time permits and it is not possible for a person to monitor the telephone, turn on call-forwarding or alternative telephone answering systems or services. If the business has voicemail or an automated attendant, it should be switched to a recording that indicates that the business is closed and that staff and visitors are remaining in the building until authorities advise it is safe to leave.
  5. If you are told there is danger of explosion, close any window shades, blinds or curtains near your workspace.
  6. Take your workplace disaster supplies kit and go to your pre-determined shelter locations, an interior room*, and when everyone is in, shut and lock the doors. There should be radios or TVs in the room(s).
  7. Turn on the radios or TVs. If instructed to do so by officials, use duct tape and plastic sheeting, such as heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, to seal all cracks around the door(s) and any vents into the room. Seal any windows and/or vents with sheets of plastic and duct tape. As much as possible, reduce the flow of air into the room.
  8. One person per room should write down the names of everyone in the room. Call your building supervisor to report who is in the room with you and their affiliation with your business (employee, visitor, client, customer).
  9. Keep listening to the radio or watching TV for updates until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate.
  10. When you are told that all is safe, open windows and doors, turn on heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems and go outside until the building's air has been exchanged with the now-clean outdoor air. Follow any special instructions given by emergency authorities to avoid chemical or radiological contaminants outdoors.

When at a Day-Care Center or School

Check with the school or day-care center to learn their plans for dealing with a hazardous materials emergency. Their "shelter in place" plans should include the following:

  1. Close the school. Activate the school's emergency plan. Follow reverse evacuation procedures to bring students, faculty and staff indoors.
  2. If visitors are in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay.
  3. Ideally, have access to the school-wide public address system in the room where the top school official takes shelter.
  4. Have at least one telephone line under the school's listed telephone number in one of the shelter rooms available for a designated person to answer the calls of concerned parents. If time permits, it is not possible for a person to monitor the telephone and the school has voicemail or an automated attendant, change the recording to indicate that the school is closed and that students and staff are remaining in the building until authorities say it is safe to leave.
  5. Have all children, staff and visitors take shelter in an interior room that has phone access and stored disaster supplies kits and, preferably, access to a bathroom. Shut the doors.
  6. Have all shelter rooms closed. Lock all windows, exterior doors and any other openings to the outside.
  7. If told there is danger of explosion, make sure window shades, blinds or curtains are closed.
  8. Turn off heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. Systems that automatically provide for exchange of inside air with outside air must be turned off, sealed or disabled.
  9. If instructed by officials, use duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal all cracks around the door(s), windows and vents into the room. As much as possible, reduce the flow of air into the room.
  10. If children have cell phones, allow them to use them to call a parent or guardian to let them know that they have been asked to remain in school until further notice and that they are safe. This may reduce the potential number of incoming calls.
  11. One teacher or staff member in each room should write down the names of everyone in the room and call the school’s designated contact to report who is in that room.
  12. Everyone should stay in the room until school officials, via the public address system, announce that all is safe or say everyone must evacuate.
  13. Once the word has been given that all is safe, everyone should go outside when the building's ventilation systems are turned back on. Follow any special instructions given by emergency authorities to avoid chemical and radiological contaminants outdoors.

*an interior room
The room should have ten square feet of floor space per person in order to provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide buildup for five hours. In this room, you should store scissors, plastic sheeting pre-cut to fit over any windows or vents and rolls of duct tape to secure the plastic. Access to a water supply is desirable, as is a working hard-wired telephone. Don't rely on cell phones because cellular telephone circuits may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency. Also, a power failure will render most cordless phones inoperable.

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