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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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Shelter-in-Place During a Chemical or Radiation Emergency

"Shelter-in-place" means to take immediate shelter where you are—at home, work, school or in between—usually for just a few hours. Local authorities may instruct you to "shelter-in-place" if chemical or radiological contaminants are released into the environment.

Shelter-in-Place - Plan Ahead How can I be prepared?

—at home

  • Choose a 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.
  • Assemble a disaster supplies kit that includes emergency water and food supplies.

—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). (Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for more information.)

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.
  • Outdoor warning sirens or horns.
  • 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.

Facilities that handle potentially dangerous materials, like nuclear power plants, are required to install sirens and other warning systems (flash warning lights) to cover a 10-mile area around the plant.

How do I "shelter-in-place"?

at home | in your vehicle | at work | at day-care centers and schools

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.

—at home

If you are told to "shelter-in-place," act quickly. 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. 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. shelter-in-place - Practice
  6. Get your disaster supplies kit and make sure the radio is working.
  7. Take everyone, including pets, into an interior room with no or few windows and shut the door.
  8. If you have pets, prepare a place for them to relieve themselves where you are taking shelter. Pets should not go outside during a chemical or radiation emergency because it is harmful to them and they may track contaminants into your shelter. The Humane Society of the United States suggests that you have plenty of plastic bags and newspapers, as well as containers and cleaning supplies, to help deal with pet waste.
  9. If you are instructed to seal the room, use duct tape and plastic sheeting, such as heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, to seal all cracks around the door into the room. Tape plastic over any windows. Tape over any vents and seal electrical outlets and other openings. As much as possible, reduce the flow of air into the room. shelter-in-place - Listen
  10. Call your emergency contact and keep the phone handy in case you need to report a life-threatening condition. Otherwise stay off the phone, so that the lines will be available for use by emergency responders.
  11. Keep listening to your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Do not evacuate unless instructed to do so.
  12. When you are told that the emergency is over, open windows and doors, turn on ventilation 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.

—in your vehicle

  1. If you are very close to home, your workplace or a public building, go there immediately and go inside. Follow the "shelter-in-place" recommendations for that location.
  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.

—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. Shelter-in-place - At Work
  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. Shelter-in-place - Office Planning
  6. Take your workplace disaster supplies kits and go to your pre-determined sheltering room(s) 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 business-designated emergency contact 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.

—at day-care centers and schools

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 pre-selected rooms that have 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 emergency 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.

For more information, contact—

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__________________________
*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.

__________________________
*emergency contact
Create a Family Disaster Plan

  • Know what to do in case household members are separated in a disaster. Disaster situations are stressful and can create confusion. Keep it simple.
  • Pick two places to meet:
    • Right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire.
    • Outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home or are asked to leave your neighborhood.
  • Pick two out-of-town contacts:
    • A friend or relative who will be your household’s primary contact.
    • A friend or relative who will be your household’s alternative contact.

    Both adults and children should know the primary and alternative contacts’ names, addresses, and home and cell telephone numbers, or carry the information with them. In addition, include these contact numbers on your pet’s identification tags, or use a national pet locator service that someone could call to report finding your pet.

    Separation is particularly likely during the day when adults are at work and children are at school. If household members are separated from one another in a disaster, they should call the primary contact. If the primary contact cannot be reached, they should call the alternative contact. Remember, after a disaster, it is often easier to complete a long-distance connection than a local call.

    Make sure that adults and children know how to tell the contact where they are, how to reach them, and what happened or to leave this essential information in a brief voice mail.

  • Discuss what to do if a family member is injured or ill.
  • Discuss what to do in the rare circumstance that authorities advise you to shelter-in-place.
  • Discuss what to do if authorities advise you to evacuate. [link – to come]
  • Plan how to take care of your pets. Pets (other than service animals) usually are not permitted in public shelters or other places where food is served. Plan where you would take your pets if you had to go to a public shelter where they are not permitted. Many communities are developing emergency animal shelters similar to shelters for people. Contact your local emergency management agency to find out about emergency animal shelters in your community, in the event that you have nowhere else to go and need to go to public shelter with your animals.
  • Post emergency numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.) by telephones. You may not have time in an emergency to look up critical numbers.

Note: You can adapt the Family Disaster Plan to any household—couples, related or unrelated individuals, adults without children, adults with children. Even people who live alone should create a Disaster Plan.

__________________________
*sheltering room(s)
Avoid overcrowding by pre-selecting several interior rooms with the fewest number of windows or vents. The appropriate location depends entirely on the emergency situation. If a chemical has been released, you should take shelter in a room above ground level, because some chemicals are heavier than air and may seep below ground. On the other hand, if there are radioactive particles in the air, you should choose a centrally located room or basement. Knowing what to do under specific circumstances is an important part of being prepared.

The rooms should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit, including an estimated number of visitors. Large storage closets, utility rooms, pantries, break rooms and copy and conference rooms without exterior windows would work well. Access to bathrooms is a plus. It is ideal to have hard-wired telephones in the rooms you select; use cordless phones (but not cell phones—the system may be overloaded in an emergency), if necessary. The rooms should be equipped with a disaster supplies kit.

__________________________
*business-designated emergency contact
Businesses and schools should assign one or two people to collect information on who is in the building when an emergency happens so that first responders can know everyone is accounted for, if necessary.

__________________________
*pre-selected rooms
Classrooms may be used if there are no windows or the windows are sealed and cannot be opened. Large storage closets, utility rooms and meeting rooms could be used. A gymnasium without exterior windows would also work well. Access to bathrooms is a plus.

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Last Updated 6/7/2005 10:15:02 AM