Disaster preparedness tips: Sheltering in place and in shelters

Posted by | Jen Masotja, Director of Disaster Services

In a disaster you may be asked to either evacuate or shelter in place. In the excitement of an emergency, focusing on what you need to do can be difficult. Here’s how to keep your family safe:

Shelter in place

In an emergency like a chemical spill, intense wildfire smoke, police activity, you may be told to “shelter in place”. This means to make the place where you are a safe place to stay until the danger has passed. Shelter in place orders are given when it would be dangerous for you to go outside.

If you are told to shelter in place, close all doors and windows and shut off fans and air conditioners. Take your family to a room with as few doors and windows as possible. You may be told to put towels or tape around the cracks of the windows and doors. Follow emergency instructions carefully. Make sure you take a battery-powered radio with you so that you will know when the danger has passed. Power in your area may be shut off during the incident.

Notification

Warning sirens may be used to warn people that it is not safe to be outside. Emergency responders may go door to door in the affected area. They may also use loudspeakers from police or fire vehicles to give instructions. Information will also be given over television and radio using the Emergency Alert System.

What to do in a hazardous materials incident

The first thing to do when a chemical spill or similar event occurs is to get information. Turn on the television or radio to find out if your area is affected and what steps to take. Never call 911 to get information about an emergency. Call 911 ONLY if you are injured or need assistance.

Evacuation and Notification

Warning sirens may be used to warn people to evacuate outside. Emergency responders may go door to door in the affected area. They may also use loudspeakers from police or fire vehicles to give instructions. Information will also be given over television and radio using the Emergency Alert System.  Sometimes transportation will be offered or provided and sometimes you will be asked to walk to an evacuation point. 

Emergency Shelters

Emergency shelters will be opened when people are displaced from their homes. In most areas emergency shelters are operated by the American Red Cross or another agency. At the most Shelters they will provide the following:

  • A cot to sleep on and blankets
  • Meals and bottled water
  • Comfort kits
  • Charging stations
  • Emotional support
  • A nurse for basic medical care
  • Information about the disaster from public officials
You may need to bring:
  • Pillow
  • Your own medication and medical supplies (or a list of what you are taking, dosage, and Dr’s names)
  • Identification
  • Change of clothes
  • Cards or magazines
  • Pets are welcomed at most shelters
Prohibited items:
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Weapons

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