SHELTER: All about Sheltering In Place


There are variety of unplanned events and disasters that would require you to shelter-in-place such as a tornados, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, chemical spills, quarantine and isolation.

Sheltering-in-place simply means to take shelter where you are.

Some situations may even require sealing off the room from outside containments like an explosion in an ammonia refrigeration facility across the street, or a derailed and leaking tank car of chlorine on the rail line near your home or place of business.

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 to shelter-in-place.

As you go about your day start to take notice of locations that you and your family, classmates or co-workers could use as a shelter.

The room should either be in a basement or an interior room with at least ten square feet of floor space per person in order to provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide buildup for five hours.

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.


If you have opportunity ahead of time store scissors, plastic sheeting pre-cut to fit over any windows or vents and rolls of duct tape to secure the plastic.

Be prepared to shelter-in-place for several days, have access to a water supply, 3-4 days supply of food and 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.


  • “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.
  • 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.

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.


  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.
  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.
  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.


  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.

  Guidelines for Shelter-in-place at Work

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close any window shades, blinds or curtains near your workspace.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Keep listening to the radio or watching TV for updates until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate.
  • 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

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Updated: February 16, 2014 — 12:28 pm

The Author

Rich Fleetwood

Rich is the founder of SurvivalRing, now in it's 24th year, author of multimedia CDs and DVDs, loves the outdoors, his family, his geeky skill-set, and lives in rural southern Wyoming, just below the continental divide (long story, that...). Always ready to help others, he shares what he learns on multiple blogs, many social sites, and more. With a background in preparedness and survival skills, training with county, state, and national organizations, and skills in all areas of media and on air experience in live radio and television, Rich is always thinking about the "big picture", when it comes to helping individuals and families prepare for life's little surprises.

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