Should I stay or should I go? - The Clash

The ability to take shelter is critical in times of emergency and disaster. Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the disaster, It may be best to stay where you are and avoid any uncertainty outside by "sheltering in place". Circumstances may also dictate sheltering outside the hazard area whether its with friends and relatives, seeking commercial lodging or staying in a mass care facility.

The emergency/disaster may dictate the length of time you are required to shelter. A tornado warning may only require a short stay, while a winter storm or a pandemic could require a considerable longer stay. During extended periods of sheltering, you will need to manage water and food supplies to ensure you and your family have the required supplies and quantities.

when the decision is made to seek shelter, the first consideration should be to recognize the hazard and then choose an approiate place that can provide the necessary shelter required for the emergency. For example, for a tornado, a room should be selected that is in a basement or an interior room on the lowest level away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls.

Fallout Shelters

Blast Shelter - Designed to offer some protection from shock waves and overpressure.

For all practical purposes there are no public nuclear bomb shelters in the US. However commercial vendors provide true blast shelters engineered to provide protection to individual families at modest cost. A shelter can easily be incorporated into a new basement construction, or installed as a standalone feature.

Fallout Shelter - Designed to protect occupants from radioactive precipitation.

There are thousands of fallout shelters in the US. However in 1993, the Federal Government policy was to no longer maintain or stock them with supplies. Most of the signs designating fallout shelters were removed long ago, and few will know how to find one when needed.

While there are shelters designed to provide protection from both blast damage and radiation fallout. Do not assume that is the case for all shelters.

An excellent illustrated step-by-step guide for the construction of a shelter, using common building materials can be found at the following link. Shelter Construction

Mass Care Shelter

These type tacilities are temporary public living quarters that provide physical shelter, feeding, first aid and basic sanitary facilities. This type of shelter does not provide specialized medical care. Each sheltering situation can be unique, depending on the emergency.

Mass care facilities involves sheltering with many people in a confined space, which can be challenging and unpleasant in the best of times, and amplified during the stress of a disaster or emergency. Alcoholic beverages and weapons are forbidden in emergency shelters and smoking is restricted. You may want to take your disaster kit with you to supplement any aid you may recieve at the shelter.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a search for open shelters by texting SHELTER and a Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA).

Shelter in place

Shelter in place usually means to take refuge in a small interior room with few or no windows. Typically it is in response to hazardeous material events such as when chemical, biological or radiological contaminations are released. Extreme weather and civil unrest may also warrant the use of these type shelters.

Local authorities will typically relay instructions to shelter in place using the Emergency Broadcasting System. These notifications can be delivered by radio, television or even loudspeaker systems. If local authorities are unable to make notifications, be attentive of large amounts of debris in the air, or the probability due to local factors or events that the air could be contaminated.

Choose an interior room with as few windows as possible. The room should be above ground level where heavier-than-air vapors and gases will not collect. Basements should be avoided for sheltering during hazardous materials emergencies.

Basic steps of shelter in place:

  • Shut and lock all windows and doors.
  • Turn off ventilation systems (Heating and air conditioning)
  • Close the damper on all fireplaces.
  • Seal any windows and/or vents with 2-4 mil thick plastic and duct tape.
  • Seal any doors with 2-4 mil thick plastic and duct tape.
  • Make sure and bring a disaster supply kit in to the shelter, including food and drink.

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Once you have sheltered in, monitor communications from local authorities or public media outlets for further instructions. Advise your emergency contact of the situation, where you are and what phone you are using.

Be prepared to evacuate if ordered to do so. If evacuation orders are issued you will be given instructions on how to proceed. You should remain sheltered in place until evacuation orders are issued or a all-clear message in received.

Because of the dangers of smoke, carbon monoxide and limited oxygen supply. Do NOT burn anything for heat or light in the shelter. The amount of oxygen available in a shelter and time it can be inhabitated is directly dependent on the size of the space, the amount of occupants and amount of activity inside the shelter. Ideally all occupants will occupy the shelter before exposure can occur, in the event contamination is suspected, the victim should remove all clothes (dry-decontamination) before entering. A proper disaster kit should contain a set of clothes for the victim.

Safe Room

A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide "near-absolute protection" in extreme weather events. Safe rooms are typically constructed from reinforced concrete, steel or other strong materials. They are usually built in a basement, on a garage floor, on a slab-grade foundation or an interior room on the lowest floor. The room is anchored to prevent overturning.

FEMA offers FEMA P-320, Taking Shelter From the Storm a publication to help home or small business owners assess their risk and determine the best type of safe room for their needs. The publication provides designs for basement, in-ground, and above-ground safe rooms.