When and How to Shelter-in-Place
In an emergency, local
officials may tell you to seek safe shelter or “shelter-in-place.”
Shelter-in-place means to stay inside or go in the nearest building when a
disaster strikes. It is a way for you to stay as safe as possible until the
emergency is over.
If you are told to
shelter-in-place, follow the steps below to keep you and your family safe during
Print this Fact Sheet and Keep it in Your Wallet or Purse in Case of an
Go inside your home or the
Choose an inside room with as
few windows or doors as possible.
Bring in pets, if possible.
Close and lock all windows and
doors to create a better seal.
Turn off the heater or air
conditioner. Make sure the fireplace damper and all ventilation fans are
If you are told there is danger
of explosion, close the window shades, blinds or curtains.
Local officials are your best
source of information. Keep listening to your radio or television until you are
told it is safe to leave the shelter or to evacuate.
When you leave the shelter,
follow instructions from local officials to avoid any harmful materials
Do not use the telephone unless
you have a life-threatening condition to keep lines free for emergency
Additional Information on Shelter-In-Place:
Chemical, Radiological and Biological Emergencies
There are three types
of emergencies where you may be told to shelter-in-place. Keep the tips below in
mind for each type of emergency.
A chemical emergency can happen
anywhere harmful materials are manufactured, stored or shipped including
chemical plants, highways, railways and storage containers at local swimming
pools. Examples of chemical emergencies could include chlorine, mustard gas,
ricin, sarin gas or arsenic.
In the case of a chemical
emergency, an above-ground shelter-in-place is better because some chemicals are
heavier than air and may seep into basements even if the windows are
If your eyes are watering, your
skin is stinging and you are having trouble breathing, you may have been exposed
to a chemical. If possible, take a shower with warm water and soap, change your
clothes and put what you were wearing in a plastic bag.
Any clothing that needs to be
pulled over the head should be cut off instead.
After a chemical emergency,
open all doors and windows, turn on your heater or air conditioner to ventilate
the house and go outside.
In a radiological emergency,
you may be told to shelter-in-place or leave the area. Examples of radiological
emergencies could include bombs that contain radioactive materials (called a
“dirty bomb”), an explosion at a nuclear plant or of a small nuclear
In the case of a radiological
emergency, the safest place is a centrally-located room or basement.
If you think you have been
exposed to radiation, take a shower with warm water and soap, change your
clothes and put what you were wearing in a plastic bag. Pets should also be
brought inside and washed with warm water and soap.
Only take potassium iodide (KI)
if local officials tell you to do so. KI only protects the thyroid gland and
does not protect from any other radiation exposure. It should only be taken in
an emergency that involves the release of radioactive iodine, such as an
accident at a nuclear power plant or the explosion of a nuclear bomb. A “dirty
bomb” most likely will not contain radioactive iodine.
A biological emergency involves
the release of germs or other substances that can make you sick. Examples of
biological emergencies could include smallpox, salmonella or anthrax.
Many biological agents must be
breathed in or eaten while others can enter through a cut on the skin. Some,
like smallpox, can be spread from person to person while others, such as
If you think you have been
exposed to smallpox, stay away from others and call your county health
department, your local doctor or health clinic immediately.
If you see a package or
envelope that you believe may contain anthrax, do not open it. Leave the area,
close any doors and take actions to prevent others from entering the area.
Immediately wash your hands with soap and water. Call 911 or local law
enforcement for additional instructions.
Things to Keep in Mind During Shelter-In-Place
Most likely you will only need
to shelter-in-place for a few hours.
Choose a room with a hard-wired
telephone in addition to any cellular phones you may have. Cellular telephone
equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
Gather essential disaster
supplies ahead of time including canned food, a hand-operated can opener,
bottled water, battery-powered radios, a first aid kit, flashlights, batteries,
duct tape, plastic sheeting and plastic garbage bags. Remember not to drink
water from the tap as it may make you sick.
Make sure all necessary
medicine is convenient. Ask your doctor about storing prescription
drugs such as heart and high blood pressure medication, insulin and
If your children are at school,
they will be sheltered there. Unless you are told to do so, do not try to get to
the school to bring your children home. Taking them from the school will put
them, and you, at increased risk.
You should not shelter in a
vehicle, as this does not provide enough protection against harmful
Things to Keep in Mind for Those with Special Needs
Make sure you have all the
supplies that a baby or child will need. Remember to include
formula, diapers, bottles, medications and diaper rash ointment.
Seniors and people with
disabilities should include extra eyeglasses, hearing aid and/or wheelchair
batteries, oxygen tanks, or other special equipment in their disaster kits. Also
include a list of style and serial numbers of medical devices such as
pacemakers. Make sure that others know how to operate equipment such as
People with disabilities should
create a support network to help them in an emergency. Make sure
someone knows where your disaster supplies are and can get into your house or
apartment in an emergency.
Tips in the Workplace
In addition to the
instructions above, use the following guidelines in the workplace:
Close the business. Ask
customers, clients or visitors to stay in the building.
If the business has a voicemail
system, change the recording to say that the business is closed and that staff
and visitors are remaining in the building until officials advise it is safe to
Write down the names of
everyone in the room and call your business’ emergency contact to report who is
in the room with you and their relationship with your business (i.e. employee,
client, customer, visitor, etc.).
from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Contra
Costa County, the American Red Cross, and
the U.S. Department of