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Fallout Shelter

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 an emergency.


Print this Fact Sheet and Keep it in Your Wallet or Purse in Case of an Emergency

1. Shelter

    • Go inside your home or the nearest building.
    • Choose an inside room with as few windows or doors as possible.
    • Bring in pets, if possible.

2. Shut

    • 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 closed.
    • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds or curtains.

3. Listen

    • 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 outside.
    • Do not use the telephone unless you have a life-threatening condition to keep lines free for emergency responders.


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.

1. Chemical

    • 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 closed.
    • 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.

2. Radiological

    • 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 device.
    • 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.

3. Biological

    • 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 anthrax, cannot.
    • 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 others.
    • 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 materials.


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 wheelchairs.
    • 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 leave.
    • 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.).


Information adapted from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Contra Costa County, the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


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