Having Shelter in Place

Taking shelter, having a safe place to go and having the time to get there, are often a critical element in protecting yourself and your household in times of disaster. Sheltering can take several forms. Sheltering-in-place is appropriate when conditions require that you take protection in your home, place of employment, or other location where you are when a disaster strikes.

How and where to shelter-in-place depend entirely on the emergency situation. For instance, during a tornado warning you should go to an underground room or a “wind safe” room, if such a room is available. (See “Wind Safe Room.”) During a chemical release, on the other hand, you should take shelter in a room above ground level. Because of these differences, short-term inplace shelter is described in the chapters dealing with specific hazards. See the chapters on “Thunderstorms,” “Tornadoes,” “Hazardous Materials Incidents,” and “Terrorism” for more information on short-term sheltering.

Taking shelter may also be longer term, as when you stay in your home for several days without electricity or water services following a winter storm. “Shelter” also refers to a place where people displaced by a disaster are housed and fed by an organization like the American Red Cross. The following information pertains to long-term, in-place sheltering.

Sometimes, disasters make it unsafe for people to leave their residences for extended periods. Winter storms, floods, and landslides may isolate individual households and make it necessary for each household to take care of its own needs until the disaster abates, such as when snows melt and temperatures rise, or until rescue workers arrive. Your household should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days if cut off from utilities and from outside supplies of food and water. Being prepared for two weeks is safer.

If you are sheltering at home, you should:

  • Stay in your shelter until local authorities say it is safe to leave. The length of your stay can range from a few hours to two weeks.
  • Maintain a 24-hour communications watch. Take turns listening to local radio or television stations. Listen to battery-operated radio or television for local news updates for short periods of time to preserve the batteries


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