Disasters can strike anywhere and at any time. All over the world, we are witnessing natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes. Sadly, we are also experiencing more terrorist attacks and active shooter situations. There are so many reasons we must always stay prepared.
Sometimes a disaster will require you to evacuate to a safer location. Other times you will need to find or make shelter right where you are, or sheltering in place. Letâ€™s look more closely at what this means and what you need to know.
What does it mean to shelter in place?
If you are at home, at school, at work, on public transit or anywhere else when disaster strikes, you need to act quickly to ensure your safety. People around you might suggest it is safest to shelter in place. You might not be familiar with what this phrase means.
To shelter in place means to stay where you are and take immediate shelter. The purpose of this is to ensure your safety and the safety of everyone around you. Depending on your location, sheltering in place might mean locking yourself in a classroom or office, taking cover behind a wall or door, or ducking under a table or desk.
When should you shelter in place?
The decision to shelter in place is usually made by your local officials, such as fire departments, police departments or government agencies. Depending on your location, these officials may alert you in different ways, and it is essential to become familiar with the warning signals in your area.
But what if you are not in an area where your local officials can reach you? Perhaps you are camping in the woods, driving on a remote stretch of highway or on a business trip in a country where you donâ€™t speak the language. Choosing to shelter in place depends on the hazard that is present.
Familiarizing yourself with different types of hazards and disasters can help prepare you to make the most informed decision. Once you are informed and prepared, you can consider the nature of the disaster and the immediate hazards and decide if it is best to shelter in place.
How do you prepare to shelter in place?
The importance of being prepared to shelter in place cannot be overstated. If you are preparing at home, involve everyone in your household in the planning and preparation. The experts recommend practicing drills or simulations so that everyone will know what to do when a real emergency strikes.
Five tips for preparing to shelter in place:
- Know your local warning system: How will you be alerted if you need to shelter in place? Some locations will ring an alarm or a siren. Others will broadcast on the television and radio. First responders might even go door-to-door alerting residents to shelter in place. Contact your local agencies to find out how they will reach you in the event of a disaster.
- Have a plan and practice it: Make a plan that includes a map marking important locations, such as your safe room for sheltering in place, as well as emergency exits and evacuation routes for when you get the all-clear. Decide how you will communicate and where to find each other if you are separated during a disaster. Practice this plan with your family at home and with coworkers at the office to make sure everyone is prepared.
- Keep a well-stocked emergency kit at home, at work and in your car: You could be anywhere when disaster strikes, and you may need to shelter in place. Having a well-stocked emergency kit means you wonâ€™t go hungry, thirsty or unmedicated while you are waiting for the all-clear.
- Expect to be off the grid, at least for a little while: Phone lines might be down, the power might be out and the water might not be potable. Hand-crank radios, solar lanterns, portable charging devices and lots of water are all must-haves when disaster strikes.
- Know how to shut it down: During a disaster, gas and water pipes can burst, and power lines can sever. To prevent leaks, flooding or open electrical current, you might need to turn off gas mains, water mains and cooling, heating and ventilation systems. Know ahead of time how to shut these off and what tools you will need â€” and keep a set of tools in your safe room or emergency kit.
Eight items to include in your emergency kit:
It is possible that after a disaster, you might be required to shelter in place for a few days. You need to be prepared with water, food and other supplies that will last you and your family at least 72 hours. A well-stocked emergency kit is a crucial element of your preparedness planning. You might even depend on this emergency kit to save your life or the life of a loved one.
What you stock in your emergency kit depends on many different factors and your unique needs. However, there are eight items that every emergency kit should have.
- Water: The general rule of thumb is to include at least one gallon of water per person, per day for at least three days. For a family of three, that would be three gallons of water per day for three days, or nine gallons total.
- Food: Have enough non-perishable food to last your family for three days. You may not be able to cook, so make sure that whatever you have is easy to prepare. Check the expiration dates regularly and replace what gets old. Remember to pack a manual can opener with your food.
- Radio: Always have a radio in your emergency kit, as this is the most reliable way to receive emergency updates. Hand-crank radios and NOAA weather radios are best. If you use a battery-powered radio, be sure you have a large stash of the correct batteries. Check the batteries often to make sure they havenâ€™t expired.
- Flashlight: Pack at least one flashlight for each person in your family and one extra. Just as with the radio, make sure you have plenty of extra batteries of the correct size, and check the dates on the batteries to ensure they are fresh.
- First aid kit: Your first aid kit should include not only the basics but also any medications your family members require and copies of all prescriptions.
- Sanitary products: Hand sanitizer, feminine hygiene products, baby diapers if you have an infant, moist towelettes or baby wipes, garbage bags and paper towels will come in handy while trying to keep yourself clean.
- Basic tools: Have your manual tools â€” not electric or battery powered â€” ready so you can turn off your utilities like gas and water and fix small problems as they arise. Include an everyday carry or survival knife to help with first aid, eating and food preparation, prying open a door or any other emergency.
- Something fun: Have some board games, cards, books, crossword puzzles or whatever will keep you entertained while you wait for the all-clear.
The best preparations for the worstcase scenario
Disasters are scary, but you can be prepared. By learning what you need to know about sheltering in place, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones in case the unthinkable occurs.