How to shelter in place at home

homesteading duct tape

Why would I need to shelter in place? You would need to shelter in place in the event of a chemical accident or terrorist attack. Some chemical accidents may include chemical  biological or hazardous materials spills or leaks, terrorist attacks could be anything from a dirty bomb to the releasing of a hazardous chemical into your town.

Choose your room in advance, the best rooms are ones with as few doors and windows as possible, having its own water supply is a huge plus, the master bedroom would be idea if it will work for your family.


Get in touch with your local town or city officials and find out what their “shelter-in-place” plans are, also contact your children’s schools and your work place to find out what their policy is.

Find out when warning systems will be tested. When tested in your area, determine whether you can hear or see sirens and/or warning lights from your home.

Develop your own family emergency plan so that every family member knows what to do. Practice it regularly.

Assemble an emergency supplies kit that includes emergency water and food supplies.

How will I know when I need to “shelter-in-place”?

Fire or police department warning procedures could include:

  • “All-Call” telephoning – an automated system for sending recorded messages, sometimes called “reverse 9-1-1”.
  • Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcasts on the radio or television.
  • Outdoor warning sirens or horns.
  • News media sources – radio, television and cable.
  • NOAA Weather Radio alerts.
  • Residential route alerting – messages announced to neighborhoods from vehicles equipped with public address systems.

Facilities that handle potentially dangerous materials, like nuclear power plants, are required to install sirens and other warning systems (flash warning lights) to cover a 10-mile area around the plant.

The appropriate steps depend on the emergency situation. If you hear a warning signal, listen to local radio or television stations for further information. You will be told what to do, including where to find the nearest shelter if you are away from your “shelter-in-place” location.

 If you are told to “shelter-in-place,” act quickly. Follow the instructions of local authorities.

In general:

  1. Bring children and pets indoors immediately. If your children are at school, do not try to bring them home unless told to. The school will shelter them.
  2. Close and lock all outside doors and windows. Locking may provide a tighter seal.
  3. If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains.
  4. Turn off the heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system. Turn off all fans, including bathroom fans operated by the light switch.
  5. Close the fireplace or woodstove damper. Become familiar with proper operation of flues and dampers ahead of time.
  6. Get your disaster supplies kit, and make sure the radio is working.
  7. Take everyone, including pets, into an interior room with no or few windows and shut the door.

To do during a shelter in place emergency:

  1. If you have pets, prepare a place for them to go to the bathroom where you are taking shelter. Pets should not go outside during a chemical or radiation emergency because it is harmful to them and they may track contaminants into your shelter. Be sure to have a way to deal with your pets bathroom needs in order to keep the shelter safe for you and your family.
  2. If you are instructed to seal the room, use duct tape and plastic sheeting, such as heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, to seal all cracks around the door into the room. Tape plastic over any windows. Tape over any vents and seal electrical outlets and other opening.
  3. Keep the phone handy in case you need to report a life-threatening condition. Otherwise stay off the phone, so that the lines will be available for use by emergency responders.
  4. Keep listening to your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Do not evacuate unless instructed to!
  5. When you are told that the emergency is over, open windows and doors, turn on heat or air conditioning, and go outside until the building’s air has been exchanged with the now clean outdoor air. Follow any special instructions given by emergency authorities to avoid chemical or radiological contaminants outdoors.

 Additional Supplies for Sheltering-in-Place

In the unlikely event that chemical or radiological hazards cause officials to advise people in a specific area to “shelter-in-place” in a sealed room, households should have in the room they have selected for this purpose:

  • A roll of duct tape and scissors
  • Plastic sheeting pre-cut to fit shelter-in-place room openings

Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide buildup for up to five hours to extend this time bring in to your shelter room any house plants. Local officials are unlikely to recommend the public shelter in a sealed room for more than two or three hours because the effectiveness of such sheltering diminishes with time. The contaminated outside air gradually seeps into the shelter. Make sure all family members know what to do in an emergency whether they are at home, school, work, or outdoors.


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