Sheltering in Place

Rainy days. Snowy days. Sunny days—as a child, every day was a good day to build a fort. Whether it was a blanket, box, or bush, forts were pretty much the best things ever. You would drag every toy, coloring book, and snack you had into your special citadel. Dangerous stuffed animal dragons, poisonous pillow rocks, and ferocious (teddy) bears were just a few of the deadly obstacles to overcome. Yet, under the cover of a paper-thin sheet, you felt safe, secure, and protected—for you had built an impenetrable, magical fortress.

Unfortunately, naivety is lost a little at a time as we grow to understand the meaning of pain, the reality that we’re not invincible, and that it takes more than a patterned bed sheet to keep us safe. This is especially true of emergency situations and events that require us to build a more “adult” fort and shelter in place.

Sheltering in place means that leaving is too dangerous; therefore, you must make a shelter out of the place you are already in. Typically, this is inside your home, workplace, or public building. Choose a room with the fewest windows, outside walls, and doors, with a large water source (if possible). In the home, this is usually a master bedroom with a connected bathroom; however, it’s important to evaluate the natural disaster or emergency at hand and proceed accordingly.

According to the CDC, most chemical events require you to move to the highest point in the structure, but nuclear or radiological disasters call for you to be lower in the home. Tornados will require you to stay away from windows and move toward the lowest level of the home, while a flood will demand you move toward the top of the building. In either instance, stay away from windows. Learn more about how to shelter in place during various natural disasters or terrorist/manmade hazards and utilize the instructions provided by FEMA.

In any disaster, having the right emergency supplies is crucial. Have the following on hand:

  • Clean water
  • Survival foods
  • A first aid kit
  • Batteries
  • Flashlights
  • Radio
  • Heat source

These items are all typically contained in a 72-hour kit or bug-out bag. In addition to having these items, have a shelter in place plan. Know where to go, what to do, and who to contact when it becomes safe again.

However, in situations that occur fast and unexpectedly, such as the recent Boston Marathon tragedy, it’s best to cover your head and face and use any structure as a temporary shield. It’s important to avoid cars or things that could catch fire/explode easily. If you’re not indoors and do not have a particular place to retreat to with emergency supplies, take cover where you are and try to make your way indoors if possible.

The most critical thing to remember in any emergency is to use common sense and logic to get out of harm’s way—the more disaster awareness and emergency preparedness you exercise beforehand, the better off you and your loved ones will be.

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