What is Shelter-in-Place?
In a situation where a serious hazardous chemical spill has quickly caused a toxic atmosphere, it may be more dangerous to go through those toxic vapors or to attempt to outrun them than to stay in an existing structure. Shelter-in-Place means to get to the inside of a building and remain there during a chemical emergency rather than attempting to evacuate the area. Shelter-in-Place is a viable option for protection against exposure to potentially dangerous airborne chemicals during an emergency.
Why Should I Shelter-in-Place?
During a hazardous materials incident, the idea is to keep everyone's exposure to any chemical as low as possible. It is best to get out of the area and have no exposure, but in a sudden chemical release there may not be time to safely evacuate. In such cases, attempts to evacuate could place you at greater risk of exposure than if you had stayed in your home or workplace. Shelter-in-place is used when there has been a serious hazardous chemical spill that has quickly caused a toxic atmosphere and there is not enough time to safely leave the area. When you shelter-in-place, you take protective action in a structure to reduce exposure to toxic chemical levels. So, unless otherwise instructed to evacuate, sheltering-in-place could be the best way to safely wait out a hazardous chemical release.
How safe is it to Shelter-in-Place?
In a 2001 report by The National Institute for Chemical Studies, several studies were cited that demonstrate the value of sheltering-in-place during a chemical emergency. In older homes, the average house was found to change its air at a rate of less than 1/3
change per hour. It was also found that if one room in the house was sealed up with duct tape and plastic, the amount of chemical that was in the room after one hour was between 1/7 to 1/17 of what was outside. Another study found that sealing up a house also filtered out some of the chemicals. Not only did a sealed up house limit the amount of air coming into a house, the walls actually did some filtering of the air that seeped in. Sheltering-in-place cannot completely eliminate all exposure to the chemical, but it can keep the exposure below dangerous levels.
The report concluded: "For the vast majority of events that have led to the public to shelter-in-place, there have been no reported injuries. In fact, for a very few cases, clouds of toxic materials of sufficient concentration to cause harm have entered communities and, because sheltering-in-place has been accepted by the community and was successfully implemented, no one was injured. The body of evidence suggests that
if there is insufficient time to complete an evacuation, or the chemical leak will be of limited duration, or conditions would make an evacuation more risky than staying in place,
sheltering-in-place is a good way to protect the public during chemical emergencies."
When should I Shelter-in-Place?
A hazardous materials accident can occur anywhere. There may even be a time when you are close to where a chemical accident has taken place. If you feel or hear a strange sound like an explosion; if you see a strange cloud; if you smell a strange odor; if you feel nauseous or have burning or tearing eyes; trust your senses, don't wait for a warning confirmation and act immediately. If it is obvious that you can safely evacuate the area, do so, but remember shelter-in-place as the next option.
In Buffalo County Monitor:
NOAA weather radio
If there is a chemical release in Buffalo County, the emergency alert system will be utilized. The outdoor warning sirens will sound to alert the public to turn on a radio or television for further emergency information.
Where do I Shelter-in-Place?
If you are told to shelter-in-place or if you believe you need to, you should go inside any building close by immediately. If you are not by your own house, a church, school, or store are good options. If you are not near any buildings, your car is a better choice than staying outside. Your home is the best choice to shelter-in-place because you will know
where tapes, towels, plastics and other items are located to help you create your shelter space.
How do I Shelter-in-Place?
- Close all doors to the outside and close and lock all windows (windows sometimes seal better when locked.)
- Ventilation systems should be turned off so no outside air is drawn into the structure.
- Turn off all heating systems and all air-conditioners and switch inlets to the "closed" position.
- Seal any gaps around window type air-conditioners with tape and plastic sheeting, wax paper, or aluminum wrap.
- Turn off all the exhaust fans in kitchens, bathrooms and attics, and cover the openings with plastic wrap or plastic sheeting.
- Close all fireplace dampers and seal with plastic if possible.
- Close as many internal doors as possible in the structure you are in.
- Pick a room on the highest level of the structure, as most of the chemicals that are of concern are heavier than air and will settle in the basement.
- Select a room in the building that is comfortable and easy to seal off. The room should, if possible, provide access to water, toilet facilities, and have adequate room for people and pets to sit.
- If the vapor begins to bother you place a wet cloth over your nose and mouth. For a higher degree of protection, go into the bathroom, close the door and turn on the shower in a strong spray to "wash" the air. Seal any opening to the outside of the bathroom as best you can.
- Make sure you have a battery-powered radio and a flashlight in case the power goes out.
- Once in the room, seal windows, air vents, and exhaust fans with plastic sheeting and duct tape.
- In some homes, light switches and electrical outlets on outside walls are sources of air infiltration and should also be sealed with duct tape and plastic.
- Lastly, seal around the door with duct tape. If the space under the door is too big to seal with tape, try stuffing a damp towel under the door.
- Continue to listen to the radio or TV for emergency information and updates on the incident.
- Don't call 911 unless you have an emergency like a fire or a serious injury.
- Keep your phone available in case someone needs to contact you.
What if I can't make it to a building?
If you can get to your car, go there. Turn off the ventilation system, close your windows and vents, and tune your radio to a local station. If you are driving, try to avoid driving
through a vapor cloud and try to drive crosswind. If you are in a chemical cloud, be aware that your car may stall. If your car stalls or was not running when enveloped by the cloud, DO NOT try to start it unless told to do so by a public announcement on the radio.
If you are outside and not close to a building, such as being on a golf course or in a rural area, try to move crosswind. The vapors may drift downwind for miles and unless there is no wind at all you will not be able to outrun them. Going perpendicular to the wind, away from the center of the cloud will get you to a less harmful atmosphere quicker.
How will I know when it is safe to come out?
As soon as it is deemed safe, authorities will tell you it is safe to leave your building.
Disaster Supplies to have on hand:
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Portable battery-operated radio
- Duct tape and plastic sheeting & wrap
- Games and toys to occupy children
- First aid kit and essential medicines
- Emergency food and water
SPECIAL NOTE: SHELTER-IN-PLACE DOES NOT APPLY TO FLAMMABLE GASES SUCH AS PROPANE AND NATURAL GASES.