One: Shelter In Place

If you live anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, you know this story: big winter storm knocks the power out, and in the case of a rare snowstorm you have to go a day or two without power or the ability to get around.

For most minor emergencies, like a windstorm, you need to be prepared to hunker down and wait it out on your own for up to 72 hours.

When the Big One Hits, you need to be ready to survive on your own for up to 21 days!

Don’t sweat it. You got this. Let’s start with the basics.

 

“Shelter-in-place” – what is it?

A shelter-in-place order comes from authorities. It means that something has happened, an earthquake, volcanic eruption (remember Mt. St. Helens?), chemical spill, etc… basically it’s safer for you to stay indoors than evacuate or go outside.

Shelter in place doesn’t mean “stay put”. It means stay indoors and go to a pre-determined safe place to wait for instructions. Shelter in Place also isn’t forever, a specific shelter in place order lasts long enough for the immediate danger to pass, then further instructions are issued.

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”. Google “emergency Alerts your_town” to find out how to opt in to your community’s notification system.
  • 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.

What to do if you’re home when an emergency hits.

If the emergency is a short one, or when the Big One hits and your home is safe, have a plan to stay put and wait it out.

If under a specific shelter-in-place order, there are certain things to do to be safe. This is generally given for a shorter time frame where you are supposed to stay in a safe room until instructed otherwise.

If the Big One hits, and your home is inhabitable, then you’ll need to be ready to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and pets for up to 21 days without outside help. Power, water, gas may be down for days if not weeks.

There’s a number of simple, but important things you can to do to prepare and get ready.

Have a family communications plan.

Emergency planners agree: the most important thing you can do is to have a family communications plan. Know how to find your loved ones if they aren’t home, how to let people know you’re ok, how to get emergency information.

Build an emergency kit.

You need supplies – food, water, gear to be able to Survive and Thrive for 72 hours in a minor emergency like a big storm, or when the big one hits for a full 21 days without power, water, sewer, cell phones, or services.

Disaster-Proof your home.

Whether you own or rent, live in a detached house or an apartment, there are many ways to make your home safer in an emergency.

Prepare and practice, practice, practice.

From knowing how to tell if your home is safe, to escape routes, to how to shut off (or turn back on) utilities in an emergency, thinking about how to respond to various emergencies and then practicing this will ensure that you know what to do when a disaster strikes.

Get Insurance.

Flood insurance, earthquake insurance, home or renter’s insurance, these exist to help you with the financial impact of a disaster. When the power goes out, ATM’s and card machines won’t work, so having a financial plan (i.e. cash) for how to get through a disaster is important.

Know Your Neighbors.

Getting to know your neighbors is critical. It’s not only a matter of pooling skills and resources, it’s a matter of if you get cut off or isolated because a road, bridge, or overpass it out, your neighbors are your only backup.

Remember Your Pets

If your family and pets must wait out a storm or other disaster at home, identify a safe area of your home where you can all stay together.

  • Close off or eliminate unsafe nooks and crannies where frightened cats may try to hide.
  • Move dangerous items such as tools or toxic products that have been stored in the area.
  • Bring your pets indoors as soon as local authorities say trouble is on the way. Keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers, and make sure they are wearing identification.
  • If you have a room you can designate as a “safe room,” put your emergency supplies in that room in advance, including your pet’s crate and supplies. Have any medications and a supply of pet food and water inside watertight containers, along with your other emergency supplies. If there is an open fireplace, vent, pet door or similar opening in the house, close it off with plastic sheeting and strong tape.

How to Shelter-in-Place

At Home:

  • Close and lock all windows and exterior doors.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains.
  • Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems.
  • Close the fireplace damper.
  • Get your family disaster supplies kit and make sure the radio is working.
  • Go to an interior room without windows that’s above ground level. In the case of a chemical threat, an above-ground location is preferable because some chemicals are heavier than air, and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed.
  • Bring your pets with you, and be sure to bring additional food and water supplies for them.
  • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room you select. Call your emergency contact and have the phone available if you need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
  • Use duct tape and plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal all cracks around the door and any vents into the room.
  • Keep listening to your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community.
  • Learn how to shut off your water, gas, and/or electric service if necessary.

 

What to do if you’re at work when the emergency hits.

If a shelter-in-place order is given, stay where you are until an all-clear is given by authorities.

Have a family communications plan. Know how to find your loved ones if they aren’t home, how to let people know you’re ok, how to get emergency information.

Build an emergency kit. Have a kit in your car to help you get through the first part of an emergency. Make sure your workplace has a shelter-in-place kit, and if not, try to help build one.

According to OSHA, specific procedures for shelter-in-place at a worksite may include the following:

    • Close the business.
    • If there are customers, clients, or visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay – not leave. When authorities provide directions to shelter-in-place, they want everyone to take those steps immediately. Do not drive or walk outdoors.
    • Have employees and anyone else in the building call their emergency contacts, then turn on answering systems
    • Unless there is an imminent threat, ask employees, customers, clients, and visitors to call their emergency contact to let them know where they are and that they are safe.

Vent; Close or tape-off all vents in the room used for shelter-in-place

Close or tape-off all vents in the room used for shelter-in-place

    • Turn on call-forwarding or alternative telephone answering systems or services. If the business has voice mail or an automated attendant, change the recording to indicate that the business is closed, and that staff and visitors are remaining in the building until authorities advise it is safe to leave.
    • Quickly lock exterior doors and close windows, air vents, and fireplace dampers. Have employees familiar with your building’s mechanical systems turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems, and clothes dryers. Some systems automatically provide for exchange of inside air with outside air. These systems, in particular, need to be turned off, sealed, or disabled.
    • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains.
    • Gather essential disaster supplies, such as nonperishable food, bottled water, battery-powered radios, first-aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, duct tape, plastic sheeting, and plastic garbage bags.
    • Select interior room(s) above the ground floor, with the fewest windows or vents. The room(s) should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit. Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary. Large storage closets, utility rooms, pantries, copy and conference rooms without exterior windows will work well. Avoid selecting a room with mechanical equipment like ventilation blowers or pipes, because this equipment may not be able to be sealed from the outdoors.
    • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room(s) you select. Call emergency contacts and have the phone available if you need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.

Person taping plastic sheeting over a vent to close airflow; Tape plastic sheeting over vents, windows, and doors to prevent contaminated air from entering the room

  • Tape plastic sheeting over vents, windows, and doors to prevent contaminated air from entering the room
  • Take your emergency supplies and go into the room you have designated. Seal all windows, doors, and vents with plastic sheeting and duct tape or anything else you have on hand.
  • Consider precutting plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal windows, doors, and air vents. Each piece should be several inches larger than the space you want to cover so that it lies flat against the wall. Label each piece with the location of where it fits. [See image at right]
  • Write down the names of everyone in the room, and call your business’ designated emergency contact to report who is in the room with you, and their affiliation with your business (employee, visitor, client, customer).
  • Listen to the radio, watch television, or use the Internet for further instructions until you are told all is safe or to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community.
  • Help ensure that the emergency plan and checklist involves all employees. Volunteers or recruits should be assigned specific duties during an emergency. Alternates should be assigned to each duty.
  • The shelter kit should be checked on a regular basis. Duct tape and first aid supplies can sometimes disappear when all employees know where the shelter kit is stored. Batteries for the radio and flashlight should be replaced regularly.

 

What to do if you’re at school when the emergency hits.

If a shelter-in-place order is given, stay where you are until an all-clear is given by authorities.

Have a family communications plan. Know how to find your loved ones if they aren’t home, how to let people know you’re ok, how to get emergency information.

You can help your students and their families build communications plans with tips, tricks, and tools here. 

Build an emergency kit. Have a kit in your car to help you get through the first part of an emergency. Make sure your school has a shelter-in-place kit, and if not, try to help build one.

At School:

  • Close the school.
  • Activate the school’s emergency plan.
  • Follow reverse evacuation procedures to bring students, faculty, and staff indoors.
  • If there are visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay – not leave. When authorities provide directions to shelter-in-place, they want everyone to take those steps now, where they are, and not drive or walk outdoors.
  • Provide for answering telephone inquiries from concerned parents by having at least one telephone with the school’s listed telephone number available in the room selected to provide shelter for the school secretary, or person designated to answer these calls. This room should also be sealed.
  • There should be a way to communicate among all rooms where people are sheltering-in-place in the school.
  • Ideally, provide for a way to make announcements over the school-wide public address system from the room where the top school official takes shelter.
  • If children have cell phones, allow them to use them to call a parent or guardian to let them know that they have been asked to remain in school until further notice, and that they are safe.
  • If the school has voice mail or an automated attendant, change the recording to indicate that the school is closed, students and staff are remaining in the building until authorities advise that it is safe to leave.
  • Provide directions to close and lock all windows, exterior doors, and any other openings to the outside.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, direct that window shades, blinds, or curtains be closed.
  • Have employees familiar with your building’s mechanical systems turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems. Some systems automatically provide for exchange of inside air with outside air – these systems, in particular, need to be turned off, sealed, or disabled.
  • Gather essential disaster supplies, such as nonperishable food, bottled water, battery-powered radios, first aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, duct tape, plastic sheeting, and plastic garbage bags.
  • Select interior room(s) above the ground floor, with the fewest windows or vents. The room(s) should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit in.
  • Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary.
  • Classrooms may be used if there are no windows or the windows are sealed and can not be opened. Large storage closets, utility rooms, meeting rooms, and even a gymnasium without exterior windows will also work well.
  • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room(s) you select. Call emergency contacts and have the phone available if you need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
  • Bring everyone into the room. Shut and lock the door.
  • Use duct tape and plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal all cracks around the door(s) and any vents into the room.
  • Write down the names of everyone in the room, and call your schools’ designated emergency contact to report who is in the room with you.
  • Listen for an official announcement from school officials via the public address system, and stay where you are until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community.

 

You’re on vacation when the emergency hits

If the emergency is a short one, or your lodgings are safe, but the roads are out, have a plan to stay put and wait it out. There’s a number of things you can to do to prepare and get ready.

Have a family communications plan. Know how to find your loved ones if they aren’t home, how to let people know you’re ok, how to get emergency information.

Make sure your emergency contact knows where you are and your travel itinerary.

Build an emergency kit. At a minimum have a full car kit stocked for a road trip, or take your Go Bag as a piece of luggage.

Know Before You Go. If you travel within the Pacific Northwest, especially if you are visiting the coast, taking a few moments to know before you go will make sure you have a great vacation, and if there’s an emergency, or the Big One hits, you’ll be prepared.

Coastal communities will have tsunami evacuation signs posted; taking a moment to note your evacuation route is a really good idea. If you plan on going for a walk along the beach, or a hike in the mountains, knowing the trail, and letting someone know where you’re going (even with a post on social media) is a smart move.

 

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NEXT: TWO – EVACUATE