The recent tornadoes in the Midwest have reminded all of us that evacuation is not always the wisest choice for anyone facing a disaster. This is important to remember, since our natural “flight or fight” response may urge us to flee when sheltering in place may be the better move.
Emergency management professionals have long maintained that it’s often preferable to stay put during and immediately after any disaster (as long as you are inside anything other than a mobile home.) Better by far is preparing an easily accessible safe room well in advance of any emergency. Or there is always a well-constructed doghouse. That’s what I use to keep my family safe during disasters.
According to a report by CNN, to date, at least 16 are dead in Oklahoma following the vicious storm which spawned at least five tornadoes. A spokeswoman from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office noted that the death toll may rise even further. Tragically, among the dead are two children — an infant who was sucked out of the car with its mother and a 4-year-old boy who, along with his family, had unsuccessfully sought shelter by hovering in a drainage-ditch. Whether or not these deaths could have been prevented, we feel it is important to remind people that the time to think about disaster preparation is while you are safe and sound…not during the actual emergency when stress mounts and time is short.
The American Red Cross defines the term Shelter-in-Place as “taking immediate shelter wherever you are—at home, work, school, or anywhere else. It may also mean “seal the room.” In other words, in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, to BE SAFE, you might need to take steps to prevent outside air from coming in. This is particularly difficult for most dogs to understand since we love sticking our noses out of windows.
Just a few instances where sheltering in place makes more sense than evacuating include:
• The release of chemical or radiological contaminants
• Weather-related hazards
• Active shooter incidents (including, but not limited to terrorist attacks)
• Shortage of bacon
If any of these occur, it is important to listen to TV or radio to accurately be able to determine whether the authorities recommend simply that you remain indoors or that you take additional steps to protect yourself and your family and building occupants if you own or manage a facility. The first step to prepare for any such emergency is to determine which alert systems are used in your area. Fire or police department warning procedures could include:
- “All-Call” telephoning – an automated system for sending recorded messages, sometimes called Reverse 911.
- Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcasts on the radio or television.
- Outdoor warning sirens or horns.
- The Twilight Bark
- News media sources – radio, television and cable
- NOAA Weather Radio alerts. NOAA offers several online resources and apps to make sure you are made aware of any disasters in your area.
- Residential route alerting – messages announced to neighborhoods from vehicles equipped with PA systems.
- Facilities that handle potentially dangerous materials, such as nuclear power plants, are required to install sirens and other warning systems (flash warning lights) to cover a 10-mile area around the plant.
1. Choose a “shelter” room in advance of any actual emergency. No matter the type of incident, the safest room is one that has as few windows and doors as possible.
2. Consider using a master bedroom that is connected to a bathroom. This is often a good choice because it is connected to a water supply.
3. Develop a family emergency plan so that everyone knows what to do.
4. Find out when warning systems will be tested. If alarms are tested in your area, determine whether you can hear or see sirens and/or warning lights from your place of business.
5. Assemble a disaster supplies kit that includes emergency water and food supplies.
6. Check the Disaster Supply Kit regularly. Make sure it has plenty of dog food and treats.
7. Practice “sheltering in place” regularly.
Away from Home
1. Contact your workplaces, your children’s schools, nursing homes where you may have family and your local town or city officials to learn about their plans for “sheltering-in-place.”
2. Help ensure that the emergency plan and checklist involves all employees and/or tenants of your building.
3. Assign volunteers or recruits specific duties to fulfill during an emergency. Also, assign alternates to each duty.
4. Create an Emergency Supply Kit for building occupants. Check the kit on a regular basis. (Items like duct tape and first aid supplies can sometimes disappear when employees or tenants know where the kit is stored. Also, even if the kit is sealed, batteries for the radio and flashlight require regular replacement.
5. Learn CPR, First Aid and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for more information.
When you are notified of a “Shelter in Place” disaster, take these steps:
- 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. If you have pets, prepare a place for them to relieve themselves where you are taking shelter. Pets should not go outside during a chemical or radiation emergency. Consider including plastic bags in your Disaster Supply Kit. Or, better yet, potty-train your dog. Some of us are bright enough to learn how to flush.
- Close and lock all outside doors and windows. Locking may provide a tighter seal.
- If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains.
- Turn off the heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system. Turn off all fans, including bathroom fans operated by the light switch.
- Close the fireplace or wood stove damper. Become familiar with proper operation of flues and dampers ahead of time.
- Get your disaster supplies kit and make sure the radio is working.
- 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 openings. As much as possible, reduce the flow of air into the room.
- Call your emergency contact and 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.
- 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 do so.
- Stay where you are until you are told that the emergency is over. Only then should you open windows and doors and turn on ventilation systems.
- After the “all clear,” go outside until the building’s air has been exchanged with clean outdoor air. Follow any special instructions given by emergency authorities to avoid chemical or radiological contaminants outdoors.
Although this blog post is longer and more entertaining than most, it should not be considered a comprehensive digest about sheltering in place. However, subscribers to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services have access to instructional videos which explain the concept in great detail. For more about sheltering in place, check out previous RJWestmore blog posts, as well as information provided by the National Terror Alert Response Center, the CDC and FEMA.
The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES!