Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shelter In Place

A couple of weeks ago we discussed hurricane preparedness and briefly touched on sheltering in place. Obviously, if you’re in a structure that is vulnerable to high winds, such as a mobile home or travel trailer, or if your home is in a storm surge or flood prone area, it is always going to be advisable to evacuate when a hurricane threatens.

Even if you feel your structure is sound, if your local authorities recommend evacuating you should heed the advice and seek shelter outside the path of the hurricane. When an evacuation is called for, it is not just for your safety but also for the safety of the emergency services in your area. In a situation where the evacuation order is given, police, fire, and medical services will not be able to help you during an emergency if you refuse to evacuate. If you remain during an evacuation, you are well and truly on your own. Always evacuate when the order is given. The best way to avoid a disaster is to not be there when it happens.

If you do make the decision to shelter in place and ride out the storm, you will need to be adequately prepared. This preparation is even more important when a sudden emergency happens and there is no time to evacuate. When sheltering in place, it helps to have a “bug-in-bag” with all of the supplies you will need to endure a hurricane, tornado, or other disaster. Prior to the need to shelter in place, make a checklist to help ensure that no supplies are forgotten and that all necessary actions are taken.

When the time comes, you will need to move to a safe room that you have previously identified (generally a room near the center of the structure on the ground floor). Grab your Shelter In Place Kit or bug-in-bag,personalized first aid kit (including prescription medications), a radio and cell phone, as well as your Bug Out Bag in case you are later forced to evacuate (you do have a bug out bag, don’t you?).

What supplies do you need in your shelter in place kit? The basics should start a 5 gallon bucket, which can be found at most hardware or feed stores. This bucket can be used to carry all of the contents of your shelter in place kit. It also doubles as an emergency toilet. Inside the bucket you should keep duct tape, plastic sheeting and heavy duty garbage bags, MREs, energy bars, or canned food and a can opener, respirator or gas masks, moistened wipes and hand sanitizer gel, radio and flashlight along with spare batteries, scissors and a utility knife or multi-tool, a deck of a cards or some form of entertainment (especially important if you have children), ziploc bag of chlorinated lime (calcium hypochlorite), and (if your local laws allow) a self defense weapon. You should also have bottled water prepositioned in your safe room, as it would be impractical to store this in your bucket. Plan on having a little more than one gallon of water per person, at a minimum. Post-Katrina, many individuals have added hand axes or hatchets to their shelter in place kit so that they may be able to chop through the ceiling and roof of their shelter to escape rising floodwaters inside their home.

But, you say, what is all of this equipment for? The radio, food, water, flashlight, and self defense are all pretty self explanatory; but why the duct tape, plastic sheeting, and other items? If you are sheltering in place, it’s highly likely that you won’t have access to running water. Since conditions are unsafe outdoors, you will need some way to handle human waste. That’s where the bucket and the chlorinated lime come into play. You can use the bucket as a makeshift toilet, but there is the problem of foul odors. Sprinkling in a small scoop of lime (about one Tablespoon) after each use helps tame the smell. Next, let’s focus on the duct tape and plastic sheeting. Duct tape has many uses, but for our purposes here, we’re concerned about sealing off doors and windows; not from a hurricane, but in the case of a toxic chemical spill or other disaster that results in airborne contaminants (smoke, poisonous gas, or dangerous airborne biological hazards).

In the case of an airborne contaminant emergency, you will need to seal off doors, windows, and air vents using the plastic sheeting and duct tape. Be aware that with doors and windows sealed up that the oxygen level in your safe room may only last 8 hours before CO2 levels begin to become toxic. Any sign of headache, sleepiness or disorientation may indicate that CO2 levels have become unsafe, and you will need to find a way to get fresh air.

When putting together a first aid kit to keep in your shelter in place supplies, don’t neglect any special needs of individuals in your household. For diabetics, it may be necessary to include glucose tabs or even a cooler that you can fill with ice to keep insulin cold. Asthma sufferers may need rescue inhalers, and elderly family members may have other needs as well.

Plan ahead so that your shelter in place kit and your first aid kit both have enough of the proper supplies. Make a checklist of actions that need to be taken and items that need to be grabbed in an emergency. Stress makes it hard to focus in the face of an emergency, but by planning ahead and having a written checklist and course of action, you will be ready when disaster strikes.

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