Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 15: “Sheltering in place: What you need to know about staying put during an emergency”

Interview with Darryl J. Madden, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready Campaign on sheltering in place. Listen to this podcast

There has been a lot of talk in the media about sheltering in place. What does sheltering in place mean?

Well, basically what sheltering in place means is finding a very safe place to basically be in stable environment while a particular emergency or an event takes place. There are a variety of places that you can obviously shelter in place. You may be in transit from work to maybe at school, so there are a variety of different places where you may ultimately shelter in place. But what we want people to know about is...make sure that they are in tuned to what the shelter in place requirements are at their work, if they have school-age children, they certainly ask what the shelter in place requirements are going to be, in the event that something would actually have them to activate their emergency action plan. Certainly, what we would encourage people to do, at home, is to make sure that they have three days of supply of food and water, for each individual as well as for their pets.

What kinds of emergencies would require us to shelter in place?

There are a variety of emergencies that may require people (to shelter in place). The first ones that normally comes to mind would be events of chemical, biological or radiological events. Normally, people are instructed by emergency managers to get to a very safe place. But there are those things that don’t necessarily rise to that level of an emergency. For example, they could be at a police event, a hostage situation. One of the things that we are looking at right now is weather events that are happening in some of the southern states that require people to basically shelter in place and shelter at their homes. So there is a wide range of events that emergency managers may actually instruct individuals to stay home. The main reason for that is that we want people to stay in a safe environment and a very stable environment. In most chances, that is either going to be a home, a place of work or school.

How will we find out that we are being told to shelter in place?

Normally that’s going to come from the local management, local emergency management. They usually will make those types of decisions because they are the ones that are closest to the event and they have the most up-to-date information. So normally, that call would come from the local emergency managers, or local law enforcement or fire.

What if you are in your car or in a vehicle?

If you are in your car, they are a variety of things. A lot of that depends on where you are. If you are, obviously, close to home, we...encourage you to return home. If you are at a place where you are familiar with, such as work or something of that nature, we encourage you to go back to familiar surroundings. But if you are not, one of the things we encourage people to do is to try to find a public building. If you cannot find a public building, normally the best place to go is to some type of a retail store.

What if your children are at school?

Well, one of the things we obviously would like to be able to do is to be prepared. Information is power. So the first thing we would say now is that, prior to an emergency, we would ask individuals to go to their schools and official there and ask them what is their emergency plan, what is their shelter in place plan. It doesn’t necessarily just have to be for shelter in place. It also could be for evacuations or any type of emergency that may happen. You want to know what the plan is, where your children are going to be, and obviously that changes depending upon the age of the children. Now, one of the things we also instruct to schools is that if they engage in shelter in place plan, that they certainly allow children to communicate either via cell phone or through e-mail, if it’s possible, to certainly get messages out to loved ones to let them know that they are safe. Because obviously the first thing that people may want to do is to try to get to the school, thereby putting themselves in jeopardy. So the one thing that we want people to do is to make sure that they utilize whatever communication method may be best suited to them, given that particular environment, but certainly to communicate, to let them know that they are safe and that in turn their loved ones’ to shelter in place as well.

Let’s assume that you are at home when the instruction comes to shelter in place. You mentioned you should have a three-day supply of water and food. Can you go into that a little bit? What kinds of food should we stockpile?

Well certainly non-perishable items would be the first thing. But more importantly than food is water. So if in the event that you have not stored water, and...the one thing that we encourage people to do is that. Everybody has plastic containers that they putting into recycling. When you finish using the initial product, clean them out, fill them with water and store them someplace. You figure three days of water for each person including pets, that can have a tendency to add up a little bit. But what you can do is...prepare for that now, and as you have these containers, fill them up with water and store them in a safe, dry place.

What about pets? How would you air them if you are sheltering in place?

It depends on the nature of the emergency. If it is an event where it doesn’t involve any contamination of the air, certainly, go outside and air your pet. But in the event that it’s something where there maybe a danger to you or your pet, obviously, it’s better to remain indoors.

What type of room in your home or apartment would be best for sheltering in place?

Sheltering in place depends on the nature of the event. If it’s some type of chemical event, obviously, the interior of the house is always best. But if it’s a chemical event, you want to not necessarily be in the basement because sometimes the contaminants can come through the ground as well. So normally, the best room in the house would be determined by the emergency manager, but generally it’s a room within the center of the dwelling that does not have a window.

Would we be advised to stockpile duct tape as well to seal cracks around the door?

That is certainly an option, and another thing that I would also bring to your attention is that...people often forget to turn off their air handler and their air conditioning or heating system. So once again, that uses outside air that is brought into the dwelling. If this type of emergency is called, you want to make sure that you turn that off as well.

Should we also be prepared to evacuate at some point?

Certainly. The one good thing about having emergency stores on hand is that you can take those with you and they would help you on the road as well. Whether you are in a process of sheltering in place or if the call comes later to evacuate, and you also have to remember, sometimes you may shelter in place first and then there may be phased evacuation. So...if you have the supplies on hand, you are much better ahead of the game.

What would be some common mistakes that people would make when it comes to sheltering in place?

Well, the key here is always to stay informed. The second thing would be to...make sure that you are prepared for the event. One of the things that I encourage people to get is one of the battery-operated...crank-operated radio that is also a flashlight. The one that I have is also a cell phone charger because, once again, depending upon the nature of the emergency, you may not be able to have access to electricity. So that one device can take you pretty far. So, once again, the key is being prepared for the event. So I encourage people to go to There is plenty of material there that would help people prepare for these types of circumstances. And then in addition to that, you really want to listen to what the local emergency managers are telling you. They are very well informed. They are getting information from a variety of different sources and, believe me, they have the citizens’ best interest at heart. You know, don’t take it upon yourself. The best thing to do is to listen to what emergency managers are saying, and make sure. The first priority is the safety of yourself and those that you love dear.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Once again...the time to prepare is now.

Interview conducted January 2010 by Teddi Dineley Johnson, The Nation’s Health, APHA

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