Sheltering at Home
There are times when staying put is your best option during an emergency. Use available information to assess the situation.
Local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information about what is happening and what you should do. You should watch TV, listen to the radio or check the internet often for official news and instructions, but you may need to act quickly based on the situation in your immediate area.
Sheltering in Place and Sealing the Room
If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to create a barrier between yourself and the air outside – a process known as “sealing the room.”
- Bring your family and pets inside.
- Lock doors and close windows, air vents and fireplace dampers.
- Turn off fans, air conditioning and forced-air heating systems.
- Get your emergency supply kit, unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
- Go into an interior room with few windows if possible.
- Seal all windows, doors and air vents with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Consider measuring, cutting and labeling the sheeting in advance to save time.
- Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand; for example, using towels to seal gaps.
Turning Off Utilities
In an emergency, you may need to turn off the utilities to your home. Learn how and when to turn off the utilities in your home or place of business.
- Contact your utility service providers now to learn how to respond during an emergency. Write this information in your plan.
- If you live in an apartment or condo, contact your landlord or building manager and ask what you should do to prepare for an emergency.
- If you are a property owner, locate your property’s gas, electric and water shutoff valves or panels and label them for easy identification.
- Teach family members how to turn off utilities.
- Keep necessary tools near gas and water shutoff valves.
- If you turn the gas off, a professional should turn it back on. Do not attempt to do this yourself.
If your supply of water runs out, use other sources in your home, such as water heaters, pipes and ice cubes. Do not use water from toilets, radiators, waterbeds or swimming pools.
If you must use water from outside your home, you must treat it before using it for drinking, food preparation or hygiene. There are many ways to treat water, though none is perfect.
Treating Water from Uncertain Sources
Always avoid water with an odor, floating material or a dark color. Treating water will kill germs, but it will not remove heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Before treating, let any particles settle to the bottom, or strain them out through a paper towel, clean cloth or coffee filter.
- Boiling water for one full minute is the safest method of treating water. Let the water cool before drinking.
- You can also use liquid household bleach to kill microorganisms. Use bleach that contains 5.25-6.0% sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color-safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.
- Water treated with bleach should have a slight bleach odor. If it doesn’t, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. If it still does not smell of bleach, discard it and find another source of water because your bleach may have lost its potency.
Portable electric generators provide backup power when there is an outage, but can easily become dangerous when used incorrectly. Before using your generator, carefully read and follow all instructions in the owner’s manual.
- Never use a generator indoors or in an attached garage, because it emits deadly carbon monoxide. Only operate the generator in a dry, well-ventilated outdoor area, away from windows and air intakes to the home.
- Use caution with flammable fuels. Gasoline (and other flammable liquids) should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled non-glass safety containers. Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the generator. Never attempt to refuel a portable generator while it is running.
- Connect appliances directly to your generator, but do not connect your generator directly to your house. The only safe way to connect a generator to your house is to have a licensed electrical contractor install a transfer switch. Without a switch, a generator connected to your home can “backfeed” onto the power lines, causing expensive damage and even killing utility linemen making repairs.
- Do not overload the generator. A portable electric generator should be used only when necessary, and only to power essential equipment.
- Shut the generator down properly. Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down.
- Many generator parts are hot enough to burn you during operation, so use caution and keep children away.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
- Make sure to have a supply of bottled water – one gallon per person per day – stored where it will be as safe as possible from flooding.
- Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer.
- Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0° F and the refrigerator is at or below 40° F.
- Freeze containers of water to create ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers in case the power goes out. If your normal water supply is contaminated or unavailable, the melting ice will also supply drinking water.
- Purchase or make ice cubes in advance and store them in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
- Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
When the Power Goes Out
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. If the door remains closed, the refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours.
- If the door remains closed, a full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
- If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at a safe temperature, it is important that each item be thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to ensure that any food-borne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. Discard the food if at any point it was above 40° F for two hours or more.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.