Vital Info for Sheltering in Place During Chemical Emergencies
There are times when it is better to stay put rather than evacuate during a haz-mat or chemical emergency. However, it’s important to follow some basic guidelines in order to minimize risks of exposure. These are logical steps that are pretty straightforward, but remember that each chemical incident is situation-specific, and you may need to make variations with respect to how you respond.
Get Inside and Seal the Building
The most important thing that you can do is to get out of harms way. Get inside, close windows and doors and shut off air conditioning or heating systems and turn off fans. You want to minimize the movement of air while also preventing chemicals from entering the building. Keep in mind that you may only have seconds to react, so be familiar with your surroundings and take action in order to create an environment that is as sealed as possible.
Lock all windows and doors. This is not only for your safety, but locking will also help to minimize the amount of outside air that gets into the building.
If you have time, tape up windows with plastic, seal gaps, cracks and crevices with any material that is available and fill your bathtub and sinks with water. You can use them normally, but make sure to plug them and keep them full afterward in order to prevent vapors from entering the building through the plumbing system. Avoid drinking tap water at all costs until you know that it is safe to do so.
Grab Water and Supplies
Gather at least one gallon of water per person, some food, a first aid kit, radio, flashlight, extra batteries, phones, duct tape and some garbage bags. If you run out of water, you can drink from the toilet tank as it will be untainted by the chemical, but do so only before it is flushed the first time after the alert is issued. Hopefully, you will already have these items ready in your home, vehicle or bug-out-bag.
Get as High as Possible
Many chemicals form clouds of fog that hang low to the ground. The best place to be in this type of situation is on a high floor. It is also generally accepted that the concentration of dangerous gases and vapors dissipates once they enter the atmosphere. Air also tends to move faster a couple of stories above ground than at ground level. Consequently, even if you are exposed to chemicals, chances are that they will be more diluted and less dangerous. Head upstairs unless you are told otherwise.
Keep in mind that sheltering in place is ordered when it is safer to stay put than going outside. Pay attention to this type of alert and don’t take unnecessary chances. Don’t go home, don’t pick your kids up from school and don’t wander outside until the all-clear is given.
Chances are that you will have minimal time to react to a chemical emergency since they generally occur with little or no warning. Being prepared in advance will place you at a distinct advantage in terms of having what you need on hand so that you can focus on getting to safety instead of scrambling to gather items.
Try to become familiar with potential threats in your area as well as how to respond to emergency spills. One great way to assess potential threats from factories, plants or other sources of contamination is to contact your local fire department or emergency response agency. They will know what threats exist as well as what needs to be done to minimize the effects of exposure. You can take this information and incorporate it into your own preparedness efforts.
Chemical emergencies are some of the most dangerous threats that communities face. The more that you can do now to be ready will pay big dividends later, especially in a shelter in place scenario.