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How To Shelter in Place During Chemical Emergencies


Updated January 24, 2014

You may wonder what to do if there's a terrorist attack involving chemicals, but a chemical emergency is more likely to involve a simple accident. Either way, authorities are likely going to tell you to "shelter in place" until the chemical dissipates. It's a good bet you won't have to stay sheltered in place for very long, but planning ahead is still a really good idea. These tips are from the CDC.

Difficulty: N/A

Time Required: An hour to prepare. Less than 10 minutes to shelter

Here's How:

  1. Pick a room large enough for everyone in the house. Ten square feet of floor space (5 feet by 2 feet) per person will provide enough fresh air for up to five hours. Go upstairs to stay away from heavier chemical gases. It would be a good idea to choose a room with running water -- like a master bedroom with an attached bathroom. Try to think about guests. If your children have friends visiting, choose a room large enough for everyone. Try to use a room with a telephone jack and keep a phone that doesn't need a separate power cord to work. Ideally, picking the room should be done before an emergency occurs.


  2. Cut plastic sheets large enough to cover each door and window in the room with at least 3 inches of extra space on all four sides of each opening. Again, it's best if you do this step before the emergency occurs.


  3. If advised by authorities to do so, put everyone in the house into the room, and don't forget the pets. If there's time, close and lock all doors and windows, turn off the air conditioner or heater, turn off all fans and close the fireplace damper.


  4. Close and lock the door (locking helps make a better seal).


  5. Turn on the radio. Keep the phone nearby, but only use it for emergencies.


  6. Cover the doors and windows with the pre-cut plastic sheets. Tape the sheets into place using duct tape. Use enough duct tape to seal the edges as airtight as possible.


  7. Cover electrical outlets and air conditioning or heater vents with duct tape.


  8. Stay sheltered-in-place until advised by authorities that it's clear to come out. Authorities are unlikely to keep you sheltered-in-place for more than two or three hours for a chemical emergency. When you get the all-clear to come out, listen for additional instructions from authorities.



  1. Store the tape, plastic and scissors in the room where you plan to shelter-in-place. Buy a battery- or dynamo-powered radio for the room. It would also be a good idea to store some bottled water in there as well.


  2. If you need to drink water while sheltered-in-place, drink bottled water rather than tap. However, you can use toilets and sinks normally.


  3. If you aren't home when the order to shelter in place comes, listen to the radio for instructions on where to go or what to do.


  4. If the kids are at school during a chemical emergency, leave them there. School officials should have a plan to take care of the kids. It would be a good idea to ask school officials ahead of time for their emergency plan so you know your kids are safe.


What You Need:

  • Roll of duct tape 10 millimeters thick
  • Scissors
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Radio
  • Corded telephone (recommended)
  • Bottled water (recommended)
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