Preparing To Shelter In Place
During A Radiation Emergency
Modified from an original Mecklenburg County
ARES training article
When we think about and prepare for emergency situations that might confront our own families and our communities, we may not immediately recognize and appreciate the very real and potential hazard presented by incidents involving radiation. Tonight’s preparedness topic will address the question: Have you prepared to shelter in place during a radiation emergency?
“The terrorist events of 2001 made many people wonder about the possibility of a terrorist attack involving radioactive materials. People who live near but not in the immediate area of the attack may be asked to stay home and take shelter rather than try to evacuate. This action is called “sheltering in place.” Because many radioactive materials rapidly decay and dissipate, staying in your home for a short time may protect you from exposure to radiation. The walls of your home may block much of the harmful radiation. Taking a few simple precautions can help you reduce your exposure to radiation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prepared this fact sheet to help you protect yourself and your family and to help you prepare a safe and well-stocked shelter.
Preparing a Shelter in Your Home
The safest place in your home during an emergency involving radioactive materials is a centrally located room on the lowest floor or in the basement. This area should have as few windows as possible. The further your shelter is from windows, the safer you will be. Preparation is the key as time will be of the essence. Store emergency supplies in this area. An emergency could happen at any time so it is best to stock supplies in advance and have everything that you need stored in the shelter.
Every 6 months, check the supplies in your shelter. Replace any expired medications, food or batteries. Also, replace the water in your shelter every 6 months to keep it fresh.
While the article from which this was taken recommends one gallon per person per day for three days, running out of water would not be a pleasant experience. I believe that you need two gallons per person per day for drinking, cooking and hygiene and that you should plan on a week…water is cheap unless you run out.
Make sure that all family members know where the shelter is and what it is for. Caution them not to take any items from that area. If someone “borrows” items from your shelter, you may find that important items are missing when they are most needed.
If you have pets, prepare a place for them to relieve themselves in the shelter. Pets should not go outside during a radiation emergency because they may track radioactive materials from fallout into the shelter. Preparing a place for pets will keep the radioactive materials from getting inside the shelter. The same is true for you and your family. Give this some thought, teens will be especially persnickity about this necessary biological function and they need to be up to speed before there is an incident.
Preparing Emergency Supplies
Stock up on supplies just as you would in case of severe weather conditions or other emergencies. Following is a list of things to consider when preparing your emergency kit.
- Food with a long shelf life: Examples of this include canned, dried, and packaged food products. Store enough food for each member of the household for at least 3 days. This is a great time to splurge on some of those fancy meals-ready-to-eat. No muss, no fuss, no cooking (self-contained heater), no cleanup chow that will satisfy. Rotate out every ten years if you feel you must.
- Water: In preparation for an emergency, purchase and store bottled water or simply store water from the tap. Each person in the household will need about 1 gallon per day; plan on storing enough water for at least 3 days. (I disagree. That’s adequate for drinking but insufficient for cooking and personal hygiene. I’d double that amount. I’d also store flavored electrolytes.)
- A change of clothes and shoes: Check clothing every 6 months and remove clothes that no longer fit or are unsuitable for seasonal weather. Remember to include underwear, socks, sturdy shoes or work boots and winter or summer clothes as needed. It may get very warm or very cold in that room if the power is out.
- Paper plates, paper towels, and plastic utensils: Store disposable dishware and utensils because you will not have enough water to wash dishes and because community water sources may be contaminated.
- Plastic bags: Because you may not be able to leave your shelter for several days, you will need to collect your waste in plastic bags until it can be removed.
- Bedding: Store sheets, blankets, towels, and cots for use during the time that you cannot leave your shelter. Air mattresses and sleeping bags are a good alternative.
- Battery operated radio and batteries: Electrical power may not be on for several days. A battery-operated radio will allow you to listen to emergency messages.
- Medicines: Have 2-3 days dose of your current prescription medicines in a childproof bottle for your shelter medical kit; label with the name and expiration date of the medicine. (Discuss with your doctor the best way to obtain this small amount of extra medicine). Be sure to rotate medicines out of your kit every 6 months to ensure they are not past the expiration date.
- Toiletries: Keep a supply of waterless soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, deodorant, disinfectants, air freshener, washcloths, plastic bags, etc.
- Flashlights (headlamps) and batteries: Electrical power may be out for several days or longer. Headlamps will help you see in your shelter and will allow children to play games, read, etc. A lantern for general lighting will keep those shadows at bay.
- A telephone or cell phone: Although cell phone or ground phone service may be interrupted, there is still a chance that you will be able to use a phone to call outside for information and advice from emergency services. Message services may remain viable. Don’t forget that battery bank or two to keep that phone charged.
- Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses and cleaning supplies.
- Duct tape and heavy plastic sheeting will be needed to seal the door to your shelter and to seal any vents that open into your shelter for a short period of time if a radiation plume is passing over. Monitor that radio. Keep a Carbon Monoxide alarm going to prevent a lethal buildup.
- Pet food, baby formula, diapers, etc.: Don’t forget the other members of your family. If you have an infant, store extra formula and diapers. If you have pets keep a 3-day supply of pet food. Again, rotate out on a first in, first out basis.
- First aid kit: You can purchase a first-aid kit or prepare one yourself. Make sure you include Potassium Iodide and fruit pectin. The first protects the Thyroid gland, especially for children and the pectin helps move radioactive materials through the digestive system effectively. Read the label carefully for side effects.
- Games, books, cards and other entertainment: Because you may be in your shelter for several days, keep items on hand to occupy your family during that time. Children are likely to get bored if they have to stay in one place for long periods. Brainstorm activities with them that they will enjoy doing while in the shelter like finger painting, water coloring, playing games, etc.
That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?
Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.