Fire & EMS

Shelter in Place Info - Chemical / WMD Emergencies

Shelter-in-place actions are intended to keep you and your family safe while remaining in your home. If you are told to shelter-in-place, go inside, close all windows and vents and turn off all fans, heating or cooling systems. Take family members and pets to a safe room, seal windows and doors, and listen to local radio (or television) stations, or a NOAA Weather Radio for instructions.

  • While gathering your family, you can provide a minimal amount of breathing protection by covering your mouth and nose with a damp cloth. Many chemicals can cause damage to breathing passages.
  • Immediately after the shelter-in-place announcement is issued, fill up bathtubs or large containers for an additional water supply, and turn off the water supply valve to the house. Water supplies may become contaminated. Preserve the water you have available.
  • If gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or a towel. Many chemicals can cause damage to breathing passages.
  • Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated. Injury may occur from eating or drinking toxic chemicals.
  • Seal house so contaminants cannot enter:
    1. Close and lock all windows and doors in your home.
    2. Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems.
    3. Close the fireplace damper.
    4. Seal gaps and cracks under doorways and windows with wet towels and duct tape.
    5. Seal gaps around window and air conditioning units, bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, and stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting, wax paper, or aluminum wrap. Painter's tape may also be used, and it may cause less damage to walls.
    6. Close off nonessential rooms such as storage areas, laundry rooms, and extra bedrooms.
    7. Turn off ventilation systems.
  • Go to an above-ground room (not the basement) with the fewest windows and doors. Some chemicals are heavier than air, and may seep into basements, even if the windows are closed.
  • If you have one, take your Disaster Supplies Kit with you. These items may make you more comfortable while you are waiting for further instructions.
  • Stay in the room and listen to your radio or television until you are told all is safe, or you are told to evacuate. Local officials may call for an evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in the community. Following the advice of local authorities is your safest choice.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains. To avoid injury, stay away from the windows. If windows break due to explosion, the shades will help prevent glass from shattering in your home.


  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Local officials on the scene are the best source of information for your particular situation.
  • Follow instructions concerning the safety of food and water. Contaminated food or water can cause illness.
  • Clean up and dispose of any chemical residue carefully. Follow instructions from emergency officials concerning cleanup methods. Local officials will best know proper procedures for your situation.


If you are told to evacuate immediately, take your Disaster Supplies Kit if you have one. Pack only the bare essentials, such as medications, and leave your home quickly. Follow the route authorities recommend. Do not take shortcuts on the way to the shelter, they may be blocked or the shortcut may expose you to dangerous chemicals.

  • It is important to stay calm, listen carefully, and follow all instructions. Authorities will decide if evacuations are necessary, based primarily on the type and amount of chemical released and how long it is expected to affect an area. Other considerations are the length of time it should take to evacuate the area, weather conditions, and the time of day. Authorities will advise you of the safest steps to take for your particular situation.
  • If an evacuation order is issued, listen to your radio to make sure the evacuation order applies to you, and understand if you are to evacuate immediately or if you have time to pack some essentials. Stay tuned to a radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters, and procedures. Following the advice of local authorities is your safest choice.
  • Avoid using the telephone. Use the telephone only in life-threatening emergencies, and then call the poison control center, EMS, 911, or the operator immediately. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.
  • If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in the community. Following the advice of local authorities is your safest protection.
  • If you have one, take your Disaster Supplies Kit with you. These items may make you more comfortable while you are waiting for further instructions.
  • Only if you have time, seal your house so contaminants cannot enter:
    1. Shut off all vents.
    2. Close fireplace dampers.
    3. You don't need to turn off your refrigerator or freezer, but you should turn off all other appliances and lights as you leave.Close and lock your windows and doors.

      Move quickly and calmly. Leaving the area as quickly as possible will reduce your chance of exposure to hazardous materials. Staying calm and rational will help you move safely and avoid delays or accidents caused by irrational behavior.

      Do not assume that a shelter will have everything you need. While emergency shelters provide a safe place to stay and food, specialty items for infants and individuals on restricted diets may not be available. In most major chemical emergencies, shelters will provide only emergency items such as meals, cots and blankets.

      If you need a ride, ask a neighbor. If no neighbor is available to help you listen to local radio or television stations for further instructions.
      Check up on neighbors to make sure they have been notified, and offer help to those with disabilities or other special needs. Elderly people and people with disabilities may require additional assistance, and people who care for them or who have large families may need assistance in emergency situations.
      Take only one vehicle to the shelter site. Traffic may be very heavy and parking at a shelter may be limited. Reduce further congestion and keep your family together by eliminating additional vehicles.

      Close your car windows and air vents, and turn off the heater or air conditioner. Many chemicals can cause damage to breathing passages.For your safety, follow the exact route you are told to take. Shortcuts may put you in the path of danger.