Taking shelter is critical in times of disaster. Sheltering is
appropriate when conditions require that you seek protection in your home,
place of employment, or other location where you are when disaster strikes.
Sheltering outside the hazard area would include staying with friends and
relatives, seeking commercial lodging, or staying in a mass care facility
operated by disaster relief groups in conjunction with local authorities. To
effectively shelter, you must first consider the hazard and then choose a
place in your home or other building that is safe for that hazard. For
example, for a tornado, a room should be selected that is in a basement or
an interior room on the lowest level away from corners, windows, doors and
outside walls. Because the safest locations to seek shelter vary by hazard,
sheltering is discussed in the various hazard sections. These discussions
include recommendations for sealing the shelter if the hazards warrants this
type of protection. Even though mass care shelters often provide water,
food, medicine, and basic sanitary facilities, you should plan to take your
disaster supplies kit with you so you will have the supplies you require.
Mass care sheltering can involve living with many people in a confined
space, which can be difficult and unpleasant. To avoid conflicts in this
stressful situation, it is important to cooperate with shelter managers and
others assisting them. Keep in mind that alcoholic beverages and weapons are
forbidden in emergency shelters and smoking is restricted. The length of
time you are required to shelter may be short, such as during a tornado
warning, or long, such as during a winter storm. It is important that you
stay in shelter until local authorities say it is safe to leave.
Additionally, you should take turns listening to radio broadcasts and
maintain a 24-hour safety watch. During extended periods of sheltering, you
will need to manage water and food supplies to ensure you and your family
have the required supplies and quantities. Guidance on how to accomplish
1. Allow people to drink according to their needs. Many people need even
more than the average of one-half gallon, per day. The individual amount
needed depends on age, physical activity, physical condition, and time of
2. Never ration water unless ordered to do so by authorities. Drink the
amount you need today and try to find more for tomorrow. Under no
should a person drink less than one quart (four cups) of water each day. You
can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and
3. Drink water that you know is not contaminated first. If necessary,
suspicious water, such as cloudy water from regular faucets or water from
streams or ponds, can be used after it has been treated. If water treatment
is not possible, put off drinking suspicious water as long as possible, but
do not become dehydrated.
4. Do not drink carbonated beverages instead of drinking water.
Carbonated beverages do not meet drinking-water requirements. Caffeinated
drinks and alcohol dehydrate the body, which increases the need for drinking
5. Turn off the main water valves. You will need to protect the water
sources already in your home from contamination if you hear reports of
broken water or sewage lines, or if local officials advise you of a problem.
To close the incoming water source, locate the incoming valve and turn it to
the closed position. Be sure you and other family members know how to
perform this important procedure.
• To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on
the faucet in your home at the highest level. A small amount of water will
trickle out. Then obtain water from the lowest faucet in the home.
• To use the water in your hot-water tank, be sure the electricity or gas
is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water fl
owing by turning off the water intake valve at the tank and turning on the
hot-water faucet. Refill the tank before turning the gas or electricity back
on. If the gas is turned off, a professional will be needed to turn it back
Safe Sources of Water
• Melted ice cubes
• Water drained from the water heater (if the water
heater has not been damaged)
• Liquids from canned goods such as fruit or
• Water drained from pipes
Unsafe Sources of Water
• Hot water boilers (home heating system)
• Water beds
(fungicides added to the water or chemicals in the vinyl may make water
unsafe to use)
• Water from the toilet bowl or flush tank
• Swimming pools and spas (chemicals used to kill germs are too
concentrated for safe drinking but can be used for personal hygiene,
cleaning, and related uses)
Treat all water of uncertain quality before using it for drinking, food
washing or preparation, washing dishes, brushing teeth, or making ice. In
addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain
microorganisms (germs) that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera,
typhoid, and hepatitis. There are many ways to treat water. None is perfect.
Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Before treating, let
any suspended particles settle to the bottom or strain them through coffee
filters or layers of clean cloth. Make sure you have the necessary materials
in your disaster supplies kit for the chosen water treatment method. There
are three water treatment methods. They are as follows:
These instructions are for treating water of uncertain quality in an
emergency situation, when no other reliable clean water source is available,
or you have used all of your stored water.
Boiling - Boiling is the safest method of treating water. In a
large pot or kettle, bring water to a rolling boil for 1 full minute,
keeping in mind that some water will evaporate.Let the water cool before
drinking. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by
pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This also
will improve the taste of stored water.
Chlorination - You can use household liquid bleach to kill
microorganisms. Use only regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25
to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color safe
bleaches, or bleaches with added cleaners. Because the potency of bleach
diminishes with time, use bleach from a newly opened or unopened bottle. Add
16 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach per gallon of water, stir, and let stand
for 30 minutes. The water should have a slight bleach odor. If it doesn’t,
then repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. If it still does
not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water. Other
chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products sold in camping or
surplus stores that do not contain 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite
as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.
Distillation - While the two methods described above will kill
most microbes in water, distillation will remove microbes (germs) that
resist these methods, as well as heavy metals, salts, and most other
chemicals. Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting only the
vapor that condenses. The condensed vapor will not include salt or most
other impurities. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to
the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the
lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and
boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the
cup is distilled.
Managing Food Supplies
• Keep food in covered containers
• Keep cooking and eating utensils clean
• Keep garbage in closed containers and dispose outside, burying garbage if
• Keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water that
has been boiled or disinfected
• Discard any food that has come into contact with contaminated floodwater
• Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours
• Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture
• Eat foods from cans that are swollen, dented, or corroded, even though
the product may look safe to eat
• Eat any food that looks or smells abnormal, even if the can looks normal
• Use powdered formulas with treated water
• Let garbage accumulate inside, both for fire and sanitation reasons
Note: Thawed food usually can be eaten if it is still “refrigerator cold.”
It can be re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals. To be safe, remember,
“When in doubt, throw it out.”
• Alternative cooking sources in times of emergency include candle
warmers, chafing dishes, fondue pots, or a fireplace.
• Charcoal grills and
camp stoves are for outdoor use only.
• Commercially canned food may be
eaten out of the can without warming.
• To heat food in a can:
1. Remove the
2. Thoroughly wash and disinfect the can. (Use a diluted solution of
one part bleach to ten parts water.)
3. Open the can before heating.
Here are two options for keeping food safe if you are without power for a
• Look for alternate storage space for your perishable food.
Use dry ice. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice will keep a 10-cubic-foot
freezer below freezing for 3-4 days. Use care when handling dry ice, and
wear dry, heavy gloves to avoid injury.