How to Shelter in Place
Updated September 22, 2009

For the most up-to-date information on sheltering in place,
see
Dare To Prepare — 3rd Edition



We would all like a comfort feel that Homeland Security is going to take care of the terrorism problem, make it go away or at the very least, provide safety for us. However, they have neither the ability to make terrorists disappear nor do they have the means or manpower. Civilian safety is left primarily to us.

Stan and I were concerned hearing the vague instructions given by officials to the public to purchase duct tape and plastic, as well as unspecified emergency supplies.

The information was just enough to further raise fear levels with no comfort in specifics. What do I do with the duct tape and how do I do it? What and how much should go in emergency kits? The only no-brainer information was "get a radio".

Furthermore, asking folks to set aside supplies for 72 hours is simply not long enough. If a terrorism or disaster scenario is severe, stores, banks, utilities and services - in other words - normal life, may be on hold for several weeks. We would like to see every household have a minimum of 2-4 weeks provisions. More is better up to a point.

This is not to indicate that you may have to shelter in place that long, but services could certainly be disrupted for extended periods. What if smallpox comes to your neighborhood? Will you want to venture down to the local store if you run out of food? That's providing the stores have food. Should any area become contaminated, no one is coming for a visit, not even dedicated over-the-road truckers bringing fresh milk and burger meat.

With many commercial safety shelters costing $3000 - $7500 and more, here are some practical tips for sheltering in place. Please keep in mind this will NOT guarantee 100% safety, but it will considerably reduce the dangers of bio-chemical weapons and nuclear fallout. It will NOT protect one from gamma particles of a nuclear blast. It is unfortunate, but a light duty, above-ground shelter like this simply won't work for all scenarios. However, for folks who can afford a top drawer commercial blast shelter, it would certainly protect people from most challenges unless they are at ground zero.


MAKING THE SHELTER

First, pick a room with the least number of windows that is to be your shelter area. Because chemical agents are generally heavier than air, choose a room above ground level, if possible, rather than a basement. This is exactly opposite in preparing for nuclear blasts and tornados.

Before beginning, make certain the chosen room doesn't have hidden pitfalls. You may need to the remove the carpet or other flooring to check for lurking holes. Examine the ceiling to make sure it isn't constructed with porous materials. Vinyl wallpaper and similar wall coverings may actually contribute to barrier protection.

The idea is to completely seal ALL openings of your safe area. Tape windows, door and other openings with duct tape, including every single crack and crevice. Take time to fill all cracks and crevices with foam sealant. Caulk crevices around wall switch plates and outlets. (Remember, these measures will also lower heating and cooling bills, so it's a win-win task!)

For window protection, from inside your home, run 6 mil plastic sheeting* beyond the window frame extending onto the wall, and tape or staple it to the drywall. While it would be nice to have a view outside, consider the likelihood the window could be broken. If there is any chance this could happen, consider nailing plywood to the window's exterior. Any breach in the plastic greatly reduces the effectiveness of these protective measures. This plywood should be pre-cut with nails taped to the wood and ready to go up. Keep it stored in your safe room. It will only take a couple of minutes to install yet keep the window clear until the protection is needed.

*NOTE: Plastic sheeting comes in varying weights; 1, 2, 4 6 and 10 mil thicknesses are common. A 10'x25' roll of 4 mil generally runs $6 and 6 mil costs around $10. Six mil is generally used for closing in construction and offers the most protection and greatest tear-resistance. An 8' x 100' roll of 4 mil runs around $18. One 2, and 4 mil is pretty flimsy by comparison but better than nothing.

Next, seal off floor and wall openings such as laundry chutes and heating/cooling ducts,
if they aren't part of a specially prepared ventilation system. If your safe room is the bathroom, seal the exhaust fan, sink's drains (don't forget the overflow at the top rim on the side closest to you), the stopper and bathtub drains.

Doors are a special problem because it is harder to eliminate all air leaks. Especially here it would be a
good idea to use 6 mil plastic sheeting, double folded. Check for leaks between the wood frame and drywall and fill with caulk. Seal off the space between the door, and its frame and hinges, with duct tape before covering with plastic sheeting.

Cover the door and framework with the double-folded plastic. Tape or staple onto the drywall above the door as suggested for windows. Before trimming the bottom, leave an extra 8-10" of plastic. You want this excess to extend below the door to cover the area below the door and onto the floor. During an emergency, before entering, soak a towel with baking soda dissolved in water
. Wring out the towel. When inside, force the wet towel into the space between bottom of the door and the floor. Make sure there are no gaps! Then roll the 8-10" of plastic down over the towel and secure to the floor in front of the door.

Alternatively, plastic sheeting can be used to completely line your safe area. If stapled in place, make sure the staple holes are securely taped.

NOTE: In an email received from a Lowe's Department Manager, she stated the adhesive quality of 3M duct tape has diminished greatly over the years. If you find that to be the case in your area, Gorilla Tape is an excellent alternative. It's comparably priced and for only few pennies more, you don't want inferior duct tape to be your shelter's weakness.


LOOKING FOR LEAKS IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES

The rest of your home can serve as a "pre-filter" for your safe room. For maximum effectiveness, similarly seal off all windows, doors, garage and pet doors, fireplace dampers, attic fans, furnaces, swamp coolers, air conditioner units, dryer vents and switch plates to restrict all potential sources of infiltration. Replace ALL plain switch plates with foam-backed switch plates. This too will add to the insulation factor of your home.

If you ever have mice or bugs in your home that didn't come home with you from the grocery store (like in mesh potato sacks) or flew in the door at night attracted to interior lights, you've got holes or cracks/leaks some place.

Before assuming tight seals have been achieved, check for leaks with a smoke punk or stick of incense. Even a cigarette or cigar would work. You just need something that will produce a steady stream of smoke. Place it next to all cracks around doors, windows and electrical fixtures, outlet covers, light switches, ceiling and wall lamps and ceiling fans. Note the behavior and direction of the smoke stream to determine leaks. Seal with duct tape or sealing foam.

Having appropriate personal protective equipment, including a gas mask (see what to look for when buying a gas mask and filter, Gas Mask Quick Reference Comparison Chart and Gas Mask and Filter Suppliers) with a HEPA or NATO equivalent filter for each person in your safe shelter will help ensure your safety if you either have to temporarily leave your shelter, or if symptoms develop which may be indicative of possible infiltration of contaminants.


A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

A source of fresh air is highly desirable, but may not be essential unless your safe place is small or tightly packed with people and pets. However, you might need another source of oxygen or else filtered air if you are sheltering in place more than a few hours.

Chemical agents dissipate more quickly during Summer with strong sunlight. Other factors affecting their breakdown are wind, rainfall and time. The chart to the bottom right shows averages, but since variables can influence their "staying power", it is impossible to pinpoint how long one must shelter.

If you are instructed to stay in your safe place for several days, there is the problem of bringing in needed oxygen. This is something Homeland Security did NOT discuss giving people a false picture that there is an easy "fix". The only reason we can see for this obvious oversight is that safe rooms with duct tape and plastic are presumed to leak air. That is good if you need oxygen. However, leaking contaminated air could be deadly. So while it is vital you make your safe shelter positively air-tight, another issue has been raised. We need air for life.

If you have the $$, a good way to ensure shelter ventilation is to install a HEPA air filter that is 99.97%
efficient at .3 microns such as those commonly available in air purifying equipment. These systems can't rely on natural air flows and require an over pressure system. This is a system that pumps filtered air into a room faster than the air can escape. One source for these systems is American Safe Room which range from $1270 - $1768. This is a good starting point, but we encourage you to make price and product comparisons.


DETAILS, DETAILS

Since an average
7.5x10x10 foot room would only be viable for a group of four adults under stress for two and a half hours (maximum), one has to look at pumping fresh air into the room. When you breathe the same air in the room for too long the air becomes toxic to your body. Carbon dioxide gas builds up in the room from your exhaled breath.

NASA, NOAA, the US Navy (submariner’s manual) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have made a number of studies. We have used data from these sources to compile the table below which shows how much filtered air you will need and how much power you will need to provide that air for a given time (assuming you have no electricity except one fully charged car battery).

Studies conclude that the average, reasonably calm adult requires a minimum of 5 cubic feet of fresh air every minute. However, when people are under stress this demand can become as high as three times that much! This table is based upon these two extremes, assumes the sealed room measures 7-1/2 feet high x 10 feet x 10 feet (2.3m high x 4-1/2m x 41/2m) and that the pump is ~
1/5hp or 135watt.

The bottom line shows the necessity of an air pump and HEPA filter if one plans to use the safe room for longer than a couple of hours. It is the same dilemma that astronauts face when they are cooped up in that tiny spacecraft.

Based on a 1/5hp or 135watt pump
People Resting
Room Size
Room Air
Volume
in cubic
feet
Room Air
Volume
in cubic
metres
Number of People
Minimum
Air
Volume
Needed
Running a 12v
100, amp-hr
battery
continuously, it
will last
Running a 12v, 100 amp-hr
battery with an On/Off
cycle
No battery.
Continuous
Hand
Pumping
Strokes/min.
required for
enough air
On
Off
Battery Life
7.5ftx10x10
7.5ftx10x10
7.5ftx10x10
750
750
750
21
21
21
4
2
1
10.00 cfm
5.00 cfm
2.50 cfm
7.00 hours
7.00 hours
7.00 hours
30 min
30 min
30 min
75 min
2.5 hrs
5.0 hrs
27 hrs
46 hrs
85 hrs
18
9
5
People Stressed
Room Size
Room Air
Volume
in cubic
feet
Room Air
Volume
in cubic
metres
Number of People
Minimum
Air
Volume
Needed
Running a 12v
100, amp-hr
battery
continuously, it
will last
Running a 12v, 100 amp-hr
battery with an On/Off
cycle
No battery.
Continuous
Hand
Pumping
Strokes/min.
required for
enough air
On
Off
Battery Life
7.5ftx10x10
7.5ftx10x10
7.5ftx10x10
750
750
750
21
21
21
4
2
1
20.00 cfm
10.00 cfm
5.00 cfm
7.00 hours
7.00 hours
7.00 hours
30 min
30 min
30 min
40 min
75 min
2.5 hrs
17 hrs
27 hrs
46 hrs
35
18
9

You can choose the appropriate HEPA pumping system from this URL:
http://www.americansaferoom.com/products.asp You can review the technical specifications for yourself at: http://www.americansaferoom.com/govspecs.asp

If you can be certain of no power interruptions or have a stand-by generator with a large enough fuel capacity, the HEPA filter can be installed directly into your home heating system duct work. In installing the filter be sure to follow the manufacturers design velocity recommendations and ensure a good seal around the filter to avoid bypassing pollutants. Installation of a simple prefilter will extend the working life of your HEPA filter.


HYGIENE

Something that shouldn't be overlooked is providing temporary toilet facilities. This can be done easily using a 5-gallon bucket lined with a heavy duty trash sack. Place a toilet seat on top of the bucket during use. After use, remove the seat, sprinkle a little Clorox on the contents to keep down the germs and odor. Then seal off with the pail's lid. This should keep odor to a minimum. Don't be caught with the unhappy choice between exposing yourself to contaminants when seeking a bathroom outside your safe room and contending with a full bladder.

Another idea is a portable "camping" potty. These toilets are constructed of high-density polyethylene, are completely self-contained, compact in size and easy to clean. Coleman sells a unit which ranges from $55 - $70 depending on the retailer. The waste tank has a capacity of 2.8 gallons with the freshwater tank holding 3.2 gallons. This unit measures 12"W x 14.5"D x 16.5"H.

Passport and Visa potties run a tad more at $60 - 95, but have larger holding tanks. Taking up about the same space as the coleman, the Passport holds 3.2 gallons of waste and 2.6 gallons of water.

If you have more people in your safe room, the Visa might be more suitable. It holds 3.7 gallons of fresh water and has a 4-gallons of waste. While holding more, it is very compact: 14-1/2"W x 16-1/2"D x 13-3/8"H.

The Passport and Visa Potties both have extra-deep bowls for greater comfort, a piston pump that sends water around the bowl in two different directions for a faster, cleaner rinse and waste level indicators. These two potties can be found at Cabela's with standard ground shipping of $9 requiring 3-6 busines days for delivery. Alaska and Hawaii add two more days delivery time. Cabela's is a highly reputable company with excellent quality products. Stan and I have personally purchased items from this company for many years (and no, we receive no $$ or goods from any company recommended or listed on our website).

Wal-Mart also carries the Passport for $60 + $7.74 standard ground shipping 5-10 business days. (search for "portable toilet").

K-Mart carries the Visa for $90 + ~$9 ground shipping 3-8 busines days. (search for Visa) Envirolet carries the same Visa online for $86 with ground shipping of $11 from New York to Colorado. This should get you started, but by all means, always, always, always, price compare. There are BIG differences for the exact same product!

These types of portable toilets are more solid than the bucket type toilet with a molded seat for maxium comfort. To control odor, liquid or crystal deodorants can be added.


BASHFUL BODIES

If you simply can't make your bowels or bladder function without complete privacy, bring into your safe room an over-sized cardboard box. One the size of a clothes dryer or washer is ideal. Cut out one side for the "entrance" and turn the cut out portion toward the wall away from everyone else. Put the 5 gallon bucket inside and pretend you're on a desert island! A can of Lysol is effective against cold/flu germs and odors, and is less oppressive than some sickeningly sweet air fresheners.

If infants are a part of the family, be sure to include a diaper pail for odor and germ control.


DECONTAMINATION

Before entering your safe shelter, leaving behind all bacteria or chemical agents is essential. The ABC's of NBC Warfare Survival goes into great detail about building a decon shower outside the home, but realistically speaking, most people are not going to do this. Should this be the case before coming inside, remove all clothing and shoes FIRST. Don't let modesty deter you. Peel down to the skin and seal everything in heavy plastic bags. Leave everything outside and head immediately to the nearest shower. Flush eyes with lots of water. Stand under a warm spray at least five minutes soaping your body thoroughly. Shampoo hair, beards and moustaches twice. If your pets have been exposed, take them into the shower with you and give them two shampoos as well. Change into clean clothing (item stored in drawers or closets are likely to be uncontaminated) and go to your safe shelter.

Be sure to read Decontamination and Treatment Information. You'll find vital information here for decontaminating you home, food, clothing, etc. after the all-clear is announced. Section 5 of ABC's of NBC Warfare Survival has excellent, though involved, decontamination information. Everyone should download this PDF file and print a hard copy

These resources give symptoms and treatment for Chemical agents and Biological agents. FEMA's ARE YOU READY? National Security Emergencies has passably OK info the Ready.gov is more comprehensive.


4-LEGGED KIDS

If pets are as close a part of your family as are Seismo and Taco, it's a given they go into the safe room too. They will need food, water, their regular bed or blanket - something that gives them a sense of "OK". Animals are quick to pick up on human stress levels and will follow suit. It is also clever to provide them with toys or something to occupy their time.

Should you be debating whether or not to include them, consider how much more stressed you'll be wondering how they're faring. Secondly, pets have positive, calming, therapeutic effects on their human counterparts and can help distract children.

Make sure you provide the animals with either a litter box or newspaper, a place where they can relieve themselves. They have to know it is acceptable, given the circumstance.

One very tidy solution for corralling pet urine and far flung litter is to place a child's inflatable swimming pool (minus the water!) into the safe shelter lined with newspaper or place the litter box inside. After use, scoop up the soiled newspaper and deposit into garbage bags. Make sure to praise your pet for using his new facility since this will undoubtedly be a new deal! Kiddie pools measuring 12" x 47" can be purchased for as little as $12.


LAST THOUGHTS

While waiting for the all-clear, the time spent in your safe room will pass more quickly if you have games, books, or something else that takes your mind off the circumstances. A Bible is also comforting.

For the remainder of the items to stock in your safe room, see 72-hour kit - at Home. Leave this assembled kit in your safe room. It's one less thing off your mind.

When supplying heat, cooling or light to your safe room, it should be battery-powered. Candles are not only a fire hazard, but they will use precious oxygen.

Radios and shortwave will likely be your best source of information though a TV, loudspeakers on roving official vehicles or phones might provide valuable information. If there is doubt an all-clear has been sounded, stay in your shelter until you are positive it is safe.

Our best,
Holly and Stan Deyo



holly@standeyo.com
http://standeyo.com
Contents © 1996-2009 Holly Deyo. All rights reserved.