Emergency Shelter

Securing a safe place of shelter is a crucial part of your preparedness plan. Let’s discuss some of your options when it comes to:

  • Sheltering at home
  • Sheltering in place
  • Options during an evacuation
  • Finding shelter in the wilderness

Sheltering at home


Your house is (hopefully) your ultimate place of refuge. This depends on the type of emergency you’re facing, of course. An example we can all relate to is a pandemic, where the safest place to be, according to governing authorities and public health officials is in your own home sweet home.

A natural disaster, such as a severe winter storm or volcanic eruption, may also force you to stay indoors until the threat passes. The following options may be safe locations if you’re sheltering at home:

  • A safe room: Ideally this should be an interior closet or bathroom with no exterior windows. A safe room should be strengthened to withstand natural disasters. Make sure this room has access to WiFi or phone reception so that you can stay in the loop with the news and weather updates as well as remain in touch with your family. Consider installing a security brace to prevent thieves from breaking and entering.

  • The basement: Basements are reliable shelters because they’re typically made from concrete. Since they’re underground, they’re mostly shielded from harsh weather and environmental or chemical threats. If your basement has windows, you should cover them during a severe storm. Basements are at risk of flooding and prolonged humidity, which could result in the growth of harmful mold.

  • A storm shelter: Storm shelters can be an expensive commodity but are specially built to withstand powerful storms, such as tornadoes, hail storms, and high winds. If you live in an area that is prone to extreme weather, you may want to consider this option.

If you are staying at home until the disaster threat passes, you should have enough supplies to live off of for a minimum of 14 days, if not longer. The section on sheltering at home highlights our recommendations for the supplies you should have.


Sheltering in place


A shelter in place order requires that you stay put wherever you are in that very moment. This could be your vehicle, your workplace, the metro station, the gym, the grocery store, etc.


A likely scenario would be a tornado or a terrorist attack, such as an active shooter. These, of course, could be temporary emergencies that allow you to return home within hours, however there are other disasters that may require you to shelter in place for numerous days. One example would be a biohazard or nuclear power plant explosion where you may be exposed to chemicals and/or radiation.

In any case, follow these tips to remain safe:

  • Stay updated with the local news sources on the radio, TV, or social media.

  • Follow the instructions of local law enforcement authorities.

  • Follow the emergency shelter procedures of the place you’re in. For instance, if you’re at work, you may be directed to a safe room or basement. Stay away from exterior windows, if possible.

  • Minimize your outdoor exposure.

  • Seal windows, doors, and air ducts with plastic sheeting and duct tape.

  • Get in touch with your loved ones via text or social media. Leave phone lines open for first responders and emergency personnel.

Sheltering options during an evacuation


Planning alternative housing options during an evacuation is important, especially if you live in a metropolis. Depending on the magnitude of the disaster, there may be thousands of people evacuating. Those thousands have to disperse themselves to the risk-free zones, which can result in blocked roads, traffic jams, booked hotels, and evacuation shelters at mass capacity.

These are some options for places you can take shelter in when you need to evacuate:

  • Your vacation home: If you own a second home that happens to be located in an area that is not in the evacuation zone, you may be able to stay there until evacuation orders are lifted. Plan the best routes to get you to that destination and keep extra supplies stored there for emergencies.

  • A family or friend’s home: If you have relatives or loved ones living in an area outside of the disaster area or evacuation zone, you may want to plan to stay with them.

  • A motel, hotel, or Airbnb: If you’re more comfortable staying in a hotel, or an Airbnb with better amenities, consider those options for the duration of your evacuation.

  • Evacuation shelters: After evacuation orders are set in place, the Red Cross and other organizations typically open up shelters in a safe zone outside of the risk area. These shelters offer basic provisions for evacuees, such as water, food, showers, cots, blankets, etc. Some evacuation centers do not accept pets, so you may need to make other arrangements.
    • To find a mass care shelter, listen to the radio or local news outlets for up-to-date information or text “Shelter” and your zip code to 43362 (for example: Shelter 92007).

Be sure to have a plan to where you’re going to go during an evacuation. In the evacuation section, we’ll go over this information in greater detail.


Shelter in the wilderness


While this book does not focus on wilderness survival (that would entail writing another book altogether!) there may come a time when you have to bug out, or escape an area. During a crisis, it’s easy to become disoriented and possibly stranded, especially if you escape to a nearby uncultivated or natural area. If you go into in the wilderness at any point, you should have a shelter plan in case you become lost and have to spend the night.

Make sure you have the supplies to build a makeshift tent or lean-to shelter. Your shelter needs to be protected from the wind and the elements as much as possible, so that you’re protected as well. If you find a wall, trees, or large boulders, build your shelter next to that. If not, consider digging a trench if the weather is harsh. Some portable shelter options to consider carrying in your bug out backpack include:

  • Mylar blanket tent: This is extremely lightweight and cheap but it may not the best option because it has open ends on both sides, therefore it doesn’t trap in your body heat. The Mylar material rips easily as well, so have duct tape and paracord with you.

  • Emergency tube tents: This is a step up from the Mylar blanket tent. Some tube tents fit 2 people, which is ideal for retaining body heat. They’re affordable and lightweight.

  • Bivvy bag: This is a popular item among hikers. It’s basically a tent, or sleeping bag cover, for one person. It’s more expensive than the other options but it provides complete protection from the elements so it’s worth it.

For more information on building a shelter in the wilderness, look into resources like the SAS Survival Handbook by Lofty Wiseman, or YouTube videos by survivalist Dave Canterbury.


Action Step

Discuss different disaster scenarios with your family, and which shelter option would become the safest and most appropriate under each circumstance.

During a future hiking or camping trip, practice building a shelter in the wilderness. This will be a fun family activity that everyone will love!

Next up: Hygiene in disasters

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