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"Shelter in place" to protect yourself from hazardous materials

Updated December 23, 2009

When chemical agents are released into the air either by accident or intentionally, venturing outdoors can be very dangerous. Hazardous materials can drift with the wind over a wide area. This is something to always be aware of as we live in an area with a major freeway interchange frequently traveled by trucks carrying such chemicals.

Most chemical releases will last only a few minutes, and staying inside, or "sheltering in place," could be the wisest and most adequate method of protecting yourself. This simply means staying inside until the hazard has cleared. By assembling a few items (some of which should already be in your earthquake survival kit), you will have quick access to materials needed in an emergency.

You should have a battery-powered radio with extra batteries. You should also have access to a phone. A towel for under the door and a few rolls of duct tape are necessary to seal windows. Keep these items in a container that is easy to store, access and remove.

Designate a room in advance for sheltering. Try to use one that has access to an adjoining restroom and has the least amount of windows. This will make water more readily available. When an emergency occurs, remember that time is of the essence. Immediately go indoors, close the doors and windows, shut off heaters and air conditioners and close the fireplace damper. Start sealing windows with duct tape by placing it around the window frame. If you have sliding windows, seal the center as well. Also seal vents and doorframes.

Cover your nose and mouth with a wet cloth and monitor the local news on radio or television. Pay attention to the assessment of the hazard and listen for additional instructions. Following an "all clear" message, you will need to thoroughly air out your home.

If you are driving, continue to do so unless otherwise directed by emergency personnel or traffic control devices. Close all windows and vents and shut off the heater or air conditioner. Tune your radio to a news station and listen for instructions. If the engine stalls, do not restart it. Shelter in place.

If you are in a parked car when an emergency takes place, do not start the engine. Remain inside, close all windows and vents and shut off the heater or air conditioner. Without restarting your engine, tune your radio to a news station and listen for instructions.

Knowing what to do when a hazardous chemical is released could save you crucial seconds necessary to survive or avoid serious consequences.

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