How to stay safe

  • Follow instructions from emergency services.
  • Turn on your radio.
  • Stay indoors until emergency services tell you it is safe to leave.

What 'sheltering in place' means

Some kinds of chemical accidents or attacks may make going outdoors dangerous. Leaving the area might take too long or put you in harm's way. In such a case it may be safer for you to stay indoors than to go outside.

'Shelter in place' means to make a shelter out of the place you are in (for example, your home, school or workplace) at the time of the emergency. It is a way for you to make your home or another building as safe as possible to protect yourself until help arrives. You should not try to shelter in a vehicle unless you have no other choice. Vehicles are not airtight enough to give you adequate protection from chemicals.

Every emergency is different and during any emergency people may have to evacuate or to shelter in place depending on where they live.

How to know if you need to shelter in place

You will hear from the local police, emergency coordinators, or government on the radio and on television emergency broadcast systems if you need to shelter in place. Most likely you will only need to shelter for a few hours.

  • Listen to instructions from emergency services.
  • Pay attention to radio and television broadcasts to know right away whether a shelter-in-place alert is announced for your area.

What to do

Act quickly and follow the instructions of the emergency services. Every situation can be different, so local emergency services might have special instructions for you to follow. In general, do the following:

Set-up and preparation

  • Go inside as quickly as possible.
  • Lock all doors and close all windows. Locking them may pull the door or window tighter and make a better seal against the chemical.
  • Choose a room for the shelter. Preferably the room:
    • is above ground level as some chemicals 'sink' (this is recommended for chemical incidents but not severe weather like tornados)
    • has as few windows and doors as possible
    • has a water supply
  • A knowledgeable person should turn off all heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. Close the fireplace damper and any other place that air can come in from outside.
  • Go in your shelter-in-place room and shut the door.
  • Seal the windows, doors and any vents or other openings with wet towels and newspapers, as this increases protection substantially. If duct tape and heavy plastic are available, use these instead.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, and you are not being evacuated, close any window shades, blinds or curtains nearby.
  • If you have animals in your workplace or home, prepare a place for them to relieve themselves where you are taking shelter. Animals should not go outside during a chemical or radiation emergency as this may be harmful to them and they may track contaminants into your shelter.
  • If you are away from your shelter-in-place location when a chemical event occurs, follow the instructions of emergency coordinators to find the nearest shelter.
  • If your children are at school, they will be sheltered there. Unless you are instructed to do so, do not try to get to the school to bring your children home. Transporting them from the school may put them, and you, at increased risk. Children in an affected area will be sheltered at their school or child care centre if it is safe to do so.

Stay informed

  • Turn on the radio and listen for additional emergency announcements or instructions.
  • Keep a telephone close at hand, but don't use it unless there is a serious emergency. Use a landline phone to call emergency contacts.
  • Mobile telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.


  • If you do not have a disaster kit in the room, grab some towels or newspaper, some bottled water or water from the toilet cistern (not the bowl) and some pre-packaged food.
  • Sink and toilet drain traps should have water in them (you can use the sink and toilet as you normally would). If it is necessary to drink water, drink stored water, not water from the tap.

At a workplace

  • Allow visitors, customers or clients to come in and shelter.
  • If the business has a voicemail system, change the recording to say that the business is closed and that staff and visitors are remaining in the building until officials advise it is safe to leave.
  • Write down the names of everyone in the room so that you can report who is in the room with you and their relationship with your business (ie employee, client, customer, visitors) if requested to do so by emergency services.

Leaving your shelter

  • Do not leave the shelter unless you are told to do so.
  • When told to leave the shelter, follow instructions from local emergency coordinators to avoid any possible contaminants outside. After you come out of the shelter, emergency services may have additional instructions on how to make the rest of the building safe again.


Current as at: Tuesday 4 April 2023