During an emergency

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Image of a forest fire near housesIt is important to remain calm during and after an emergency. Being prepared and having your plans in place will make it easier for you to get through the crisis. Stay tuned to local radio or television stations for information updates.

Emergency officials may notify the public to shelter-in-place or evacuate. Being prepared for either situation may save your life and the lives of others.


Being outside during some emergencies will increase the danger. Local officials may advise you to shelter-in-place. This means staying inside a safe building such as your residence, workplace, or school. If you are outdoors, you may need to enter a nearby building to seek cover. When an emergency occurs, items needed to shelter-in-place will quickly be in short supply and there may not be time to get the items you need. Plan ahead by inventorying your supplies, obtaining missing items, and writing down where they are stored. Consider storing additional food, water, and other supplies to expand your kit to last up to two weeks.

Sheltering-in-place is most commonly used for chemical, biological, radiological, or other hazardous material emergencies but can also be used during some storms and some law enforcement emergencies when evacuation and exposure to the outside can be life-threatening.

Steps for sheltering-in-place (if you have time and if it is safe)

  • Bring pets inside.
  • Close and lock all windows and exterior doors.
  • Locate your emergency supply kit or take it to the designated shelter room.
  • Go to an interior room with the fewest windows and doors.
    •  Stay away from windows if there are any in the room.
    • Go to an above-ground level location in the case of a chemical threat because some chemicals are heavier than air and may seep into basements even when the windows are closed.
    • Go the basement or interior room with strong structural support if the emergency is related to severe weather where flooding is not a threat.
  • Seal doors, windows, and fireplaces with wet towels or plastic sheeting and duct tape if the emergency is airborne, such as a disease, chemical release, or radiation.
  • Turn off all fans and heating and air conditioning systems if the emergency is airborne.
  • Take shallow breaths through a cloth or a towel if gas or vapors have entered the building.
  • Listen to a local radio or television station for news and instruction. Follow the advice of local emergency officials.


In some emergencies, officials will tell you when to evacuate. In other situations, you may decide to evacuate on your own. Red Cross shelters may be opened if a disaster affects a large number of people and/or the emergency is expected to last several days. Please listen to the local news media for updates on sheltering locations.

Steps for evacuating

  • Stay tuned to a radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters, and procedures.
  • Take your emergency evacuation kit with you when you leave.
  • Take additional evacuation kits for persons with access and functional needs, children, or pets/animals if necessary.
  • Let your emergency contact person know that you are evacuating and where you are going.
  • If you have time, close windows, shut all vents, turn off attic fans, turn off utilities, and lock doors.
  • Help your neighbors who may require assistance.
  • Leave immediately and follow the routes recommended by the authorities.
  • Do not return until authorities announce that it is safe to do so.

Additional information on evacuation

Utility Considerations

When disaster strikes it often affects one or more of the utility systems connected to our residences. Therefore, it is important to know where the main controls are located and to know when and how to turn them off. It is best to learn these things before disaster strikes.

illustration of a cricut breakerElectricity

  • Locate your main electrical switch or fuse panel and learn how to turn the electrical system power off.
  • If a generator is used as a backup power supply remember to:
    • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Connect lights and appliances directly to the generator and not the electrical system.
  • Note: Generators connected to a utility company’s electrical system must be inspected by the utility and the state electrical inspector.

illustration of gas valveNatural Gas

  • Locate your gas meter valve and learn how to turn off the gas. The gas meter is usually found outside your residence where most of the utilities are connected. The shut off valve is usually found just beneath the gas meter on the plumbing coming up from the ground into the meter.
  • If you suspect the shutoff valve is not working properly, call the utility company for an operational check.
  • Ensure a wrench is immediately available for turning the meter off in an emergency.
  • If you smell natural gas, evacuate immediately. Do not use candles, matches, lighters, open flame appliances, or operate electrical switches. Sparks could ignite gas causing an explosion.
  • Shut off the gas only if you notice structural damage to your house or smell gas or hear a hissing noise. Let the gas company turn the gas back on.
  • Seek the assistance of a plumber to repair gas pipe damage.

Waterillustration of a water valve

  • Clearly label the water shut off valve and learn to turn off the water supply. Shut off valves may be found immediately adjacent to your residence, near the hot water heater, or at the main water meter which is usually near the street.
  • Ensure the valve can be fully turned off. If a special tool is needed, make sure one is readily available.
  • Shut off the main valve to prevent contamination of the water supply in your water heater and plumbing.

Reconnecting Utilities

  • It is possible that power or gas lines may be damaged.
  • Never attempt to restore gas service yourself.
  • Contact your local utility company to restore service to your residence or business.