Chemical Emergency Preparedness

Shelter in place

At home 

"Shelter in Place" is one of the basic instructions you may receive from public safety officials during a chemical emergency in your community. Sheltering in place offers you and your family immediate protection for a short time in your home.
If you are told to shelter in place, take your children and pets indoors immediately. While gathering your family, you can provide a minimal amount of breathing protection by covering your mouth and nose with a damp cloth.
A chemical emergency may occur anywhere hazardous materials are manufactured, stored or transported. Chemical plants are obvious sources of potential accidents. Less obvious are highways, railways and storage containers at places such as swimming pools (chlorine).
The following general information is a guide on how you should act before, during, and after an emergency. The situation in your area may involve unique circumstances. The Galesburg/Knox County Emergency Management Agency (309-345-3756) can provide you with details.

Planning for an emergency

  • Study your surroundings for fixed and mobile sources of hazardous materials.
  • Learn about any warning methods where you live and work. The Galesburg/Knox County EMA can give you information about community warning methods.
  • Prepare a shelter in place kit appropriate for the type(s) of emergencies that could occur near you. The kit should contain duct tape for sealing cracks around doors and windows; plastic (preferably precut to size) to cover windows; a battery-operated AM/FM radio; flashlight with fresh batteries; bottled water; towels; toys for young children; candles; matches; first aid kit; medicine and other times essential for your family's survival. Include a copy of this article concerning sheltering in place. Check the kit every six (6) months to make sure all the supplies are still there and that they are fresh. The room should have a telephone, although you should use it only for emergency calls. If you use it otherwise you may be taking up a line needed by emergency response officials.
  • Find out which radio, television and cable systems in your area broadcast emergency information.
  • Learn CPR and first-aid.
  • For a place to shelter, select a room in your house that has a few or no windows.
  • Make sure all family members know what to do in a chemical emergency, whether they are at home, school, work or outdoors.
  • Review your plan periodically and conduct drills.

During an emergency

You are most likely to hear about a chemical emergency by radio or television. When you learn of the emergency:
  • Immediately take your family and pets to the room you've chosen as shelter. If your children are at school, do not leave your house to go get them. Going outside could expose yourself to hazardous chemicals. Also, schools have emergency plans of their own.
  • Shut off heating, cooling and fans that draw in air from the outside. If you have a fireplace, close the damper.
  • Shut and lock doors and windows. Locking makes a better seal. Seal cracks around the doors and windows with duct tape.
  • Turn on radio or television to a local station that broadcasts emergency information. Stay tuned until the "all clear" message is broadcast.
  • Stay off the phone. It should be used for emergency calls only.
  • Be prepared to evacuate if ordered to do so by public safety officials. Evacuation instructions will be announced over the emergency broadcast system.

After the emergency

When you hear the "all clear" message over the emergency broadcast system, you should:
  • Open doors and windows.
  • Turn on your heating/cooling system to ventilate the house.
  • Go outside.

At work 

Sheltering in place at your workplace is similar to sheltering in place at home, but there are some significant differences.

Basic steps

  1. Shut a lock all windows and doors.
  2. Turn off air handling equipment (heating, ventilation, and/or air conditioning).
  3. Go to a pre-determined sheltering room or rooms.
  4. Seal any windows and/or vents with sheets of plastic and duct tape.
  5. Seal the door(s) with duct tape around the top and sides; place a wet towel under at the bottom of the door.
  6. Turn on a television or radio and listen for further instructions.
  7. When the "all clear" is announced, open windows and doors, turn on ventilation systems and go outside until the building's air has been exchanged with the now clean outdoor air.

Additional workplace considerations

  1. Employees cannot be forced to shelter in place. Therefore, it is important to develop your shelter in place plan with employees to maximize the cooperation of employees with the shelter plan. Determine if all employees with shelter or if some will leave the building before shelter procedures are put in place.
  2. Develop an accountability system. You should know who is in your building and where they are if an emergency develops. Visitors should be made aware of your office's decision to shelter in place if advised by the Galesburg/Knox County Emergency Management Agency.
  3. Duties should be assigned to specific employees. Those employees should have backups.
  4. Drills should be planned and executed on a regular basis. Afterwards, the drill should be critiqued by employees and/or drill monitors from the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Lessons learned should be incorporated into your shelter in place plan.

Before an emergency occurs

Discuss emergency procedures with all employees. Explain sheltering in place to your employees or invite the Galesburg/Knox County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director to explain the community's emergency warning system and sheltering in place. By having a discussion with all employees about sheltering in place and its use, the team approach can work to implement an effective sheltering plan.
Select a room or rooms to serve as shelter rooms during chemical emergencies. The rooms should be large enough to provide at least ten (10) square feet per person sheltered. A shelter room should have as few windows, vents, and doors as possible. A windowless room is best. The Galesburg/Knox County EMA can provide assistance in selecting the best room(s) for sheltering.
Break rooms or conference rooms with few or no windows can be used for shelters. Hallways are sometimes used in institutional settings. Supplies for sheltering should be stored in a closet or other storage area in the shelter room(s).
Before a chemical accident occurs, outfit your shelter kit with the following:
  • Plastic sheeting - Pre-cut plastic sheeting to fit over any windows or vents in the sheltering area.
  • Duct tape - Rolls of duct tape to be used to secure the plastic over the windows and vents and to seal doors.
  • Battery operated radio with batteries - In the event of a power outage, a battery operated radio is necessary to hear emergency announcements including the "all clear" when the emergency is over.
  • Flashlight and fresh batteries.
  • Enough towels to block the bottoms of each door in the room.
  • Bottled water to wet the towels for sealing door bottoms and for drinking.
  • First aid kit.
The shelter room should also have a telephone (either regular or cellular) for emergency use only. Stay off the phone during the shelter in place to keep lines free for emergency responders. If you have an emergency while using your shelter in place room, use the phone to call 911 for help.
Check your shelter kit on a regular basis. Duct tape and first aid supplies can sometimes disappear when all employees know where the shelter kit is stored. Batteries for the radio and flashlight should be kept fresh.
Develop an emergency plan and checklist with your employees. Volunteers or recruits should be assigned specific duties during an emergency. Alternates should be assigned to each duty.
Plan at least two (2) shelter in place drills annually. The first drill can be announced, then later drills should be unannounced. It is useful to invite outside drill monitors to observe your drill and to participate in an after-drill critique. Critiques can provide you with valuable insights to improve protection for you and your employees during chemical emergencies.
A model shelter in place for the workplace can be obtained from the Galesburg/Knox County Emergency Management Agency.
City of Galesburg, 55 W. Tompkins Street, Galesburg, IL 61402-1387, Phone: 309-343-4181