Some facilities within Washington County use or store hazardous materials. Hazardous materials may also be transported on highways within the county. This article is intended to inform Washington County residents of the ways in which we can protect ourselves and our families, if an order is given to shelter in place. These parameters describe most of us and are, therefore, relevant as a matter for the Local Emergency Planning Committee to discuss and provide education.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and American Red Cross, “shelter-in-place” means to take immediate shelter where you are—at home, work, school, or in between. It may also mean “seal the room;” in other words, take steps to prevent outside air from coming in. This is because local authorities may instruct you to “shelter-in-place” if chemical or radiological contaminants are released into the environment. It is important to listen to TV or radio to understand whether the authorities wish you to merely remain indoors or to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family.
According to Washington County Emergency Operation Center (EOC) Director Pete Kuhlmann, a shelter-in-place order may be given locally that protective measures be taken when there is a danger in the community. Likely scenarios would include a traffic accident where hazard materials are released or a catastrophe at a facility where hazardous materials are used or stored. The order would be used when it is determined that the threat of harm is greater for community members if they evacuate than it would be if they stay in one place. It would be used in the short term to prevent exposure to hazardous materials before a clean up can be effected. Director Kuhlmann said notification would be made to affected residents by first responders, the emergency broadcast system, and/or by reverse 911. Washington County residents can register for reverse 911 services at http://911register.com.
Residents should make a shelter-in-place plan before a disaster occurs and review it with their families. Residents should select a room in their house with limited points of entry and exit. It would be preferable for the room to also have a water source available. The objective is to seal off ventilation into that room, so turning off the air conditioning should take place before entry. Next, use a shelter-in-place kit to seal openings into the room. The kit should include plastic sheeting, duct tape and towels for sealing crevices. It should also contain a battery powered radio, food and other comfort provisions. The shelter-in-place kit and order are designed to be short term solutions while clean up is underway, but one should be prepared to shelter in place for at least several hours. Again, the objective is that residents are able to go in, shelter in place and await further instructions.
Sheriff Cory Pulsipher discussed the need to talk about emergency preparedness with your families before disaster strikes and have a plan ready. He said families should create shelter-in-place plans in the same way they create fire evacuation plans. He recalled the flooding of 2005 where the town of Gunlock was cut off by flood waters and it was easier and safer to bring resources to residents there than to try and evacuate them. He said that families should keep “72 Hour Kits” stocked and ready to go. The kits should contain, at a minimum, batteries, matches, food and water. Describing his own family, Sheriff Pulsipher said, “We have backpacks that we keep in the storage room with personalized items for each of our needs.” These could easily be introduced into a shelter in place scenario to provide for family members until the danger is past.
For more information on sheltering in place and how to create a shelter-in-place kit, please visit the American Red Cross website.