Being Ready to Shelter-in-Place

Shelter-in-place is a protective action that is taken during an emergency situation to keep people safe while indoors. It is a directive to remain in your current location until the danger has passed.

Emergency Planning
The Shelter-in-Place Order

How Orders Work

When this order is issued, people are instructed to remain indoors, in their current location until the danger has passed. If you are close to home, you may be allowed to make your way there. Some examples of situations that may require shelter-in-place include:

  • severe weather alerts such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter storms
  • environmental hazards such as chemical releases
  • active shooter situations
  • biological or chemical defense scenarios

The specific steps you will be advised to take during a shelter-in-place order vary depending on the type of emergency. A natural disaster may have you sheltering at the lowest level of a building, while a biological or chemical event may have you sheltering at the highest point of your home with windows and doors taped shut.

How long do they last?

The duration of a shelter-in-place order varies depending on the nature of the emergency, its location, and the discretion of the local government issuing it. Recommendations for sheltering in place may only be for at-risk populations and the orders are usually short-term and last only until the immediate danger has passed.

Who issues the order?

Shelter-in-place orders are directives given by state or local authorities to ensure public safety during an emergency. The power to issue such an order ultimately lies with the state government and can be based on the state’s constitution, laws, or regulations. However, states may also delegate this authority to cities and towns, allowing them to take their own measures.

How will I get the order?

Shelter-in-place orders are issued by state or local officials to protect public safety during an emergency. There are several methods that authorities use to communicate these orders to the public. Make sure to know what methods are used by your local aurthorities.

Alert Systems

Many communities have emergency alert systems in place that can send notifications to residents via phone, text message, or email.

Local news

Local news outlets, including television, radio, and online sources often broadcast emergency information and instructions to the public.

Social media

Authorities may also use their social media accounts on various platforms to share information and updates about emergency situations.


In some communities, sirens or other warning systems may be used to alert residents of an impending danger.

How to Prepare

Prepare with Supplies

Preparation for a shelter-in-place order depends on specific details, why the order is issued, and how long it will last. But generally, if you prepare in the following categories, you will have many of the supplies that will help see you through.

Food & bottled water

If you have the general run of your home and are not isolated, you can take advantage of the food you have on hand.

Evacuation kits

You read that right. Evacuation kits can help you at home. If you are asked to isolate in a specific part of your home, grab your grab & go bags and take them with you. They will have food, water, and other supplies to help see you through.

Away-from-home kits

If your child is at school or you are at work when a shelter-in-place order is called, a school kit and office kit will provide you with much-appreciated supplies.

Disaster-specific planning

Some orders may require you only to get inside and wait. Other orders may require specific actions on your part, some of which may require protective equipment or materials. If you are prepare for these types emergencies, you won't be caught off guard.

Get Educated

Learn more about the disasters or emergencies that your area and city may be prone to. Now is the time to learn and prepare for each one. Often, your city's website may highlight these vulnerabilities and give all kinds of helpful information, advice, and resources.

Sign up for local alerts

You may assume that local officials in your area will send you emergency alerts. This is not always the case.

  • Many cities require you to proactively sign up to their emergency system if you wish to receive local alerts.
  • Find out what your city requires to make sure you won't be left off their list.
  • Learn more about local alerts.

Though rare, emergency alerts can also be issued at the state and federal levels. These work off different infrastructure and do not require that you sign up. You will get these alerts automatically. Learn more about federally issued alerts.

When You're Not at Home

In a perfect world, we would all be at home when and if a shelter-in-place order comes down. There is a big chance you and members of your family won't be at home or even somewhere inside. So what do we do then?

If Outside

If you're outside when a shelter-in-place order is issued, you should get inside as quickly as possible. If you're not near home, pick a public building if possible. Be aware that in some places, performing what is deemed as non-essential tasks outside during this time may be considered a misdemeanor. Actual enforcement may vary.

If Driving

If you're driving in your car and a shelter-in-place order is issued, it is recommended that you find shelter as quickly as possible. If you are very close to home, your workplace, or a public building, go there immediately and go inside. Depending on the emergency, it may be safer to pull over and stay in your car than to keep driving.

At Work or School

A shelter-in-place order may come down when family members are at work, school, or other common location. This is an example of why office kits and school kits are just as essential to have. Create an emergency kit for wherever it is that you spend most of your time while away from home. When possible, leave the kit there for safe keeping.

Remember Your Pets

When the Order is Issued

Whether or not you must bring your pet inside will be determined by the reason the order has been issued.

  • If it's unsafe for you to be outside, then it’s unsafe for your pets.
  • If you are designated to one area of your home, take your pets with you. If you have other pets like a bunny, bird, hamster, guinea pig, and the like, this goes for them too. If you must be contained in a specific area, then they are better off with you.
  • You’ll need to prepare a spot for your pets to relieve themselves while inside the house until the order has been canceled. If you have a cat, this is easy. With a dog, you may have a bit of a challenge on your hands. You will need plenty of plastic bags, newspapers, containers, and cleaning supplies to deal with the pet waste.

When the Order is Canceled

After the order has been lifted, you may be tempted to let your pet outside. Hold off.

  • Don’t allow your pet to roam free without first assessing your home and your outside property, including fencing for any damage. Watch for any downed power lines. If your home is damaged, your pet could escape.
  • Beware of the hazards at nose and paw level, particularly debris, spilled chemicals, fertilizers, or other substances that may not seem dangerous to humans.
  • If your home has been altered in any way, leash your pets when going outside until the damage is fixed. Take this seriously because they may be very confused, and upset, and may ultimately get lost.
  • If you have sustained any flooding, snakes and other deadly critters can be brought into the area so be on the lookout.

Watch Your Pet’s Behavior

Pets can be vulnerable to any environmental changes and negative experiences.

  • The behavior of your pets may change temporarily, depending upon what they have been through, and any upsetting changes may be perceived.
  • A normally quiet and friendly pet may become aggressive or defensive.
  • Watch them closely, especially around children.
  • Be patient and understanding. Give them time to work through it, just as you would a child.