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Monthly Archives: October 2012

  • Shelter and Temperature Control in an Emergency

    Along with water and food, shelter and temperature control are two of the most important elements of human survival. Even if you’re hydrated and have a full belly, you won’t survive long if your core body temperature rises or falls very far outside 98.6˚ F. Shelter and temperature control are all about protection from the elements. During an emergency, our usual sources of shelter and temperature control might not be available, so it’s important to gain knowledge about how to find shelter and maintain your core body temperature in an emergency.


    Shelter includes anything that protects you from the elements. Ideally, we would all be able to “shelter in place” in our own homes. Home is the place we are most familiar with and feel most comfortable. Home is also where we keep the majority of our emergency supplies. A well-stocked home can provide shelter and protection to a family for a long time. However, house fires or natural disasters like floods, landslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and earthquakes all have the potential to destroy homes. If you and your family are forced to evacuate your home for these or other reasons (like a chemical spill or civil unrest), knowing your emergency shelter options will increase your ability to protect your family from the elements.

    Couch Surfing – It’s a good idea to have an evacuation location picked as part of your emergency plan. Ask a friend or relative in another part of your town or state if you can come stay with them in case of an emergency that requires you to evacuate. You may also want to find someone out of state in case of a regional disaster. You could offer to be their evacuation shelter in case of an emergency in their area.

    Community or Disaster Relief Shelters – It can take a few days for community or national disaster relief organizations to set up shelters, but they can be a good resource if you don’t have another place to stay. Contact your local government’s emergency management branch or the local Red Cross chapter to find out where shelters are likely to be located in a disaster, and ask what restrictions are in place—there may be a limit to how many items you can bring with you, and there will likely be limits on the types of pets they allow, if any at all.

    Emergency Outdoor Shelters – As a last resort (or maybe your preferred option, depending on your love of camping and the outdoors), you could find a campground, schoolyard, or other area that hasn’t been affected by the disaster and live in a tent or other temporary shelter until help is available or you can return home. Be sure to have a tent and sleeping bags that will be sufficiently warm (or cool) for the climate in your area.

    Temperature Control

    Maintaining a core body temperature of 98.6˚ F is critical in an emergency. Even if you shelter in place at home, extreme hot or cold can be deadly. If you find yourself without electricity to run heating or air conditioning systems in summer or winter, you will need some way to control the temperature. In winter, a fireplace, wood stove, or portable heater can help you stay warm at home. Be sure your heat source is safe for indoor use and won’t create a carbon monoxide problem or other air quality issues.

    If extreme cold persists and you have no other means of heating your home, use an interior wall or corner to build a heat hut. A heat hut is an indoor shelter that will maximize your body heat to keep a small area warm.

    • Push several tables, desks or other pieces furniture near each other.
    • The four sides, floor, and “roof” should be covered with 15” of insulating materials like mattresses, blankets/bedding, towels, clothing, etc.
    • There should only be a small space for each person inside.
    • Lie close to or hug another person.

    If you find yourself outdoors in cold weather, a campfire can save your life. In summer, cooling your home without air conditioning may be difficult, especially without electricity. A solar-powered generator and a standing fan might be the best emergency gear you ever invested in if your electricity is out during a heat wave. Wherever you find yourself, knowing how to control the temperature of your body can increase your chances of survival.

    Layered Clothing – Layering clothing is a great way to regulate your temperature, wherever you’re sheltering. Having the option to add more layers or remove them will allow you to remain comfortable in a wide variety of situations, rather than having one heavy coat or a single light jacket that doesn’t suit the situation well.

    When choosing the layers you may need in an emergency situation, think about several light layers you could use for hot to cool weather (light t-shirts, shorts, light pants or long-sleeve t-shirts), some regular layers like your day-to-day clothing, and some thicker layers in case of cold weather (long johns, warm vests, fleece, hoodies, sweaters, turtlenecks, wool coats, etc.).

    Avoid cotton clothing as much as possible in your emergency gear—especially your cold-weather gear. Cotton soaks up water and dries very slowly, so it can literally be the difference between life and death in cold weather. Instead, choose clothing in fabrics that dry quickly and keep you warm—it is more expensive, but it’s worth the extra money to potentially save your life.

    Don’t forget to keep extra socks and gloves available—if your hands and feet aren’t warm, jackets and coats won’t be as effective at regulating your temperature.

    Keep dry – Keep in mind that water and wind both accelerate heat loss, so be sure you include layers of clothing that will protect from rain, snow, and wind. It only takes one rain storm to soak you through and leave you uncomfortable, cold, or sick. And a windproof layer is always a good idea, whether it’s over heavy or light layers of clothing.

    Surviving the heat The Lawrence of Arabia way– If you’ve seen this classic film, you know the principle: light, white, travel at night. Keep your fabrics light in weight, white (or light) in color, and if you have to travel to your evacuation location or perform heavy labor, do so at night to keep cool and save the extra water you would drink in the heat of the day.

    If you live near a water source, consider spending time there to fight the heat—a swimming pool, lake, or stream is a great way to cool off. Take all the proper safety precautions for yourself and those with you, try to find a shady spot to relax, and don’t forget to use sunscreen.

    Remember that we talked about water and wind accelerating heat loss? You can use that to your advantage in hot weather—spritzing yourself with cool water and creating a breeze with a fan will help you cool down.

    With just a few essential items, you can prepare to shelter at home or away, and in any kind of weather. Think about the climate in your area, and have items in your emergency kit that allow you to customize your shelter and clothing to accommodate weather throughout the year.For more information on Shelter and Temperature Control, check out our Insight Articles on linked below:

  • Emergency Shelter

    Since 2007, more than 14 million people worldwide have reportedly lost their homes in natural disasters. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, winter storms—these types of disasters are a possibility no matter where in the world you live. It’s important for all of us to be prepared for anything from a temporary power outage to a catastrophe. Fortunately, none of us are completely alone when it comes to disaster preparedness. Local, regional, and national agencies work tirelessly before, during, and after natural disasters. Still, natural disasters often make it hard for agencies to launch an immediate response. It’s critical for each of us to make emergency preparations so we can keep ourselves, our families, and communities safe during and after a disaster.

    As we’ve seen time and time again, people and communities are resilient. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fires, tornadoes, and other large-scale catastrophes level towns and cities and yet we rebuild. If you owned a house severely damaged by a flood, earthquake, or tornado, would you throw up your hands and move to a new state or would you rebuild?

    A 1982 U.N. study revealed how people have established shelter during and after major disasters throughout history. The study found that “the primary response to shelter needs has been provided by the survivors themselves.” The study also found that “local organizations, especially those “in place” at the time of the disaster” provided secondary support, while national or international organizations provided the least amount of support. Time, the scale of the disaster, and the self-reliance of the residents in affected areas were found to limit the response of external agencies. Though this report is twenty years old, recent disasters around the world show that self-reliance is one of the most important factors when it comes to emergency shelter during and after a disaster.

    When it comes to emergency shelter, there are several options depending on the situation. Some of these include personal homes, storm shelters, bomb/fallout shelters, local relief shelters, portable shelters (vehicles, tents, tarps, etc.), and improvised shelters. It’s important to become familiar with these types of emergency shelter, so you and your family will be better prepared to respond to disasters with self-reliance and community cooperation.


    Most likely, you’ll store the majority of your emergency preparedness supplies in your home. Since it isn’t always practical to carry all those supplies with you, staying home is preferable when possible. In certain emergency situations, your own home can be the best shelter. These situations might include extreme heat or cold, winter storms, thunder and lightning storms, blackouts, tornadoes, and pandemics. Some of these can last days or weeks, so make sure you store at least two weeks’ worth of food, water, and other needed supplies. Every home emergency kit should include emergency lighting and communication. In all situations, having a battery or hand crank operated radio will help keep you informed as the emergency develops.

    For extreme temperatures, make sure your home is well-insulated and your heating/air conditioning system is in good repair. A backup generator can keep these systems running during a power outage. Also consider single room heaters or air conditioners that use less energy or concentrating heating/cooling to a single room or small section of your house.
    For in-depth information on specific disasters, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website Ready.gov.

    Storm Shelters

    There are many types of storm shelters, both commercially- or home-made. If you live in a disaster-prone region, a well-built above- or in-ground storm shelter can save your life and the lives of your family. If you can buy a premade shelter, make sure the manufacturer is credible and builds high-quality shelters that meet government guidelines. Commercially-made shelters often cost anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Making a shelter yourself can save money, but make sure you have the proper knowledge, skills, plans, and materials. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published guidelines for proper shelter, or “safe room,” construction in the document FEMA P-320, Taking Shelter from the Storm, Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business. To download this document, visit fema.gov.

    Bomb/Fallout Shelters

    Though a large-scale foreign attack on the United States seems unlikely, some of us remember life during the Cold War. For decades, the threat of a nuclear attack prompted cities and private individuals to build fallout shelters. Many of these shelters still exist in the basements of government and other buildings, though they are likely out of commission. These and other types of bomb shelters are still commercially available.

    Local Relief Shelters

    After a major disaster strikes, emergency relief organizations like FEMA or the Red Cross set up temporary shelters to provide for the needs of residents in the affected area. If a natural or man-made disaster makes sheltering at home unsafe, a mass shelter may be your best option. Remember, it takes time for these agencies to set up shelters, so they recommend having at least three days’ worth of food, water, and supplies in an emergency kit. Because staying at a mass shelter with a crowd of strangers can be uncomfortable and stressful, staying with a friend or relative outside the affected area may be a better option. Make sure you plan ahead of time if you want to avoid mass shelters.

    Local news agencies will most likely announce the location of relief shelters, so a portable radio can be your best source of information. If you have internet access, you can find open Red Cross shelters on their website’s ‘Find Open Shelters’ page. You can also text “SHELTER” plus your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest FEMA shelter in your area. To prepare for possible disasters in your area, consider contacting your local emergency management agency and Red Cross office to get more information. Your town may already have a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Go to CitizenCorps.gov/CERT for more information. To find state and local emergency preparedness information, visit our map, “Emergency Preparedness in Your State.”

    Portable Shelters

    Common types of portable shelters include vehicles, tents, or tarps. Depending on how many people you need to cover, something as small as a rain poncho can provide shelter from the elements. Vehicles make great shelter, but many are too small to sleep in comfortably, especially for a family. If an emergency makes driving impractical or impossible, you may need to carry your shelter. There are many high-quality, lightweight backpacking tents available. For larger groups, consider distributing the contents of larger tent among the members to carry.

    If you plan to use a tarp for a shelter, make sure you know how to set it up before an emergency. There are many configurations of tarp shelters that offer different types of coverage. Learn a few options (i.e., using trees or setting up in the open). Whether using a camping tent or tarp, practice setting up quickly using teamwork. A backyard campout is fun and gives family members, especially children, a chance to learn important skills for an emergency.

    Improvised Shelter

    If you find yourself without shelter in an emergency, knowing how to improvise a shelter out of available materials might save your life and the lives of your family members. There are many books on wilderness survival that include instructions for building improvised shelters. It is best to have both knowledge and experience to successfully construct a shelter, but do so with care and caution. If possible, consult a local wilderness survival expert or take a class.Whether sheltering at home or away, knowledge is your most valuable tool. Learning the different options for emergency shelter can reduce stress and provide protection when it’s needed most.

    Habitat for Humanity International. ShelterReport 2012: Build Hope: Housing Cities After a Disaster. p. 3. http://www.habitat.org/gov/take_action/shelter_report_2012.aspx

    The United Nations. Shelter after Disaster: Guidelines for Assistance. New York: United Nations, 1982. p. 5. http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/E4FE896AFFF16709C1256CB10056558E-undro-shelter1-jul82.pdf



  • Equipment and Tools for an Emergency

    In a major disaster, the modern conveniences we take advantage of every day might not be available. Having the right emergency equipment and tools can help you maintain some degree of normalcy in basic day-to-day tasks. Imagine being able to cook, wash clothes, take a hot shower, light and heat your home, listen to the news, charge your cell phone and other electronic devices, or run large appliances even if the power and water are shut off. Consider how you might benefit from the following items in an emergency:

    • camping stove
    • hand-powered grain mill
    • hand-powered clothes washer
    • portable hot shower
    • hand-crank flashlight
    • indoor propane-powered heater
    • hand-crank radio
    • solar-powered battery charge with USB plug in
    • solar-powered generator capable of powering a refrigerator

    These are just a few of the items that could reduce stress and provide comfort during an emergency. With the right equipment and tools, life can go on with less interruption even in a disaster.

    To learn more about emergency equipment and tools, check out the Insight Articles linked below:

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