Shelter and Temperature Control in an Emergency

October 29, 2012

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

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:


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