Preparing to Shelter in Place

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Shelter in place (SIP) is when individuals remain indoors in order to minimize exposure to hazards that exist outside of the structure.

Sheltering in place to escape hazardous chemicals, airborne biological agents, and radiation requires finding an inner room in the nearest location, closing and sealing doors, windows, and air vents and turning off ventilation systems in order to create a space that is as airtight as possible.[1]

When it comes to a disease as virulent as Ebola, Dr Ben Carson says, "We should be thinking about worse case scenarios and we need to be putting into place the kinds of mechanisms to deal with it before it happens."[2]

The idea of contagion prompting quarantines and isolation dates back to the Justinian Plague. However, governments have been reluctant to institute non-pharmaceutical interventions such as quarantine, school closings, and general bans on public gatherings during epidemics. If they do close venues and ask people to restrict their movements, they often take such measures too late.[3]

If a shelter in place directive is being implemented by public authorities, you will not have a chance to prepare. The directive will be announced through news media, weather reports, Emergency Alert System, Reverse 911, email notification, warning sirens or horns, and mobile public address systems. An official shelter in place directive instructs residents to immediately bring all children and pets inside and to close and lock windows and doors.

If you take the decision to shelter in place during an Ebola outbreak into your own hands, you have time to prepare. For the purpose of sheltering against Ebola it is not necessary to duct tape windows, doors, or air vents, and only turn off ventilation systems if they are shared with another apartment or office. Ebola is not airborne so you don't have to seal yourself inside, you can leave doors and windows open so long as there is distance or a barrier between you and the people outside who may potentially be a source of infection. People in basement and ground level apartments and those who share a common hallway or ventilation source should assess their situation and perhaps seek out alternative shelter with family or friends.

Should you or shouldn't you, shelter in place?

There are many ways to protect yourself from infection with the Ebola virus. Social distancing and the use of PPE will reduce the chance of infection. But to completely eliminate the possibility of infection then you must isolate yourself inside.

  • Does your normal daily routine involve close personal interaction with others?
  • Is there a reasonable risk of infection with the Ebola Virus Disease going about your normal daily routine?
  • Do you have a suitable place to shelter?
  • Do you have enough food, water, and medication to last until the risk of infection from outside sources is gone?
  • Will others in your household agree to shelter in place? There's no sense isolating yourself if others in your home are coming and going.
  • Can you lock your doors and refuse everyone who wants to come in?
  • Can you afford to shelter in place? Will you lose your job or income by staying at home for an extended period?
  • Can your community afford your loss? Do you provide a vital service such that your absence will cause a hardship or danger for others?

If you can honestly answer the questions above then you know the answer to whether or not you should shelter in place when waves of infection pass through your community.

How do you know when it is time to shelter in place?

If you make a personal decision not to wait for government directives to isolate during an epidemic then you must also decide at what point you will close your doors. If you act too early, your limited supplies may run out during the peak of the epidemic. If you act too late, you or your loved ones may become infected.

Everyone's situation is different. A well stocked retired couple in a rural area may not need to leave their home for months and thus can shelter at the first hint of trouble. Someone with an essential job might choose to utilize personal protection when they leave their home and wait for the government to issue quarantine or shelter in place orders.

Everyone's comfort level is different. Some may draw the line when Ebola is spreading within their country, others wait until there are cases within their state, town, or neighborhood.

You don't have to decide now. There's nothing wrong with playing it by ear and making an informed decision when the time comes. It is important, however, to be prepared to shelter in place at any time.



In the 1990's, before the explosion of the internet, online shopping, home entertainment systems, and smart phones, trend forecaster and marketing consultant Faith Popcorn coined the term 'cocooning'. Cocooning is creating a safe place around you and filling it with all of the things you need to live comfortably with minimal personal contact with the outside world. Modern homes have heat, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, refrigeration and cooking facilities, and the advance of computing and the internet over the last twenty years has allowed us to maintain contact with our friends and family, telecommute, continue our education, be entertained with an endless supply of music and videos, and receive up to the minute news without setting foot outside our home.

These resources will allow more people to safely and comfortably shelter in place, especially if we prepare. Now is the time to set up systems in advance, if they do not already exist, to minimize the economic and social impact of an epidemic.


You can shelter in place in almost any structure, home, or office, so long as it protects you from the elements and interaction with people outside of your walls.

It is important, when choosing your shelter or preparing your home or office, to understand the mechanism of transmission of Ebola Virus Disease. Ebola is spread by aerosol transmission, it is not airborne. While the two terms sound alike to the layman, there are important differences. Every time you flush a toilet it releases an aerosol spray of tiny water droplets. When you sneeze, you spray aerosolized droplets for several feet. Aerosolized droplets are large and cannot float in the air for long distances. They fall to the ground within 6 - 10 feet and land on nearby surfaces, where they are known as fomites. It is currently believed that Ebola fomites must touch your body in some way to cause infection. When a virus is airborne, however, the droplets are much finer and can be carried long distances on air currents. You can become sick by breathing in airborne virus particles that are suspended in the air. While experts cannot say for certain when an Ebola patient becomes infectious we do know the viral load, and thus transmissibility, is negligible when symptoms first appear, increase dramatically as symptoms advance to vomiting and diarrhea, then peak upon death.

If your shelter shares its ventilation system you should close it off. has an article that describes how to set up a HEPA filter system that takes outside air and runs it through the filtration system of a wet dry vacuum. "Even though viruses are smaller in size than the HEPA can filter, they (viruses) generally lack the mass to penetrate the electro-static shield formed over the filter as air flows through it."[4]

Close and seal any windows or doors that overlook sidewalks within 10' of your home, or where landscapers or delivery people might walk by. Second floor windows are safe to open. You may be able to use your back yard, or enjoy your deck.

The most important rule is do not let anyone or anything including pets into your shelter once you close your doors. Do not answer your door to anyone. Do not bring packages into your shelter without being 100% sure the packaging and its contents are disinfected. The purpose of sheltering in place is to minimize exposure to outside agents of infection. That is defeated if you allow those outside agents into your shelter.

General Supplies

The Navy Seals coined the axiom, "Two is one and one is none." When it comes to essential items, you must have redundancy. A mental exercise is to walk through your home and imagine you have lost the use of your kitchen sink, your furnace, stove, toilet, bed, computer, etc. Do you have a spare, a backup, or an alternative? The backup does not have to be the identical item. An old bucket will do the job of a sink in a pinch.

Make the decision whether or not to have back up power. While it is possible an epidemic can get so bad not enough report to work to keep vital services working, a more likely scenario is normal weather related outages that take longer than average to repair. If you need power to keep your heat on, or if you are depending on food in your freezers, then a generator and the fuel to run it until power is restored will be essential. However, if you are preparing now for a situation later, then you have the option of circumventing the need for a generator which can be quite expensive to purchase and run by having a back up source of heat such as a fireplace or kerosene heater, and choosing foods that do not need refrigeration as the bulk of your long term storage.

You will need to be able to deal with minor repairs. Know where your electrical panel, water, and gas shut offs are located. Keep a selection of basic tools, nails and screws, washers, plumbing supplies, tarps, plastic sheeting and duct tape to deal with broken windows and leaks. Gather all your manuals in one place and purchase DIY houeshold repair books to cover all contingencies.

It is advisable to have a library of books. Cookbooks, home repair, and medical advice books are essential, and can be rounded out with game books, books that teach hobbies and crafts, and novels to help make time pass more quickly. If you have children they may be able to bring their school books home with them. Be sure to keep a copy of their yearly/summer reading list and if you can't get hard bound copies to keep in your library they should all be available through online e-book sellers. For younger children, the Core Knowledge series, "What Your Pre-schooler (Kindergartener, First Grader, etc) Needs to Know" is excellent but only available in paperback.

Food and Water

Once you close your doors and do not let anything in from outside, then you are fully dependent on pre-stocked supplies. If those supplies are insufficient you may be forced to break isolation in the midst of a pandemic in order to obtain what you need. Plan ahead, and purchase ahead, so you have food security when the time comes to SIP.

There is no one-size-fits-all food storage plan. The length of time you intend to SIP, the size of your family, your food preferences, dietary needs, time and equipment to home preserve food, storage capabilities, and budget must all be factored in when creating a storage plan.

  • Duration of SIP - Historically, pandemics come in waves. For example, the Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 came in three distinct waves: a mild wave in the Spring of 1918, a second more severe and fatal wave from September-November 1918, and a third wave in early 1919.[5]. Influenza has a much higher rate of person to person infection and a much shorter incubation period than Ebola, but the Ebola virus can live on surfaces much longer than influenza virus.[6], and Ebola virus can be found in semen and has been known to infect sexual partners with the disease. One study suggests the virus is present in semen as much as 90 days after the patient has recovered.[7] . A likely scenario is a slow start to an epidemic with cases popping up here and there with increasing frequency for the first few months, then widespread infection for an indeterminate period. We simply do not know, at this point, whether Ebola will become endemic like HIV and TB, or if government and the public can work together to eradicate Ebola completely.
  • Size of Family - Consider how much food you purchase in a week. Do you shop at a supermarket, order from a butcher, purchase at a farmer's market, grow your own, eat in a restaurant, order takeout? Now multiply that by the number of weeks you plan on sheltering in place. Do you plan on inviting family members or friends who do not live with you to share your shelter during an epidemic? Will you stock food for them or can you depend on each of them to bring their own supplies? Do you want to stock supplies for neighbors who are not adequately prepared, or to trade?
  • Food Preferences - Experienced preppers tell us to store what we eat and eat what we store. But when it comes to long term food storage products, the big sellers are foods that do not make up the basis of the average person's diet: high sodium, low calorie count freeze dried meals, wheat berries, and dried beans. When preparing for a shelter in place situation, buy the foods you normally eat in a form that has a reasonably long shelf life. For example, if you eat a lot of fresh fruit buy frozen, canned, or dehydrated fruit.
  • Dietary Needs - Low sodium, gluten free or other restrictions must be taken into consideration when planning food storage. Also, since sugar and salt are commonly used as food preservatives you need to be sure you don't load up on products that could cause issues if there's a predisposition for hypertension or diabetes. No matter what your food plan, you should add a good multivitamin to your stocks to ensure everyone has their basic needs met.
  • Time and Equipment to Preserve Food at Home - A dehydrator, canning equipment, a freezer and vacuum sealer will allow you to buy food in bulk, prepare meals in advance, control the quantity and quality of ingredients, and customize your food storage to better accommodate dietary preferences.
  • Containers and Storage - After you have purchased and processed your food preps, the last thing you want is to see it spoil or become infested due to poor storage. All grains and grain based foods, such as pasta, should be placed in your freezer for no less than 3 days to kill all bugs and larvae, then removed, brought to room temperature, and sealed in an airtight container. It is prudent to store many small containers rather than one large container. Items in boxes or plastic bags should be repackaged to avoid contamination by vermin. Items already in glass jars or cans do not need to be repackaged. Label everything with product type and date. Store in a cool, dry place. Do not store food preps in your attic or garage. Do not store food preps in any area subject to high humidity or in sunlight.
  • Budget - When you are homebound for an extended period of time, the variety and quality of the food you eat becomes very important. If your budget is small, check prices on bulk purchases, process as much as you can at home, and stock a variety of spices, sauces, and gravies to add interest to your meals.
  • Water - You simply cannot stock too much water, but depending on your stocks for a long term SIP situation may be unrealistic. Ebola virus is killed at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Putting a soda bottle filled with water in a sunny window for a day should be enough to kill the virus. But it may not be enough to kill other pathogens. Follow the instructions on the government's fact sheet on purifying water at

  1. "Shelter-In-Place Local Emergency Planning Committee South Florida LEPC District 11 South Florida LEPC District 11 George Danz, Chairman George Danz, Chairman Manny Cela, Coordinator Manny Cela, Coordinator"
  2. 6:26 at video "Dr. Ben Carson On Ebola Worries: 'We're Not Acting Logically'"
  3. The Public Health Response (to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19).
  5. "1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics"
  6. "The survival of filoviruses in liquids, on solid substrates and in a dynamic aerosol"
  7. "What we know about transmission of the Ebola virus among humans"