Answers to Your Questions about Heightened Threat Level
Questions related to shelter-in-place
Questions related to disaster supplies
Questions related to personal disaster preparedness
Questions related to school/business disaster preparedness
about specific hazards
Questions related to shelter-in-place
Q: Will anyone tell me to stay in my home or leave the area?
Yes, local government officials will provide instructions on the radio and
television. Listen to their advice and follow their instructions.
If local government officials advise evacuating the area, the Red Cross
will open shelters in locations that will be safe.
Be careful not to confuse an evacuation shelter with a room in a home or
building that is selected to seal up and use to “shelter-in-place.”
Q: What are the important points to remember in case we are told to
You should be in a place that will afford you protection from a
contaminant in the air.
Instructions on how to “shelter-in-place” are provided on our web site at
Please do not confuse the recommendation to have at least three days’
worth of disaster supplies on hand with the amount of time that you may be
asked to shelter-in-place. We always recommend having at least three days’
worth of supplies in case stores are closed and roads are impassible due
to a disaster like a flood or winter storm.
Q: Does the Red Cross recommend stocking duct tape and plastic
These materials have always been recommended to have as part of a Disaster
They may be needed if the public is advised by local authorities to
Q: I’m confused about this duct tape and plastic
sheeting recommendation - am I supposed to seal my whole house and do it
now? How much do I need? Is plastic really going to stop a chemical agent?
What kind of plastic sheeting should I use?
The recommendation to shelter-in-place using duct tape and plastic
sheeting will be provided by local government officials only when an
emergency occurs. The Red Cross recommends that people have these supplies
on hand in case they are needed.
You would seal only one room when advised to do so, and do it only when
instructed - not in advance.
It is likely that one roll of duct tape will be adequate. Plastic sheeting
of durable thickness (thicker than food wrap) is recommended for covering
vents and other openings to the outside - not the entire room. It is
intended to provide a barrier to air flow.
While we cannot guarantee that plastic sheeting over air vents will stop
all biological, chemical, or radiological agents, it will add to the
barrier of protection for your safety.
For further instructions, see “shelter in place” information at
I need a safe room? What is a safe room?
A “safe room” as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a
room, preferably below ground, in which people can take shelter from a
If such a room is below ground, it may not be the safest choice if told to
stay at home and “shelter-in-place” during a weapons of mass destruction
event due to the possibility that some contaminants may seep into rooms
below ground level.
The Red Cross recommends and endorses having a “safe room” in areas where
tornadoes are a threat. (For more information on a “safe room,” see
) However, do not confuse a “safe room” used for protection from
windstorms with a room selected for “shelter-in-place.” They are
technically different, although they serve a similar purpose. If a “safe
room” for windstorms is above ground level and has no windows, it can also
be an ideal location in which to shelter-in-place.
Q: How much time
do I have to get to the room that I have selected in which to
shelter-in-place once I hear of an attack?
The situation will vary, depending on the nature of the event. It is best
to take immediate protective action as soon as you think there is a local
emergency, or if you hear on the radio or television that you need to
Q: Do I need to put towels under my door? Should
they be wet?
Wet towels under a door are used in cases when you are in a room from
which you cannot escape and a fire is on the other side. That is not the
same thing as what needs to be done when you shelter-in-place. See the
instructions on shelter-in-place at
I seal off my rooms and vents, how will I breathe? How long should I
anticipate being in the room in which I am sheltering-in-place?
Instructions to shelter-in-place are usually provided for a matter of
hours, not weeks. There is little danger that the room in which you are
taking shelter will run out of oxygen and you will suffocate.
Q: Is the room in which to shelter-in-place a bathroom?
A bathroom may be a good choice for the room in which to
“shelter-in-place” as long as it does not have windows (or few windows)
and you can block openings (such as vents) to the outside.
about whole house air filtration systems?
These systems are designed to reduce, but not completely remove,
particulate matter in the air inside a home. A house or apartment, itself,
is not completely air tight or sealed, even when doors and windows are
Questions related to disaster supplies
Q: How many disaster supplies kits should I have?
We recommend that you stock a complete kit to meet the needs of everyone
in your home, and have it packed and ready to take with you in case you
are advised to evacuate your home.
You should also have a small disaster supplies kit in each vehicle you
have, as well as supplies at your workplace.
Sometimes it is easier to create one kit for each person in your home, so
that the container is smaller and easier to carry. The amount of contents
remains the same, in total, for everyone in your home.
See “Talking About Disaster” for more information at:
Q: What about my
pets? How much should I add to my disaster supplies kit for them?
Store enough supplies for your pet’s needs for at least three days,
including food, water, and related items such as kitty litter.
Q: What’s the difference between an “all hazards” disaster supplies
kit and a WMD disaster supplies kit?
There is no difference between these kits, except that certain
manufacturers may apply different labels to them.
The recommended list of disaster supplies that the Red Cross recommends
that people have for any type of disaster can be found on
Do you recommend that people have a gas mask?
The most current advice provided by the Centers for Disease Control is
that gas masks are not recommended for the general public. They need to be
fitted carefully for each face, and there are different kinds of masks for
different types of agents.
Having or using a gas mask may offer a false sense of security.
Q: Does the Red Cross recommend that people stock up on certain
An antibiotic is a chemical that is used after exposure to a
Health professionals are reluctant to or will not prescribe antibiotics
before exposure (prophylactic treatment) because that further increases
the problem of mutations of organisms to be resistant to antibiotics. If
an organism develops resistance to common antibiotics, then more powerful
antibiotics may have to be used instead.
More powerful antibiotics often have serious side effects, sometimes worse
than the actual disease. In addition:
Antibiotics are specific as to the type of organism they work for. You
don't know which one to take until you know what you have been exposed to.
Usually the lay-public cannot tell what one has been exposed to. A doctor
has to determine that, usually through tests.
Most antibiotics have a limited shelf-life, and some require refrigeration
and/or special storage.
Antibiotics are not useful for virus-caused illnesses. Viruses are
different types of organisms and are not affected by antibiotics.
The Red Cross only recommends that people have antibiotics on hand that
their physician has prescribed for specific conditions. Further, the
person receiving the antibiotics should get advice from the physician or a
licensed pharmacist on how to store and maintain antibiotics, as well as
how to use them.
Q: What about Potassium Iodide (KI?)
Potassium Iodide has been shown to provide some limited help in preventing
the body from absorbing certain types of radioactive particles which could
inhibit metabolism through action of the thyroid gland.
The Centers for Disease Control does not recommend that individuals stock
up or take Potassium Iodide in advance of an attack. This is because
Potassium Iodide is only useful for certain types of radioactivity, and
can also be harmful if used improperly, by children, or by people with
chronic or undiagnosed thryoid disease. Consult your physician if you have
questions about this chemical.
Questions related to personal disaster preparedness
Q: Do I need to evacuate my home?
Only if local government officials advise to do so. Sometimes, it may be
safer to stay at home and shelter-in-place.
Q: Tell me more about the
personal communications plan that you recommend?
The greatest cause of anxiety when disaster happens is not knowing how the
people you care about are doing. It is important to list all telephone
numbers as well as e-mail addresses for everyone that you will need to
notify in an emergency.
Also, designate someone who lives out-of-town to be the central contact,
in case those you care about are in different places when disaster
Q: How do I know which radio station to listen to get information?
These days, all radio stations are required to carry “Emergency Alert
Messages” when local officials issue them.
For continuous updates, select a radio station that you know carries
regular and “live” news broadcasts, rather than taped interviews.
If I live in a high-rise, do I respond the same way as if I lived in a
Listen to the advice of local government officials. If advised to
shelter-in-place, select an interior room on the floor that you are on in
which to take refuge. If advised to evacuate, follow the advice of local
government officials or building management.
Questions related to school/business disaster
Q: How can schools prepare for the unexpected?
The American Red Cross has produced the Facing Fear: Helping Young People
Deal With Terrorism and Tragic Events curriculum which is on line at
www.redcross.org/disaster/masters/facingfear. These lessons and
activities will help educators deal with student's concerns, as well as
practice drills on "reverse evacuation" if required.
We do not have information on how schools, colleges, or universities can
develop disaster plans. Please consult the school board or local emergency
Q: What should you do if you hear about an emergency and
your children are in school?
Schools should have an emergency plan - check with your children’s school
now to find out what the plan is.
If an emergency happens while children are in school, often the school
will hold children until the area is safe and parents or a designated
adult can pick them up.
Parents should not drive to school to pick up children unless advised to
do so; driving on the roadways may put you into harm’s way.
Q: How do
I find out what kind of plan my place of employment has?
Ask your supervisor or facilities manager. If your employer does not have
a plan, suggest that they read the “Emergency Management Guide for
Business and Industry” (A5025) which is available for downloading from
for more information.
Q: Should I take a disaster supplies kit to
work with me?
It is a good idea to have essential disaster supplies in all places where
you spend significant amounts of time.
Q: Isn’t preparing for an unspecified emergency a waste of time? Do you
think the government is helping or hurting the American people with these
types of messages?
Any type of disaster can happen anytime, such as an earthquake, fire,
flood, or tornado. We think it is important to be prepared for any event,
regardless of the cause.
While issuing these types of messages may cause some people to be
concerned or anxious, we think that disaster preparedness actions as
recommended by the Red Cross and government agencies are helpful.
How can we handle fears and concerns of children?
The American Red Cross has resources available that can help children deal
with terrorism and tragic events. See the lessons and activities titled
Facing Fear: Helping Children Deal With Terrorism and Tragic Events. These
materials are available to be downloaded from
Q: How do I
Develop a plan on how to respond with your family, including loved-ones
who will be concerned about you but who do not live with you.
Include an emergency communications plan. If a disaster happens, follow
Knowing that you know what to do and doing it is the best way to remain
about specific hazards
Q: Do I stay low to the ground during a chemical attack?
Follow the advice that local government officials will provide on the
radio and television.
The response will vary, depending on the chemical in question.
Q: Tell me about smallpox, ricin, and other specific biological or
Please refer to the web sites at
for specific information. It is okay for the Red Cross to download and
retransmit information from these web sites; however, it is important to
make it clear what the source of the information is - a government agency,
not the Red Cross.
Q: What is a “dirty bomb” and what is the radius
of the effects of a “dirty bomb”?
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a “dirty bomb” is a
radiological weapon which combines conventional explosives and radioactive
This bomb is designed to scatter dangerous and sub-lethal amounts of
radioactive material over a general area. There is no way to estimate in
advance the area that will be affected by such a bomb.
Q: What’s the
difference between a chemical and biological threat?
One type of threat is caused by a chemical agent and the other is caused
by an organism, like virus or bacteria, which can make you sick. Exposure
to certain chemicals and biological agents can cause death.
It is likely you will know very quickly if there is a chemical agent
attack, but you may not know that there has been a biological attack
The protective actions remain the same: go indoors for safety, and listen
to local television and radio for advice on what to do.
Q: What about
decontamination if you think you’ve been exposed?
If there has been an actual or suspected exposure to a chemical or
radiological agent, local government officials will set up screening and
decontamination locations. This is a place where you will be screened for
any agent you may have been exposed to.
If contamination is determined, you will be escorted through a
decontamination process. You will then be given some form of identifier
that indicated you are now free of contamination.
Do not return to a contaminated area until it is determined safe by
authorities, because you may have to go through the decontamination
process again. If you have further questions about decontamination
procedures, please contact your local emergency management agency or local
Q: Should I fill up the bathtub with water?
We recommend that you have your disaster supplies kit fully stocked,
including at least three gallons of water per person in your household. It
is alright to fill the bathtub with water IF you select the bathroom as
the room in which to “shelter-in-place.” Then you can use that water for
bathing (not for drinking).
Q: What if I come in contact with a chemical or biological agent?
Can I go in the room selected to “shelter-in-place” with the rest of my
If you come into contact with a chemical or biological agent, get
immediate medical attention. Avoid exposing others to the potential
Q: What do I do if I suspect an attack?
Call local law enforcement authorities immediately to report it.
Q: Do I need to buy a generator?
Unlike a severe storm, it is not likely that an attack using a chemical or
biological agent will cause power disruption; so you will not likely need
If you do choose to obtain a generator, consult the fact sheet on safe
usage of a generator at:
What will trigger a move to the “severe” level in the homeland security
A credible threat with information about an impending attack or an actual
attack will trigger it.
Q: What if I’m in a mall or store during an attack -- where do I
need to go?
Find a place where you can listen to local radio or television. Follow the
advice of local government officials.
If you are advised to shelter-in-place, follow the instructions on the Red
Cross shelter-in-place directions as if you were at a business.
If you are advised to evacuate, follow instructions provided on the radio
Q: What if I’m in my car? Is there anything I can do?
If local officials are advising to “shelter-in-place,” follow the
instructions on the Red Cross shelter-in-place directions for what to do
if you are in a vehicle. If you are advised to evacuate, follow
instructions provided on the radio.
Q: If I hear of an attack, what
are the most important things I need to do in the first three or five
As every situation is different, requiring different actions depending on
the problem, we advise that you should put your personal disaster plan
into action. Listen to directions of local officials on radio and
television and follow their advice.
It is always a good idea to get your Disaster Supplies Kit and move to the
room you selected in which to “shelter-in-place” and listen to local
television and radio for more directions there.