What is a Disaster Shelter?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
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A disaster shelter is a structure or building used to sustain life during and after a disaster. This structure provides protection from the elements, such as wind and rain, as well as chemicals and other hazards. For example, a disaster shelter may house humans and animals during a tornado, landslide, or other type of natural disaster. It may also provide protection after a chemical spill sends hazardous fumes into the air. A disaster shelter may even provide protection after a terrorist attack that intentionally releases hazardous substances into the air or causes other dangerous situations.

Sometimes disaster shelters are located in schools, churches, or public buildings. These shelters accommodate large numbers of people who gather together to weather a storm or other type of disaster. Public disaster shelters can become overcrowded in an emergency, and people entering them cannot expect privacy.

Public disaster shelters may have limited emergency supplies to share, or none at all. A shelter may have emergency medical equipment and a backup source of power, but those seeking shelter may need to take food and water from home. People may also wish to take enough clothing to last them for several days, as well as blankets and pillows when going to a shelter. Many disaster shelters that are open to the public do not allow animals, so people usually have to leave their pets at home or make other arrangements for them.


Individuals seeking shelter may also take required medications to a disaster shelter. A significant amount of time may pass before they are able to go home and retrieve medication or have prescriptions refilled. People should also take a washcloth and a towel or two, as well as toilet paper, napkins, feminine hygiene supplies, and other items required for personal care. It’s wise to take along a contact list of family members, physician contact information, identification, and insurance cards and documentation. Flashlights, batteries, and battery-powered radios may also prove useful.

Sometimes people choose to build their own disaster shelters in their homes or on their property. These shelters are intended to protect against shifts in the earth caused by earthquakes, damage that could occur from tornadoes and hurricanes, radiation, air contamination, and explosions. Some companies build disaster shelters that are even said to protect against nuclear blasts. These shelters are usually sized to fit just one family and have room for storing the food, water, and other supplies a family may need in a disaster.


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