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Action 3: Assess Shelters
Enable all building owners and operators—from individual householders to skyscraper managers—to assess shelter attributes and to teach others.
Given the central role of shelter in preventing fallout exposure, it is important that people become more aware of the protective attributes of the structures in which they and their families spend a majority of their days. A national study of human activity patterns in the U.S. suggests that people spend an average of 87% of their time in enclosed buildings and about 6% of their time in enclosed vehicles.37 On average, a majority of people (90%) are found in their residences from about 11 pm to 5 am; schools, public buildings, offices, factories, and malls or stores are frequented mostly between 7 am and 5 pm.37 Building owners and operators—across commercial and residential sectors, and privately and publicly owned properties—have the responsibility to be key educators in advancing the public’s familiarity with places that promise the most protection against radioactive fallout.
The protective factor from radiation varies among building types and among different locations within buildings. Basements, the cores of large multistory buildings, and underground parking can generally reduce doses of radiation from fallout by a factor of 10 or more and are significantly better areas for shelter than the ground level and exterior rooms of buildings or areas near rooftops.6 By providing easily accessible and useful information on the best places to shelter (see How to Use Buildings as Shelters Against Fallout), proper sheltering can be incorporated into workplace disaster planning and reduce employee exposure to radiation. Some federal buildings, such as the Hubert Humphrey Building, which serves as the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Washington, DC, have posted signage to designate shelter-in-place locations for their employees. Building safety managers should ensure that any sheltering locations predesignated for other hazards also provide adequate protection from radioactive fallout. Businesses and organizations, too, should also plan for the storage of emergency supplies.
Designating large public buildings, such as a library, school, or post office, as a public shelter may be necessary in areas where other buildings do not provide sufficient protection (eg, neighborhoods with wood-frame houses or single-story buildings with no basements). Planners should evaluate neighborhood and commercial areas to determine which public shelter designations are needed in advance of a nuclear attack.5
On any given day, more than 1 out of every 5 people in the U.S. is located in a K-12 school—as a student, a teacher, other staff member, or volunteer.38 Emergency professionals should reach out to these centers of social life and convey the importance of incorporating fallout protection into standing emergency plans. Issues to address include determining building and interior locations that provide the best shelter, maintaining supplies to sustain residents for at least 24 hours, and communicating with parents and guardians about preparations. Following disasters, when parents have been asked what was important to them, they have replied that knowing about the safety and whereabouts of their children was their top priority.38 Addressing people’s needs to know whether their loved ones are safe and how to reunite with them will be central to successful sheltering education. Parents and guardians will need solid information from administrators that adequate preparations are in place and that automatically retrieving children from school following a nuclear detonation could endanger both the adults and their dependents by exposing them to outdoor radiation. Jurisdictions also need to develop and publicize their plans for family reunification following a nuclear detonation. Similarly, school plans must address how they will care for unaccompanied minors in the event that caretakers do not arrive.
Community associations connected with all housing types (eg, single-family units, mobile homes, condominiums, and apartments) can serve as conduits to equip heads of households and their families with information that permits them to judge the protective quality of their residence and, if need be, to identify an alternative sheltering location. Educational materials tailored to local residential building trends may prove beneficial given the differences in housing structures across U.S. regions. In the Northeast, more than one-third (38%) of all households live in apartments, a majority of which are located in buildings 7 stories or taller.39 In the South and West, only 2 of every 10 single-family units have a basement (either full or partial), in contrast to 87% of such units in the Northeast and 76% in the Midwest.39