How to Survive in an Emergency Shelter

How to Survive in an Emergency Shelter

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Every year, emergency evacuations take place in the United States a lot more than you may realize, whether it’s due to flooding, fires, destructive weather, or something entirely man-made.  Just a little over a month ago, wildfires in the state of Oregon forced as many as 500,000 people to evacuate their homes.

In case you missed this post, Disaster Plans: They Aren’t All the Same

“Prepare You Family For Survival” by Linda Loosli


That’s half a million people for only one incident! If you haven’t caught on already, over the past few decades, severe weather has only seemed to intensify in frequency and strength. Keep reading to discover how to survive in an emergency shelter. 

How to Survive in an Emergency Shelter

How to Survive in an Emergency Shelter

Unfortunately, most Americans today live their lives as if this type of situation could never happen to them. This creates a false sense of security that leaves them blindsided and unprepared when an emergency does strike their region.

And don’t think for a minute that just because you live hundreds of miles away from the threat of wildfires or devastating hurricanes that your family is in the clear. An emergency can happen anywhere and anytime, even on a sunshiny day.  

If there ever comes a time where your family is forced to evacuate your home due to whatever reason and you don’t have friends or family that you can rely on, your local emergency shelter is one place that you can turn to.

A shelter provides a roof over your head and a safe place for your family to escape the threat, but it doesn’t necessarily provide the necessary comfort. I’m here to share with you a few ways that you can survive in an emergency shelter. 

Comfort Supplies

An emergency shelter lacks several things that most of us have in our homes that provide us with comfort and security. Here’s a list of supplies that we take for granted every day that you don’t want to be caught without when staying at an emergency shelter.  

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It’s not a comforting feeling having to sleep under bedsheets and blankets when you don’t know who else used them last. Bringing your own pillow, sheets, and blankets should keep your skin from crawling all hours of the night. 

Eye Mask and Earplugs

Most emergency shelters have very little privacy that separates you from hundreds of other people. They also tend to leave the lights on at night. So if you don’t want to be left awake all night because of coughing, whispering, or buzzing lights, be sure to bring eye masks and earplugs.    

Medicine and Sleeping Aids

As you’ve probably figured out by now, sleep doesn’t come easy at an emergency shelter. Bring a few sleeping aids and aspirin to help you with this. 

Bring Plenty of Comfort Food

An emergency shelter does provide people with food and water, but there’s no telling whether it’s something you’ll eat, or the inopportune time your kids will be asking for a snack. Emergency shelters do allow you to bring your own food because they know that several people may be on a particular diet or have certain food allergies.

Just be sure that it’s non-perishable and doesn’t require microwaving because you don’t know if that will be an option.  

Emergency Hand-crank Radio

Don’t be left relying on emergency personnel to keep you updated following an emergency. Stay ahead of everyone else by having a hand-crank radio that doesn’t require batteries.  

Solar Cellphone Charger

Remember to bring a solar cellphone charger so you have a way to charge your phone so you and your kids have something to use to pass the time. Without a working phone, your friends and family may have no way of finding out whether you’re all doing okay. 

Washcloths and Towels

Just like with your bedding, having your own washcloths and towels that you use during your shower can also provide you with comfort. 

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Never get into a shower at an emergency shelter without flip flops. You just never know what you could be stepping into that could get you sick.  

Reclining Camping Chair

If your emergency shelter is experiencing full capacity because of the number of people forced from their homes, they may not have enough cots for everyone. A reclining camping chair keeps you off of the floor and allows you to rest. 

Bicycle Lock 

There’s also the chance that when you go to use the restroom or take a shower that someone could take off with your stuff. Use a bicycle lock to keep your supplies and chair together in one place.

Things that Entertain

Besides resting and eating, there’s very little to do to keep your family busy and preoccupied at an emergency shelter over the next several days. Pack electronic devices for the kiddos, a deck of cards, and a good book or two. 

Toilet Paper

Rolls of toilet paper are too bulky. So instead, remove the cardboard tubes and cram a number of your toilet paper rolls in a Ziploc bag.

Extra Underwear and Socks

Bring along several extra pairs of socks and underwear to provide you with a fresh feeling.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste  

Continue to keep your pearly whites clean and shiny by remembering your toothbrush and toothpaste. 


Just because you’re going to be living at the emergency shelter for a few days doesn’t mean that you have to smell like it. Pack deodorant, if you know what’s good for you.    

Hand Sanitizer

Last but not least, don’t forget to bring hand sanitizer to keep your family healthy as you’re surrounded by so many people who might be sick.   

Final Word

If you have all of these items with you when you stay at a shelter, rest assured that your visit will be a much smoother and more comfortable one.

Your emergency shelter survival kit may look slightly different from everyone else based on your family members’ needs. Especially for those who require medical supplies and prescriptions, so make sure that you add those to your list. 

Another word of caution is that you don’t want to bring your nicest stuff with you, risking the chance that your supplies get stolen. How do you plan on surviving in an emergency shelter? May God Bless this world, Linda. 

Copyright Images: Refuge Camp Shelter AdobeStock_127645135 by Tatty

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  1. I take my toilet paper and vacuum seal them. Just start rolling it tightly from the roll. You can get several rolls into one gallon bag. Plus, its water proof. Then save your roll, fold bottom, add soil, reuse it such as adding seeds to it and putting into your garden, biodegradeable.

  2. Linda,
    This is great advice for anyone so inclined to enter one of those shelters. Personally, we would never enter one of our own free will and probably fight to the death anyone trying to forcibly place us in one. Our emergency shelter sits in our driveway on four wheels. It is a 20 foot long van conversion camper with most of those items already stowed. And, the other items needed are ready to carry quickly to it from the house. It is always plugged in when parked so the refrigerator stays cold and ready. We never park it unless the fuel tank is at least 3/4 full and most times it is topped off full on the way home. If we need to evacuate, we can find a good safe space to park it many places here in the Texas Hill Country. Plus, a full gas tank gives us at least a 400 mile range if needed. Folks with any type RV can have the same preparations. Even a small travel trailer would be better than an emergency shelter. Stepping down from soap box now. LOL!!

    1. Harry, I near you. I don’t live In hill country, but it is a beautiful place. I’m up in East Texas. We don’t have a travel trailer or and RV, but I would love to have one. Even a Class C camper would work. We’ll just Have to bunker down here at home. The closest shelter from here is at least 25-30 miles away.

      1. Hi Deborah, wow, 25-30 miles away. Here’s the deal, different groups may open up schools and churches near you if a disaster hits. My goal is to teach people to have a bag ready to take with them. I hope I never have to leave my home, but you never know what will hit our neighborhoods. Stay safe, Linda

      2. Hi, fellow Texan, East Texas piney woods is a beautiful place as well. My brother-in-law is at Gladewater, so we are familiar with East Texas. Glad to see I am not the only Texan on Linda’s site. Our van is actually a Class B, smaller than a Class C, so storage space could be better. But, I have a storage pod that I can insert in the receiver hitch to allow for extra storage if needed. Keep safe over there.

        1. We aren’t too far from Gladewater. Next town west of Big Sandy.

          My Sister-in-law and her husband used to live in Austin, but have moved to Spicewood. It’s beautiful in that area. I love the cacti there. I do like having big trees here although I am allergic to Pine trees. LOL yes, weird. Oh and some Oak trees. Which is about all we have in our yard other than sweet gums.

    2. Hi Harry, I totally agree with you about not going to an emergency shelter. The reason I wrote this post is that I’m reading the book “5 Days at Memorial”. It’s a true story about Hurricane Katrina. Our friend’s son at the time was attending medical school at Tulane University. Talk about nerve-wracking getting him and his family out of there before it hit. There are people who will have to go to an emergency shelter. I wouldn’t go to one either unless I was unconscious! LOL! Just kidding! My sister, In Austin, who I have told you about, said at the time of that hurricane, people were being bussed to Texas for housing, food, and whatever they needed. She mentioned people came with nothing. They did not bring extra clothes, food, snacks, nothing. So, this post is to remind those who may have to evacuate that they need to be ready to bring stuff to the shelter. The shelters cannot provide all of these people with things they need. It will be the bare minimum. I love your plan, it’s the best in the world, packed, filled with gas, and ready to roll. I love hearing this, my friend, stay safe. Linda

      1. Linda, I understand why you wrote the post. There are those who have no alternatives and your information is great for them. And, we know all too well about the Katrina refugees and their situations. We are blessed with our situation in case of needing to evacuate. I was just trying to give folks an alternative to going to a shelter. I have a friend who made a small camper out of an inexpensive enclosed 6’X12′ cargo trailer. His total cost was tiny compared to a small travel trailer. He uses it for fishing trips but could easily use it for emergency shelter. To me, where there is a will, there is always a way. Hope all is well in Utah and that you are far from the wildfires.

  3. Just curious, if you have to go to an emergency shelter and need a medical device like a CPAP, how would that be handled?

    1. I am curious as well. I don’t have the money to invest in a CPAP that will run on solar batteries so I am faced with having to have electricity.

      1. Hi Leanne, I just sent this to Topaz, I guess it would depend on what the emergency shelter was, for instance, a school, a church, or a parking lot. AND if we had power at the locations. Worst case, no electricity at home and now no electricity to run a CPAP at an emergency center. I would hope all things would go smoothly and we would have an outlet for all those who need a nebulizer or CPAP. They may have generators, but we can’t count on it. I just tried to call the Red Cross, they are closed. Here is their phone number if we can get them to answer: 1 (800) 733-2767. I hoping the health department would be available with generators, but every location will be different. Plus, if they could even get fuel once it runs out. This is a great question, I want to research this more. Linda

    2. Hi Topaz, that’s a great question. I guess it would depend on what the emergency shelter was, for instance, a school, a church, or a parking lot. AND if we had power at the locations. Worst case, no electricity at home and now no electricity to run a CPAP at an emergency center. I would hope all things would go smoothly and we would have an outlet for all those who need a nebulizer or CPAP. They may have generators, but we can’t count on it. I just tried to call the Red Cross, they are closed. Here is their phone number if we can get them to answer: 1 (800) 733-2767. I hoping the health department would be available with generators, but every location will be different. Plus, if they could even get fuel once it runs out. This is a great question, I want to research this more. Linda

    3. Topaz, your shelter would probably have electrical power. I have severe sleep apnia and require a CPAP to get any meaningful rest. That is a medical condition so I could probably get some priority power for my CPAP. But as an alternative here is a link to a CPAP battery that will run off solar power, your car, or household current.

      If I didn’t already have solar generator I’d be getting one of these–and I may anyhow just to have another backup power supply.

      1. Hi Ray, thanks for sharing the link. My son-in-law has a Goal Zero one. I would hope the centers that people have to go to would have power, but we can’t count on it. If the building needed to house people have plugs, that’s awesome but how many plugs for say 200 people. I keep thinking of that dome thing after Hurricane Katrina to house people, what a mess. Let’s pray we have power when needed for a medical condition. After reading 5 Days at Memorial, I doubt it. Just my 2 cents. Linda

  4. Linda ~
    I’ve thought about this subject as well. I would be grabbing my BOB(s) and they have just about anything I might need. I would also grab my sheets/pillow and comforter.

    I would also mention making up a toiletry kit with your favorite cleansing products, hand cream/lotions – Basically anything you use on a daily basis. I have a kit made up in my BOB and it is filled with things like a manicure set or at least nail clippers, emery board, etc. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate but I know that in a situation like this, I would break a nail and while not devastating, it would bother me a WHOLE lot if I couldn’t fix it!

    Given the situation we are living through right now, not only do we need to take hand sanitizer but also masks, antibacterial wipes, etc. I would be sanitizing my cot before putting on my own sheets; sanitizing anything that I can!!

    Also, I would suggest that if you have a suitcase that you are taking, you should have a lock/key to secure it from being opened as well as the bicycle lock/chain to secure your items any way you can while there.

    Might also suggest a reading light that can be clipped onto your book while reading. The lighting might not be sufficient to read by.

    1. Hi Leanne, I tell you I sure hope we don’t have to go to one, but you nailed it again on the things we all need. Fingernail clippers for sure, and everything that will make our area sanitary! The reading light would be awesome as well. Great comment, Linda

  5. I admit, the only major emergencies I have had was the Blizzard of ’77, and An October Snowstorm, about 20 years ago. Each time we were prepared, and despite the damage to some trees, we were safe. I am giving serious thought to all I have read today.

    1. Hi Chris, we have had two 500-year floods in my neighborhood in the last ten years. Most subdivisions are only expected to prepare for 100-year floods. Well, some people had two feet of water in their homes. When the floods start, this beautiful red sand flows down the street with rocks, lots and lots of rocks. It’s a mess to clean up, with floods there is no way to stop the water flowing. It roars like a wild animal. When I lived in Farmington, Utah back in 1983 we had flooding as well. Many homes were bulldozed by the flooding. It wiped out so many homes, I don’t remember anyone getting hurt or dying from that flood thank goodness. But the city or county finally built a basin to divert the water. What a mess. This year I have seen so many fires, terrible fires whipping through neighborhoods. Where was the Blizzard of 77? We never know when something will hit our neighborhood. Stay safe, Linda

      1. We are in Western New York, between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. The Blizzard of 1977, was 7 feet of snow in 7 days, with wind that cut like a knife. Neighbors pulled together. I have learned that if you have the brains that God gave a gopher, and your prepared for snow, you can come thru it with limited loss. Yes, snow can collapse a roof, but that is seldom. Keeping the car’s gas tank always more than half full, plenty of good food, candles, and the good sense to pay attention to the weather, while staying home will limit your danger. I know we have been blessed to not having had to deal with anything worse.

        1. Hi Chris, that’s a lot of snow! WOW! The wind then blows the snow, oh my gosh, I’m glad you survived it. It’s crazy, unless you live through that much snow in 7 days, you don’t get it unless you’re in and you keep wondering when is the snow go to let up. My daughter lives in Flagstaff and one year they got about 5 feet in 24 hours. When it hits that hard, 7 days or 24 hours it’s hard to keep the roads clear, let alone the sidewalks. You are so lucky you had neighbors who pulled together. Yay! Linda

        2. Chris – I live in the Pacific NW on the west side of the Cascades in Washington state. We rarely get much snow and when we do get a few inches, it is gone in just a day or so. Two winters ago we had a storm come through and drop 2 feet! Now in most areas this doesn’t sound like a big deal but where I live, the city and county do not have equipment to plow roads or even de-ice the roads. And few people put studded tires on their vehicles to deal with the ice under the snow. Some people have 4X4s but most have them as status symbols not to actually use them off road!
          I also live in a community (apartment complex) for over 65 seniors. We had 3 days notice that this snow storm was coming and few if any (except me) prepped for it. On the 2nd day of not being able to go anywhere, there was a sign put up by a resident to call her if anyone was going to the store because she was out of ***** everything! She couldn’t go because she tried and got her car stuck so bad it was there in the way for almost 5 days!! She told me that she was out of bread and did I have any. I told her I didn’t have any but I could make a loaf for her. She asked me where I kept my bread machine!! LOL! – I told her I make bread the way I was taught – with my arm muscles!! And this lady is a good 15 years older than I am! So, I was gracious and made a pot of soup and some bread which I took to her! I told her that she needed to be prepared for these things! She just laughed. I am guessing that as long as I am willing to make bread and soup for her – why should she prep???

  6. Linda, I get that this article is intended for those who would have no alternative but to head for a FEMA, Red Cross or other public shelter, but I agree with Harry in that I will never go willingly to such a shelter. For one thing they don’t allow weapons of any kind, much less guns. Been there, done that.

    I was twelve and our apartment was destroyed by a tornado. Mom, me, my brother and our stepfather ended up in a Red Cross shelter. Before we were allowed in they asked if we had any guns or knives. Being an honest (and somewhat naive) kid I said yes and showed them my Swiss Army knife. They took it and I never saw it again. While we were there a gang of young thugs stole my mom’s purse and beat the crap out of my stepdad and me when we tried to stop them (and my stepdad was an unarmed combat instructor in the US Army). I repeat. I’ll never willingly go to such a shelter again.

    1. Hi Ray, oh my gosh, this is the best comment of the day! I doubt anyone will go to one NOW! I have the giggles so bad!! I’m not making fun by any means. I’m shocked. I feel so bad you had your knife confiscated, wow! I feel bad that your family was attacked. Here’s the deal, this helps me because I have never heard about not being able to take weapons inside. WOW! For sure, I will not be going to one, this is crazy! I doubt anyone would ever want to go to one after reading this. BUT we need to hear this is happening. We really do need to be self-reliant. Thanks for sharing your story. I had no idea how bad they are. Linda

      1. Linda, and this was back in 1962! God alone know how much worse they’d be now.

        Losing that knife really pissed me off since it was given to me by my dad when I joined cub scouts.

        1. Hi Ray, you know what’s sad we can buy another Swiss Army Knife, but it’s not the one your dad gave you in Cub Scouts! You made me wake up to what’s happening in those shelters! YIKES! Linda

          1. Linda, I doubt things are bad enough they would require a strip search but they probably have metal detectors you’d have to go through. If I was forced into a shelter I’d try the ploy of giving up a sacrifice knife, while keeping at least one in my boots. I also have a pair of ceramic knives they wouldn’t detect unless I got patted down. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

            Or perhaps a person could simply stand on their 2d amendment right to bear arms and tell them, “I’m keeping my arms. If that disqualifies me from being here, see ya.” Probably wouldn’t work, but worth a try. Best option is to simply refuse to go to a shelter.

          2. HI Ray, after reading about the experiences of people having to go to a shelter, I think it will inspire people to be prepared so they don’t have to go to one. I was never planning on going to one. I keep seeing that visual in my head about the sports arena after Hurricane Katrina. Busses were dropping people off and cramming them in there. Here’s what I told my husband last night. The bathrooms are hard to use (standing in line at a game) let alone people living with limited bathroom facilities in that sports arena. May God bless our world, Linda

        2. Hi All-
          I live outside of a small town in a rural N Florida county, and there is a wide socioeconomic range in both our population and infrastructure/services. At a minimum, we are subject to hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, flash floods, and freight train “accidents”. We are easily self sufficient for 2-4 weeks of bugging in, and relatively prepared to walk out the door ASAP when necessary. We keep our travel toiletries kits topped off so they are ready to go for our next overnight or evacuating. Based on my county demographics, please cut some evacuees a break for showing up empty handed- there are folks who literally live hand-to-mouth with little to no food in the house and some don’t even have sheets on the mattress! If you must use a shelter, realize that it is just that: SHELTER, and no more. For those with CPAP and other medical devices there are usually special shelters to accommodate some of your needs, BUT you usually need to be pre-registered with your local Red Cross and/ or emergency management dept, so call them NOW to inquire.

          1. Hi Mari, great comment! I did not know people could pre-register for CPAP needs, great tip! Thank you. Thank you for your reminder about people living hand to hand. We have many families here in Utah living the same way. They get food stamps and low-income housing. Some people living in my city have no idea we do in fact have homeless people. They are naive. It’s very sad. God bless our country. Linda

    2. I always say – as long as I have my tent, I will not be homeless! I will take my tent and camping gear (if I have time to load it all) and go stay at a friend’s property. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t have some sort of plan.

  7. Linda,
    You are the greatest!! I love that you continually think of scenarios that stretch the imagination. I save, follow, prepare, and guide others about what you say. Thank you again for your time and talents. Also, to Linda’s reader, I appreciate your comments as well!

    1. Hi Joanne, I love hearing from you! I don’t think my mind ever slows down. I love researching and listening to Audible books. I always buy them because I will listen to them over and over. Thank you for your kind words, they mean so much to me! Stay safe, and stay well. I love my reader’s comments too! Linda

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