What to Do: Get Inside

What to do in a radiation emergency

At a glance

  • During a radiation emergency, get inside as soon as possible.
  • Take off any clothes that were exposed to radiation, if you can.
  • Wash any body part exposed to radiation, if you can.
Get Inside


Examples of radiation emergencies include:

  • A nuclear power plant accident
  • A nuclear explosion
  • A dirty bomb

If something like this happens, you may be asked to get inside a building and take shelter. The walls of your home can block much of the harmful radiation, and radioactive materials become weaker over time. Staying inside for at least 24 hours can protect you and your family until it is safe to leave the area. Getting inside of a building and staying there is called “sheltering in place.”

If you are indoors during a radiation emergency

  1. Stay inside.
  2. Close and lock all windows and doors.
  3. Go to the basement or the middle of the building.
  4. Stay as far away from the walls and roof of the building as you can. Radiation settles on the outside of buildings.
  5. If possible, turn off fans, air conditioners, and forced-air heating units that bring air in from the outside.
  6. Close fireplace dampers.

If you are outside or in a vehicle

  1. Get inside a building right away. Brick or concrete multi-story building or basement are best, but being inside any building is safer than being outside.
  2. Carefully remove your outer layer of clothing before entering the building, if you can. Radioactive material can settle on your clothing and your body, like dust or mud.
  3. Once inside, go to the basement or the middle of the building. Radioactive material settles on the outside of buildings. The best thing to do is stay as far away from the walls and roof of the building as you can.
  4. Wash the parts of your body that were uncovered when you were outside. Then put on clean clothing, if you can.
  5. If you must be outside and cannot get inside immediately, cover your mouth and nose with a mask, cloth, or towel. This can help reduce the amount of radioactive material that could get inside your body.

If you have pets

Bring pets inside with you, if you can. Bring indoors and wipe any supplies from outside that your pets might need for at least 24 hours.


Wash your pet carefully with shampoo or soap and water and rinse completely. Wash your hands and face after washing your pet.

Pet food and supplies

Pet food in sealed containers (cans, bottles, boxes) will be safe for animals to eat. Wipe off pet food containers with a damp cloth or clean towel before opening them. Wash or wipe off pet bowls, dishes, and mats too.

Disaster shelters

Animals arriving at shelters as a result of a natural disaster need special care. They may have been exposed to contaminated soil and water. They may not have had access to safe food and fresh water and may be stressed and dehydrated. Some may be injured and/or ill.

Pet health

Stressed animals may or may not show signs of illness and may also exhibit behavioral disorders. Following some simple animal management and disease control guidelines can help improve animal health and reduce the risk of disease transmission and injury between animals and people.


How to Decontaminate Pets After a Radiation Emergency - CDC

Guidelines for Animal Health & Control of Disease Transmission in Pet Shelters – American Veterinary Medical Association and CDC.

Resources for Planning How to Protect Your Pets in an Emergency – Organizations and resources that you can contact or access to help you plan how to protect your pets.

If you have loved ones in other places

Stay where you are! Going outside to get loved ones could expose you and them to dangerous levels of radiation.

Schools, daycares, hospitals, nursing homes, and other places have emergency plans in place to keep people safe at the facility.

If someone needs to shelter with you

Providing shelter to someone who was outside during a radiation emergency can save their life without endangering your own.

Ask them to remove their outer layer of clothing before entering the building or shelter. Once inside, ask them to wash the parts of their body that were uncovered when they were outside.

Then ask them to put on clean clothing, if they can. This will help limit their radiation exposure and keep radioactive material from spreading. Learn more about decontamination.

More information