Shelter for Disaster Preparedness

Shelter for Disaster Preparedness

Shelter, it’s the final component of the three essentials of life (Water, Fire & Shelter) but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less important. In a survival scenario, it protects us from the elements, helps to keeps us warm/cool and provides us a sense of security & comfort. Rest assured, having a shelter makes a miserable situation a bit more tolerable. Think you are tough enough to go without a shelter? Try sitting out a rain storm in 40 °F weather and you will wish that you had taken the time to build yourself a shelter!

Shelter is an important component of any emergency/survival scenario. Fortunately, with a little planning and practice, building a shelter that provides protection from the elements can be done in just a few minutes. While there are no set rules as to the materials that one can use to build a shelter, there are a few guidelines that you should follow. To ensure that your shelter can provide you the maximum benefit, you need to understand some basics concepts of shelter building and the basic types of shelter that you can build.

Shelter Basics: Unfortunately, fate may not always put you in the optimal location for a shelter, but with proper site selection you will be able to make the most of your surroundings. If you do not have man-made shelter building materials, you will need to select a location that has enough nearby natural building materials. The idea being that you want to be able to quickly build a shelter, not spend hours schlepping materials over great distances. You can also take advantage of natural formations (caves, outcroppings, large boulders, etc), but be sure to avoid environmental hazards such as avalanche & rock slide areas, dry riverbeds & drainage areas and tidal zones. The last thing to consider when selecting a location for your shelter is its proximity to natural lines of drift. A natural line of drift is any feature, man-made or natural, that either attracts or funnels traffic (both man & animal). If you are trying to be found, building a shelter near a road/trail, along a river, in a narrow valley or on a hilltop, may increase your chances of being located. If your objective is to remain hidden, you will want to avoid these areas. Also consider that animals, both large and small, travel these natural lines of drift. So if you build your shelter in these areas, be prepare to have (and possibly fend off) animal visitors!

Once you have selected the location for your shelter, there are a few construction considerations to address before you start to build your shelter. Obviously the weather/environment that you are in will drive a large portion of your shelter construction techniques and must be weighed to provide the appropriate protection from the elements. Hopefully, the construction materials that are readily available in the area will be adequate to protect you from these elements. You will need to select and gather enough material to construct a shelter that is capable of withstanding the weather/climate for the duration of use. This brings us to our next consideration, duration of use/stay. If you only plan to inhabit your shelter for short time (say, just overnight), do not waste precious time and energy building the Taj Mahal of shelters. Build only what is necessary to protect you from the elements for the planned duration of your stay at that location. However, if you plan on, or end up using a shelter for longer periods, you can always improve your shelter to provided additional protection. If you end up using your shelter for an extended period (days or weeks), you will need to continually improve/repair your shelter. The last construction consideration is the size of the shelter. You should construct your shelter to be as small as possible while still being able to house all people in your party and any equipment that you may have. Keeping your shelter small will both save energy during construction and conserve heat when occupying the shelter. Additionally, your shelter should have a low silhouette/profile. This will help your shelter withstand the elements (winds and driving rain) and aid in concealing your shelter, should that be a consideration for you.

As I stated earlier, there are no set rules as to the construction materials that one can use to build a shelter. There are two classifications of construction materials, natural and man-made. Examples of natural materials are dead fall/standing trees (for the basic structure), pine boughs/ leaf litter (for roof material and ground insulation), vines/reeds/grasses (to make cordage from) and patches of sod (for excellent roof insulation). Common man-made materials include tarps, industrial garbage bags, cordage/ropes/bungee cords and trekking poles/walking sticks. How you use these materials will be determined by the construction considerations listed above.

Types of Shelters: The exact form that a shelter can take on is only limited by your imagination,….and of course the environment, construction materials and time available to build a shelter……but you get the point. However there are three basic types of shelters that you can build. Each type has benefits and drawbacks that you will need to consider before constructing your shelter. The “Lean To” is a single sided shelter that “leans” against a couple of close by trees or rocks. A “Lean To” is the simplest shelter to construct, but it provides the least amount of protection. The “A Frame” (or Debris Hut) is a two or three sided shelter that is supported at each end by either standing trees, boulders or stumps/downed trees. An “A Frame” requires more time and material to construct but, when constructed properly, it provides an excellent amount of protection from the elements. Both the “Lean To” and the “A Frame” can be built with either natural or man-made materials, or a combination of both. The last type of shelter is the “Snow Cave”. This particular shelter requires a significant amount of time and energy to construct, but requires few materials (snow being one of the necessary materials) and provides the highest level of protection from extremely low temperatures & high winds. To construct a “Snow Cave”, you will need to find a deep snow bank or drift. Dig into the bank, being sure to keep the roof arched for strength and to allow melting snow to drain down the sides. Build a sleeping platform (out of snow) above the level of the entrance, this will provide you with a cold air sink and prevent you from getting wet from any melting snow. Be sure to install a ventilation shaft in the roof of your “Snow Cave” and heat your cave with a candle if available (You SHOULD have a long burning candle in your survival kit!).

So, now that you know the basics of shelter building……you’ll never be homeless!

Instructor William Green

Elite Training Center
1601 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 170
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
(310) 376-0500

Shelter for Disaster Preparedness
Shelter for Disaster Preparedness

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