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Shelter and Evacuation

Advice on what to do in the event of an emergency shelter and/or evacuation.

An emergency may cause a number of impacts, some of which may require you to take shelter or be evacuated in order to protect you, your family, your community and/or work colleagues.


It is quite common in an emergency for the emergency services and other responders to advise everyone in the area to:

Go in, stay in, tune in - an illustrative image for emergency action


  • Go in - shut windows and doors and shut down fans, fires, ventilators or any air conditioning system drawing air from outside
  • Stay in - stay indoors
  • Tune in - listen to the local radio or TV; information will be broadcast periodically, so keep listening to local stations including BBC Radio Berkshire and Heart

This may be because of smoke and toxic plumes, a radiation emergency or perhaps acts of terrorism.

Please note: for an AWE Radiation Emergency there is specific advice. There is also specific advice for Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) sites.


Being asked to leave a home or business can occur any time, day or night, and is usually only done to protect life. Fires, floods, industrial accidents and security issues can all result in evacuations.

The responding agencies are responsible for deciding whether an evacuation is necessary. This may be an urgent evacuation, for example due to a fire or an explosion, or it may be a planned evacuation as a result of a developing situation, such as a river rising to cause flooding.

Leaving your home

If an urgent evacuation is needed, you will be notified, normally by the emergency services who will most likely set up a cordon (a controlled area set up for safety or to preserve evidence). The emergency services will ask everyone within the cordon to leave until it is safe and suitable to return.

In situations where evacuations are advised, such as at times of flooding, there may not be a cordon but an area identified to be evacuated as a result of the risk.

The emergency services have no legal duty to remove you from your home unless the cordon has been set up in relation to a terrorism incident. In this case section 36 of the Terrorism Act 2000 applies. A police constable in uniform may order a person in a cordoned area to leave it immediately.

If you are asked to leave your home or place of work, if time allows, you are advised to take essential items such as medication with you.

It's beneficial to have a grab-bag ready at all times with important items to take with you in an evacuation or at least know what you would need to take with you. See our creating an emergency grab bag page for further information.

Regardless of why you are being asked to evacuate, please take the request seriously in order to ensure your safety and the safety of the responding agencies.

Where to go

Depending on the situation, you may have time to grab your essentials and travel to be with friends or family until you are told it is safe to return. It may be that due to the emergency this is not possible, therefore you will be directed or taken to a place of safety - which may be outside or a building nearby.

The council and other agencies will attend as soon as possible to assist you but this may take a little time.

There will normally be a registration process to take down your details and identify any special requirements. Thereafter, depending on how long the emergency is likely to go on for, the council will find somewhere for you to wait until you can go home. This may be overnight accommodation. Where you go will depend on a number of factors including the time of day, the location, how long the emergency is likely to last and the weather conditions.

In addition, transport may be provided to arrange for you to be taken to stay with friends or family.

Emergency rest centres

It is the council's duty to make provision for those who have been made unintentionally homeless for the period of an evacuation. The council's ability to set up such facilities and how it will be able to respond will depend on the circumstances of the incident.

If overnight accommodation is required, an emergency rest centre with basic facilities will be put in place. Rest centres are usually set up in leisure centres, schools or church halls. They provide a safe shelter for people until they are allowed to return to their homes (or are provided with temporary accommodation).

If an emergency rest centre is established you will be informed of its location and may be asked to make your way to the centre, or, if it is some distance away, transport may be provided.

Setting up a rest centre is a fairly complex task and this does take time to process and put in place, which is challenging when you have just been evacuated and don't know when you will be able to go back.

There are a number of rest centre sites identified across the council area, however, where you will go will depend on their availability, where the incident is, how many people have been evacuated and therefore the size of rest centre needed.

These sites have limited capacity and, depending upon the scale of the event, you may be moved into neighbouring council areas to support the emergency.

Looking after pets or animals

It's important to make sure you have a contingency plan for the care of your animals and pets in case of emergencies, especially if you need to be evacuated from your home. See our Animal Welfare During Emergencies page for further information.

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