Rescue Board: First place to seek emergency shelter is own home

Emergency shelter sign in Tartu
Emergency shelter sign in Tartu Source: Michael Cole

The Estonian Rescue Board has mapped out the locations of around 100 public shelters in Estonia. Ideally, there should be at least one in each district. However, in case of emergency, people are advised that the first place they should try to seek shelter is in their homes. Public shelters are for the use of those who find themselves in urban space outside their homes during an emergency.

One of the 22 public shelters in the Estonian capital is located in the Tallinn City Center Social Center (Tallinna Kesklinna Sotsiaalkeskus). If required, the center's basement can accommodate around 300 people. So far, the rescue services have marked shelter locations in four major cities, with work continuing to ensure Estonia is as prepared as possible in the event of an emergency.

"In the next phase, we would like to start talking to private landlords. Underground car parks for example, could be suitable as public shelters in some locations," said Lea Vainult, national defense advisor to the Rescue Service.

"But definitely the most pressure we will put on housing associations, because people's first option for shelter should still be close to their home, whether that's in a basement or their own indoor space," Vainult said.

Plans are in place to install siren systems, like the one already in operation at Tallinn's Muuga port, across Estonia, to alert people to potential danger as quicky as possible. However, according to Vainult, other means of warning the public are also already available.

"We can send text messages to people, we can send messages through (public) broadcasters, we can post on social media. In fact, there are so many channels to reach people, right down to having vehicles drive down streets giving out the message through megaphones," Vainult said.

From the point of view of the rescue services, Viimsi Municipality is doing a particularly good job of ensuring it remains prepared for an emergency situation.

In addition to mapping out all the available public shelters, the municipality is also looking at other ways to help the population during a potential crisis.

"We are gathering information about who has resources to offer. Who has wells with clean water on their properties for example, if something happens which means Viimsi Water (Viimsi Vesi) is unable to provide services anymore, then we know the places from which we can take some kinds of natural or technical resources," said Karin Mägi, head of Viimsi Municipality's supervisory department.

Above all, however, it is people themselves who should take steps to ensure that they are fully prepared for potential emergencies. The easiest thing to start with is to check the basement of your building to ensure its suitability.

According to Vainult, ideally basements used for shelter should have no windows, or, if the do, these should be covered with sandbags to increase levels of protection. "If we're talking about a military threat, shelters should be underground, to provide extra protection against blasts. We're talking about the fact that it should comply with all the requisite fire and health and safety requirements. As an added bonus there could be emergency lighting too," Vainult said.

"We should certainly make the distinction between an evacuation point and a shelter. They are not the same thing. In a shelter, we're not necessarily talking about the fact that there should be a food or water supply or anything like that," Vainult added.

 Mägi believes, that it would also be beneficial for children to start learning about the best course of action to take in emergencies, at school. "This should be taught from an early age, from kindergarten, Mägi said"

The locations of all the public shelters in Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu and Narva are listed on the Rescue Board's website, as well as on the websites of municipalities and the mobile app "Ole Valmis!"


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Editor: Michael Cole

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