What Does “Shelter in Place” Really Mean?
Often, when there is an imminent threat or hazard, the public is told to “shelter in place.” Sheltering in place is a precautionary routine to keep you as safe as possible while indoors during an emergency event. Someone who is not well-versed in emergency preparedness, however, may interpret the instruction as: stay exactly where you currently are. That tactic could, in fact, put you in danger.
Situations that may require you to shelter in place include natural disasters; accidental or intentional release of chemical, biological or radiological material; or an emergency safety situation, such as in the event of an active shooter. Different threats require slightly different sheltering recommendations. You can learn about sheltering in place from an active shooter here. Below are a few of the key procedures necessary to shelter in place effectively in your workplace for either a natural disaster or a biological, chemical or radiological release.
- If there are any clients, visitors, or customers, ensure that they stay in your building and are given directions on shelter-in-place protocols for your office.
- Bring everyone into the designated shelter-in-place area, one that is secure and with locks on the doors.
- In a natural disaster or radiological release, you will generally want this room to be on the lowest level (preferably below ground), and in the interior-most part of the building.
- In the event of a chemical or biological event, this designated area should be an interior, windowless room on the highest floor possible. Most dangerous hazardous agents are heavier than air and will settle on the ground level.
- If your office space is a mobile unit, it is necessary to plan ahead and choose a nearby building to seek shelter in. Mobile units and trailers can turn over in strong force winds and are very dangerous to be in during many types of disasters.
- Shut off all HVAC systems and fans, and, if there is no option but to be in a room with windows, ensure they are closed and covered.
- Encourage everyone sheltering in place to contact their emergency contact to let them know of their location and that they are safe.
- Have essential emergency supplies (your emergency kit) on hand to bring to the shelter-in-place area.
- It is very helpful to have a land-line telephone as well as a battery operated radio and television in this safe room for communication purposes. Cellular towers may be overloaded, so a land-line could be very valuable in a disaster.
In addition to using an emergency notification system within your company to alert employees to any threats, consider looking into subscribing to your local police department or local county government’s Reverse 9-1-1 system to receive alerts about local threats in your area. It is very easy to find this information online; simply search for the phrase “emergency alert system” along with your county and state.
Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. It is very important to carry out practice drills annually so that everyone in the office understands your shelter-in-place plans and ensures it is carried out in an appropriate fashion when an event does occur. Take your knowledge home with you as well to ensure that your family is as safe as possible in the event of a disaster.