Shelter In Place

By Tabitha Mishra
Last updated: March 9, 2023

What Does Shelter In Place Mean?

Shelter in place is an emergency response procedure that aims to keep people safe by instructing them to seek refuge within the building they are already occupying.

While many emergency situations require evacuation to bring people out of harm's way, sheltering in place is preferred when leaving a building or remaining outdoors would put people at greater risk. This is the case, for instance, when a chemical release creates an atmospheric hazard, during an active shooter situation, or when a tornado warning has been issued.

Safeopedia Explains Shelter In Place

A shelter in place warning is given when there is a severe emergency in the vicinity of the facility which could harm anyone leaving the building. Anyone who is outside when a shelter in place order is issued must immediately make their way to the nearest suitable indoor space.

There are two types of shelter in place:

  • Immediate shelter in place, when the emergency is nearby and sheltering is required without delay.
  • Delayed shelter in place, when there is at least 30 minutes before sheltering is required. A delayed shelter in place order allows people time to make their way to the most suitable sheltering location rather than simply finding the nearest room.

General Recommendations for Sheltering in Place

  • Choose an area with no vents and away from windows and room corners, such as conference rooms, pantries, break rooms, and utility rooms
  • For a tornado alert, shelter in a room in the basement or interior of the building
  • For suspected chemical releases, shelter in a room above ground level (since chemicals heavier than air can seep below ground)
  • For radioactive releases, shelter in a centrally located room or basement
  • Keep essential disaster supplies in stock, such as non-perishable food items, water, first aid supplies, garbage bags, duct tape, and plastic sheeting
  • Stay away from walkways, lobbies, glassed-in areas, and large, open areas
  • Keep a phone, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) public alert radio, and flashlight
  • Close and lock exterior doors and windows; close curtains, blinds, and shades
  • If instructed, seal all cracks around windows, doors, and vents using duct tape and plastic sheeting
  • If outdoor air is contaminated, turn off HVAC systems to prevent air exchange
  • Make sure there is seating available and that restrooms are accessible
  • Remain in place until the "all clear" is given using a standard procedure, such as a long siren blast (approximately 30 seconds) or an announcement broadcast over radio or television

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