Know When and How to Shelter-in-Place for Schools
What Shelter-in-Place Means
One of the instructions you may be given in an emergency where hazardous
materials may have been released into the atmosphere is to shelter-in-place.
This is a precaution aimed to keep you safe while remaining indoors. (This is
not the same things as going to a shelter in case of a storm.) Shelter-in-place
means selecting a small, interior room, with no or few windows and taking refuge
there. It does not mean sealing off your entire school. If you are told to
shelter-in-place, follow the instructions below.
Why You Might Need to Shelter-in-Place
Chemical, biological or radiological contaminants may be released
accidentally or intentionally into the environment. Should this occur,
information will be provided by local authorities on television and radio
stations on how to protect students and staff. Because the information will most
likely be provided on television and radio, it is important to keep a TV or
radio on, even during the workday. The important thing is for you to follow
instructions of local authorities and know what to do if they advise you to
How to Shelter-in-Place at School
- Close the school. Activate the school's emergency
plan. Follow reverse evacuation procedures to bring students, faculty and staff
- If there are visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking
them to stay – not leave. When authorities provide directions to
shelter-in-place, they want everyone to take those steps immediately, where they
are, and not drive or walk outdoors.
- Provide for answering telephone inquiries from concerned parents by having
at least one telephone with the school’s listed telephone number available in
the room selected to provide shelter for the school secretary, or person
designated to answer these calls. This room should also be sealed. There should
be a way to communicate among all rooms where people are sheltering-in-place in
- Ideally, provide for a way to make announcements over the school-wide public
address system from the room where the top school official takes shelter.
- If children have cell phones, allow them to use them to call a parent or
guardian to let them know that they have been asked to remain in school until
further notice, and that they are safe.
- If the school has voicemail or an automated attendant, change the recording
to indicate that the school is closed, and that students and staff are remaining
in the building until authorities advise that it is safe to leave.
- Provide directions to close and lock all windows, exterior doors and any
other openings to the outside.
- If you are told there is danger of explosion, direct that window shades,
blinds or curtains be closed.
- Have employees familiar with your building’s mechanical system turn off all
fans, heating and air conditioning systems. Some systems automatically provide
for exchange of inside air with outside air – these systems, in particular, need
to be turned off, sealed or disabled.
- Gather essential disaster supplies, such as nonperishable food, bottled
water, battery-powered radios, first aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, duct
tape, plastic sheeting and plastic garbage bags.
- Select interior rooms, above the ground floor, with the fewest windows or
vents. The rooms should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit in.
Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary. Classrooms may be
used if there are no windows or if the windows are sealed and cannot be opened.
Large storage closets, utility rooms, meeting rooms and even a gymnasium without
exterior windows will work well.
- It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the rooms you select. Call
emergency contacts and have the phone available if you need to report a
life-threatening condition. Keep in mind that cellular telephone equipment may
be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
- Bring everyone into the room. Shut and lock the door.
- Use duct tape and plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal all
cracks around doors and any vents into the room.
- Write down the names of everyone in the room, and call your schools’
designated emergency contact to report who is in the room with you.
- Listen for an official announcement from school officials via the public
address system, and stay where you are until you are told all is safe or you are
told to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at
greatest risk in your community.
Local officials on the scene are the best source of information for your
particular situation. Following their instructions during and after emergencies
regarding sheltering, food, water and clean up methods is your safest
Remember that instructions to shelter-in-place are usually provided for
durations of a few hours, not days or weeks. There is little danger that the
room in which you are taking shelter will run out of oxygen and you will
For more information visit the American Red