Shelter in place awareness could save lives during a CBRNE incident

DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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September is National Preparedness Month. One of the warnings you may be given if chemical, biological, nuclear or high explosives (CBRNE) are released into the atmosphere is to shelter in place (SIP). This is a precaution aimed to keep you safe while remaining indoors. SIP means selecting a small, interior room, with no or few windows, and taking refuge there. It does not mean sealing off your entire office building. The Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia CBRNE Annex Plan details what you should do if a CBRNE incident occurs on DSCR.

Why you might need to shelter in place:

Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high yield explosive contaminants may be released accidentally or intentionally into the environment. Should this occur, Julio Clavell, acting chief of police and CBRNE operations specialist, Defense Logistics Agency Installation Operations Richmond said information will be provided thru AtHoc, the Giant outdoor Voice, the installations internal public address system and local television and radio stations on how to protect yourself and fellow employees.

How to shelter in place:

  1. Bring everyone into the designated SIP room(s). Shut and lock the door(s). If there are customers, clients, or visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay. 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.

  2. Close and lock all windows, exterior doors and any other openings to the outside. If you are told there is danger of an explosion, close the window shades, blinds or curtains. Facility engineers will be directed by emergency services personnel to shut off all mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. “Even the most weather-tight structure will slowly allow contaminated air to enter; however, sealing windows, doors and vents with plastic sheeting, duct tape and other barrier materials can further reduce infiltration of contaminated air into a facility,” said Clavell.

  3. 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.

  4. Select interior room(s) above the ground floor, with the fewest windows or vents. The room(s) should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit in. Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary. Large storage closets, utility rooms, pantries, copy and conference rooms without exterior windows will work well. Avoid selecting a room with mechanical equipment like ventilation blowers or pipes, because this equipment may not be able to be sealed from the outdoors. It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room(s) you select. Call emergency contacts and have the phone available if you need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency. Use duct tape and plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal all cracks around the door(s) and any vents into the room.

  5. Write down the names of everyone in the room, and call your business’ designated emergency contact to report who is in the room with you. Keep listening to the radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate. Installation emergency responders or local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your work center.

Each work center on the installation should have a designated SIP room. It's the responsibility of the fire warden/safety monitors/administrators of each work center to designate a SIP room and have adequate supplies. If there is no SIP room in the work center(s), the fire warden/safety monitor or administrator can receive guidance and detailed instructions through the CBRNE Annex Plan Appendix C on what types of rooms are best to designate or they can request the installation CBRNE operations specialist conduct a site survey of their work center.

In your vehicle:

If you are driving and hear “shelter in place” thru AtHoc, Giant Voice, the internal PA system or radio take these steps:

  1. If you are very close to your office, or a building, go there immediately and go inside. Follow the shelter in place recommendations for the place you pick described above.

  2. If you are unable to get to a building quickly and safely, pull over to the side of the road and stop your vehicle in the safest place possible. If it is sunny outside, it is preferable to stop under a bridge or in a shady spot to avoid being overheated; you should turn off the engine, close the windows and vents. If possible, seal the heating/air conditioning vents with duct tape.

  3. Listen to the radio regularly for updated advice and instructions.

  4. Stay where you are until you are told it’s safe to get back on the road. Be aware that some roads may be closed or traffic detoured.

  5. Follow the directions of law enforcement/fire/emergency medical services officials.

Local officials on the scene are the best source of information for your particular situation, Clavell said. Following their instructions during and after emergencies regarding sheltering, food, water and cleanup methods, is your safest choice.

He also wants you to 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 or fellow employees will suffocate.

Lockdown vs. shelter in place:

What course of action to take hinges on your ability to determine the threat.

  1. A lockdown is designed to respond to the threat of a human perpetrator.

  2. Shelter in place responds to the threat of an airborne cloud or toxic agent.

  3. Lockdown is appropriate for threats posed from outside or inside the building. These threats could include a violent person attempting to enter the installation or office area, a perpetrator already inside or nearby criminal or terrorist activity.

  4. A lockdown is used when there is an immediate threat of violence in or around the workplace.

  5. A lockdown minimizes access and visibility and can shelter employees and visitors in a better secured location as a threat develops until law enforcement arrives. 

  6. An installation lockdown should not be confused with SIP procedures for a CBRNE or Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) incident. Employees on center may be notified in a number of ways by AtHoc, Giant Voice, the internal PA system or by radio when a full or partial lockdown is ordered. Fire wardens/safety monitors and administrators are responsible for employees and visitors in their immediate area and should try to assist any person(s) needing help such as person(s) with a disability when lockdown procedures are announced. A full lockdown is only used when a violent incident has or may occur that could impact the safety of employees or visitors on the installation. A growing number of government facilities are implementing lockdown, and active shooter drills to help their employees and service members better prepare for the possibility.