Shelter in Place

When I’m faced with an emergency, I hope it’s a shelter-in-place situation, and that the place is my home. In a shelter-in-place you stay put until conditions are safe to leave. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the first few months of government mandated "stay home" orders or mandates, much of the country experienced a limited form of shelter-in-place. But there is a difference between the stay at home orders and what would be experienced in a true shelter-in-place order or restriction.

Shelter in Place - Home is Ideal

The most common shelter-in-place restriction is because of a temporary condition, such as a hazardous situation (hazardous material leak/spill), or an active shooter in the area.

If emergency management does not anticipate hazardous conditions by remaining in your home, you may be advised to shelter-in-place. In the rare instance people are told to go to their homes and shelter in place.

This restriction can also happen in places other than your home. In the active shooter example, law enforcement may instruct all those in the affected area to remain in a lock-down state, which is effectively sheltering-in-place.

In most cases the shelter in place order is generally a very temporary, hours at most, condition. At most it's a minor inconvenience to a normal schedule.

However, what if there were a hazardous materials condition that warranted a restriction to remain indoors at your place of employment, or school, for a day or longer? What preparations do you have to shelter-in-place?

While I don’t expect a shelter-in-place restriction of any considerable length of time when I am at work, I do have some emergency items on hand. In addition to my get-home kit I keep in my backpack, I have additional emergency food and water bottles in a drawer.

Shelter in Place vs Stay at Home

In the case of COVID-19, the stay-at-home orders were similar to, but not the same as, shelter-in-place.

First, the stay-at-home orders ended up being for weeks. Often shelter-in-place orders don't last as long.

Second, the stay-at-home orders generally did not restrict your ability to go to the store, work, or to do other "essential" things. Shelter-in-place restrictions are for you to remain where you are at during the emergency. In a situation like an active shooter or hazmat spill, the order is to keep you safe from directly encountering the threat.

However, in a natural disaster shelter-in-place order stores won't likely be open or even accessible.

Think of a shelter-in-place order as you needing to be self-sufficient where you are at for the length of time of the restriction.

Another factor in some shelter-in-place orders may be the need to perform additional precautions to protect yourself and others. For example, in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) incident there are additional procedures that may be needed to increase your protection. Besides locking doors and windows, sealing windows and doors, possibly turn off any venting system that brings outside air indoors. There may also be a safe room/location that offers better shelter-in-place options.

Shelter-in-place vs lockdown, U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry, retrieved from

Shelter in Place vs Lockdown

A lockdown is more what you are likely to encounter in an active shooter situation. The basic idea is to lock everything down to prevent or reduce the threat from affecting you and those with you.

Lockdowns are usually much more temporary than a shelter-in-place, particularly if the shelter-in-place order is the result of a CBRN or natural disaster threat.

In an active shooter incident the three most important things to remember are to run, hide, and fight. 


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