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To Evacuate or Shelter in Place?

shelter in placeIn the event of a disaster – natural or otherwise – difficult decisions may need to be made without hesitation. One such decision may be whether you should evacuate or "shelter in place."

An example of when it may be necessary to make this decision is in the event of an active shooter. Consider the following scenario:

Imagine you have an active shooter in your facility. The individual has fired his gun, but it is not clear if anyone has been injured. The shooter has been making his way through the facility. As he enters a room you determine you can make it to the exit door and quickly escape without the shooter reaching you.

Would evacuation be an option?

According to OSHA, active shooter and other dangerous intruder situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation. Evacuation may be one option during an active shooter situation.

If you choose to evacuate and there is an accessible escape path, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends the following:

  • Have an escape route and plan in mind
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
  • Leave your belongings behind
  • Help others escape, if possible
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be
  • Keep your hands visible
  • Follow the instructions of any police officers
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people
  • Call 911 when you are safe

When might it be necessary to shelter in place in the event of an active shooter?  Consider the following:

You work for a clinic located on the second floor of a professional building. You receive a call stating there is an active shooter in the facility. The individual was last spotted on the first floor; however, his current location is unknown. You could evacuate by taking the elevator that is located by your front door, the stairs that are located by the elevator, or by using the stairs that located at the back of your office. You would like to evacuate but because the active shooter's location is unknown at this time you are hesitant to do so.

This may when to "shelter in place."

According to OSHA, "shelter in place" means selecting an interior room or rooms within your facility, or ones with no or few windows, and taking refuge there. In many cases, local authorities will issue advice to shelter-in-place via TV or radio (e.g., active shooter in the area).

Shelter in place procedures may include:

  • Close the business.
  • If sheltering in place due to an external threat, such as a dangerous intruder or active shooter situation, consider locking exterior doors. Ensure that locking mechanisms allow workers to exit the work site if necessary.
  • When authorities provide direction to shelter-in-place, everyone should do so immediately. Do not drive or walk outdoors.
  • If there are clients, customers, or visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay, not leave.
  • Unless there is an imminent threat, ask workers, clients, customers, and visitors to call their emergency contact to let them know where they are and that they are safe.
  • Ensure workers are positioned away from exterior windows, and seek shelter in areas that offer adequate protection.
  • Select an 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. Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary. Large storage closets, utility rooms, pantries, copy rooms and conference rooms without exterior windows are ideal.
  • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room(s) selected. Call emergency contacts and have the phone available if there is a need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
  • Write down the names of everyone in the room and call designated emergency contacts to report who is in the room and their affiliation (employee, visitor, client, customer).
  • Listen to the radio, watch television, or use the Internet for further instructions until it is safe or until instructed to evacuate.

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